Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

May 20, 2010

River Honoring teaches youth about the environment and where they live

By B.L Azure

Salish and Pend d'Oreille elders Octave Finley, Noel Pichette and Pat Pierre discussed the cultural ways of the two tribes. (B.L. Azure photo)
Salish and Pend d'Oreille elders Octave Finley, Noel Pichette and Pat Pierre discussed the cultural ways of the two tribes. (B.L. Azure photo)

LOWER FLATHEAD RIVER — Like the Flathead River, the annual Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes River Honoring just keeps rolling along. It has gathered little if any moss since its 1986 inception. However the CSKT crown jewel of environmental and conservation awareness has gathered a lot of interested youngsters and educators through the years and has become a staple to their elementary education.

Tim Ryan showed the students the ancestral skills and technology of the Salish and Pend d'Oreille tribes at the River Honoring. (B.L. Azure photo)
Tim Ryan showed the students the ancestral skills and technology of the Salish and Pend d'Oreille tribes at the River Honoring. (B.L. Azure photo)

Each year nearly 1,000 students hop on the bus with Gus for the annual trek to the banks of the lower Flathead River approximately 14 miles southwest of Ronan. More than 20,000 students from Flathead Reservation and neighboring community schools have now attended the event.

In 1993 the River Honoring organizing committee decided to redirect its focus on fourth and fifth grade students. That is the learning age group that is most curious and undergoing transformation to more complex learning fare as well as understanding their place in the world.

Whisper Camel discusses the wildlife that exists on the Flathead Reservation at the River Honoring wildlife station. (B.L. Azure photo)
Whisper Camel discusses the wildlife that exists on the Flathead Reservation at the River Honoring wildlife station. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We really want to the program aimed at fourth and fifth grade students because studies have shown that is the best age to make an impression on them. We teach the young people about the natural resources in the area,” said Germaine White, CSKT Natural Resource Department education specialist, in a previous interview. “We tell them that they are the future stewards: the fisheries managers, wildlife biologists, the water quality protectors. But it is not enough to just tell them about the resources and their future in it. We what to show them by giving them hands on experiential learning opportunities like the River Honoring.”

George McCloud, CSKT NRD water resource specialist, demonstrated how the CSKT keeps tabs on waterway flows. (B.L. Azure photo)
George McCloud, CSKT NRD water resource specialist, demonstrated how the CSKT keeps tabs on waterway flows. (B.L. Azure photo)

Since time immemorial the Flathead River and Flathead Lake have been part of the cultural lifeblood of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille people who used the corridor for travel and sustenance.

The late University of Montana anthropologist Dr. Carling Malouf wrote that “that the density of occupation sites around Flathead Lake, and along the Flathead River ... indicates that this was, perhaps, the most important center of ancient life in Montana west of the Continental Divide.”

SKC Extension Agent Virgil Dupuis shows the Nkwusm students the difference between a well-protected riparian area and an unhealthy riparian area. (B.L. Azure photo)
SKC Extension Agent Virgil Dupuis shows the Nkwusm students the difference between a well-protected riparian area and an unhealthy riparian area. (B.L. Azure photo)

The Flathead River and Flathead Lake remain of import to the Tribes to this day but for different reasons than before. There is still sustenance but travel is recreational and the water provides hydropower via Kerr Dam. It is also the Tribes environmental education vessel that opens the eyes of youthful awareness of the natural world they live in. Seeds are planted that blossom with a keener understanding of peoples’ place in the natural world and their responsibilities to care for the environment for the environment’s sake and for the sake of those yet to come.

Pat Jamieson of the National Bison Range shows students how the bison's hip bone is connected to the leg bone and leg bone is connected to the thigh bone and the ... (B.L. Azure photo)
Pat Jamieson of the National Bison Range shows students how the bison's hip bone is connected to the leg bone and leg bone is connected to the thigh bone and the ... (B.L. Azure photo)

“Today young children are learning about the environment, how it works, how it’s all connected and how to protect it,” said Tony Incashola, director of the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee. “The River Honoring has exposed them to the lessons of the environment and how our culture is connected to the natural elements. The environment created our culture - the glue that connects us all - and our culture protects the environment.”

There were 20 education stations, 10 each in two loops, for the students and public. Each station presentation lasted 25 minutes then students would move on to another.

It wouldn't be a River Honoring without the Native games like shinny which brings out the competitive spirit in everyone. (B.L. Azure photo)
It wouldn't be a River Honoring without the Native games like shinny which brings out the competitive spirit in everyone. (B.L. Azure photo)

The stations, included: the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee; water resources; recycling/solid waste; fisheries; SKC art; fire management; native games; fish and game; backcountry horsemen; orienteering; wildland recreation; National Bison Range; ancestral skills and technology; wetlands; water quality and Brownsfield; water resources; wildlife; air quality; Salish Kootenai College, MSU Flathead Extension office; and forestry.

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