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Medicine Tree sojourn a welcome respite from smoky summer

By B.L. Azure
Char-Koosta News

Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre acknowledges the Nkwusm Salish Language Immersion School students at the Medicine Tree. Tony Incashola is on the right. (B.L. Azure photo) Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre acknowledges the Nkwusm Salish Language Immersion School students at the Medicine Tree. Tony Incashola is on the right. (B.L. Azure photo)

MEDICINE TREE — It’s been a wild summer, a sunless and smoky summer. However, the wildfire smoky haze that had been omnipresent in western Montana since mid-July finally lifted last week and the sun was a welcome sight. And on Thursday it brightly lit the way to the Bitterroot Salish’s ancestral homelands in the Bitterroot Valley for the fall sojourn from the Flathead Reservation to the Medicine Tree. It was a picture perfect day, the first — hopefully not the last — Indian Summer day of the fall.

Salish Elder and World War II veteran Eneas Vanderburg made the trek to the Medicine Tree. (B.L. Azure photo) Salish Elder and World War II veteran Eneas Vanderburg made the trek to the Medicine Tree. (B.L. Azure photo)

Tony Incashola, director of the Séliš-Ql?ispé Culture Committee (SQCC), reminded the approximately 150 people who ventured south from the Flathead Reservation to the traditional homelands of the Bitterroot Salish that the bookends of life, the Elders and the young ones as well as those yet to come are all of more important than those of today. The Elders are the repositories of the cultural wisdom, traditional ways and spirituality of the Bitterroot Salish, and the young ones and those yet to come are the future of a people. The repository of the traditional Bitterroot Salish values is their Bitterroot Valley homelands. It is where the beliefs and values were chiseled and sculpted by the ancestors.

Pete White tosses the bundle offerings into the ‘new’ Medicine Tree. (B.L. Azure photo) Pete White tosses the bundle offerings into the ‘new’ Medicine Tree. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We all know why we are here today. We are here to carry on a tradition: the beliefs of our Elders that have been passed down through the generations. Today, let’s remember the Elders and their beliefs in our traditional values so we continue to be strong,” Incashola said. “We are all here for a short period of time and it is our duty to try and do what’s right for the next generation. Our ancestors always said they were working for the next generation. They worked hard so we could have what we now have so we could pass it on. If we understand and practice our traditional values we will always be strong. Remember the people who gave us our values. Let us pray that we can pass those values down to the next generation.”

The next generation’s understanding and practice of the traditional values will help ensure physical, cultural and spiritual survival of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people. 

People line up to pray at the Medicine Tree this past Thursday. (B.L. Azure photo) People line up to pray at the Medicine Tree this past Thursday. (B.L. Azure photo)

“Our ancestors were all over this valley, all over western Montana, all over Montana, all over this country. There was a time when all the Elders that I learned from were here. But they have passed on. Now I have to pass on the things they gave me to pass down to the next generation,” Incashola told the young ones. “We encourage you to take life seriously, value life. We are counting on you, the young generation. Our traditions and language are very important to us, to who we are. That’s why it’s important for you to learn your culture, language and government. You are the future leaders. Our hopes are with you just like our ancestors’ hopes were with us. You have to work hard to keep what we have for the next generations. That is how we will survive.”

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