MISSOULA - It was a special way to mark Indigenous People's Day in Missoula as the Higgins Avenue Bridge was rededicated as the Beartracks Bridge in honor of the people who once called the area home.
The ceremony was a collaboration between the Salish Cultural Advisory Council, the city and county of Missoula, and the Montana Department of Transportation. The renaming of Beartracks honors the complex history of Missoula and recognizes the intersection of cultures that created this place.
The events began with a dedication ceremony that renamed the bridge in honor of Grizzly Bear Tracks who was a leader of the highest stature among the Salish people and was one of Chief Charlo's top advisors.
Monday's ceremony of the Beartracks Bridge:
MTN News talked with Joe McDonald of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes about the Salish people's history with this bridge. He told us the night before they crossed the bridge, they camped at what is now the intersection of Third and Higgins -- which is where Monday’s ceremony was held.
The Tribe crossed the bridge the next morning and camped at the base of Evaro Hill. McDonald recounted that Chief Charlo then told his tribal members to put on their finest regalia to complete the journey. They were to walk on to the Reservation looking happy even though most were pretending.
The descendants of Grizzly Bear Tracks — the Vanderburgs — honored their ancestors as well as the dedication on Monday. During the ceremony, tribal members asked the public to not only celebrate this day but to learn from it. They asked that people meet tribal elders, shake their hands, and get to know them in friendship.
MTN News estimates between 300 to 400 people joined in the day’s events. The dedication ceremony was followed by a powwow, drums, dancers, food trucks, educational materials, and a craft vendor fair at Caras Park.
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