MEDICINE TREE Deep in the heart of the craggy Bitterroot
Valley lays one of the traditional spiritual touchstones of the Bitterroot
Salish, the Medicine Tree. It is one of the Creation Stories foundations
that has sustained the spirit and history of the Bitterroot Salish
for hundreds of years. Each year in the spring and fall the Salish
and Pend d'Oreille people make journey south to reconnect with the
past, take heed of the present and plant spiritual seeds in the young
of folks of all ages prayed at the Medicine Tree last week.
"We have come back here today to remember our ancestors and
to continue our connection to the past to remind ourselves who we
are, to remember our grandparents and ancestors and what this land,
this site meant to them," said Salish Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee
Director Tony Incashola in his welcoming address to the nearly 100
folks of all ages who made the more than 200 mile round trip journey
from the Flathead Reservation to the aboriginal homeland of the
Bitterroot Salish. It is a homeland that they were forcibly removed
from in the late 1800s. "We are the Salish and Kalispel people,
we will continue to exist as Salish and Kalispel people because
of what we pass down to our children."
One of the things passed down is to care for the physical and
d'Oreille Elder Pat Pierre offers words of wisdom to the young
folks gathered at the Medicine Tree.
"We were sent here to be the stewards of the land," said Pend
d'Oreille Elder Pat Pierre. "We are at the sacred place so we can
share our knowledge with the young people so that knowledge can
go on forever."
Salish Elder Louie Adams said it is always a pleasure to make
the journey to the Bitterroot homeland and it doesn't take him long
to get into the spirit of trip, a spirit that has been going on
since time immemorial.
"Just coming down here today I can see our ancestors, see them
hunting and fishing, going to the hundreds of lakes in the area,"
Adams said of his heart's eye vision. "We've lived in peace, the
Salish never spilt the blood of the whiteman."
Elder Louie Adams addresses folks at the Medicine Tree.
Incashola said the spiritual and cultural strength passed on
by the ancestors has helped the Salish and Kalispel people maintain
their identity in an ever-changing human and political landscape
created by the Western invasion.
"Every year we struggle to maintain our existence," Incashola
said in reference to the latest battle, the water rights compact
imbroglio. "People fear that we will take someone's land and water.
In reality it has always been our land and water but we don't own
it. It is ours to take care of, to utilize for our needs. We don't
necessarily own it but we protect it so we can pass it on to the
future generations. That's what the ancestors did for us; they protected
the land and water and passed it down to us to care for. That's
why we're here today, to pass on that privilege of caring for this
to the future, to the young people. I hope in 100 years people will
still be coming here to pass on our traditional spiritual values,
they are part of our existence, our sustenance. Our ancestors' footprints
are all over this place; it is now our responsibility to leave the
footprints that the children of the future will walk in. Our dreams
and hopes walk with the children that are here today. This place
will always be important to us because we put the ways of the ancestors
in the hearts of the young ones here today so they can pass that
to those yet to come."
are tied together so they can be tossed up to the branches
of the New Medicine Tree.
Sacred Medicine Tree of the Salish
The Medicine Tree is prominent in the traditional stories of creation
as passed down by the Salish over time. This is the story of a great
medicine man named Coyote who traveled the land destroying evil
monsters to prepare the earth for human beings who were yet to come.