BITTERROOT VALLEY – The Medicine Tree along the East Fork of the Bitterroot River is a sacred site for the Salish people, reminding them of ancestors, timeless teachings and the beauty and importance of the Bitterroot Valley.
But in these turbulent times, it’s becoming a location reminding all of us of the values that are central to a good life.
The Salish have gathered at the Medicine Tree for generations to remember creation stories and to also look forward to the future.
And even though much of the tree was snapped off in a huge windstorm a decade ago, it still has deep significance for the tribe.
This week, volunteers cleaned up brush, removing trash carelessly tossed aside at this sacred site, showing respect so that the tribe can gather along the river twice a year for lessons, prayers, and offerings.
This year in particular, tribute is being paid to the elders as more and more of that generation depart this life. But taking their place are little ones who face their own journeys.
While there was a lot of sadness on Thursday for the tribal elders who weren’t at the ceremony, there were also prayers to be ‘lifted up’, to use those traditions and teachings to help the tribe deal with the problems, and challenges, of today’s world.
“You could feel the ancestors here. You could still hear their words. Words that have been passed down for generations, and how to be who we are. And how to respect, how to do things and what needs to be done for future generations,” said Salish Culture Committee member Tony Incashola.
During a time when tribal members — and people as a whole — face increasing problems of drugs, alcohol, suicide and abuse, the prayers serve to remind everyone to stay on the path.
“Time — through thousands of years getting here — some things have changed. But the values that we have, and the values that were given to us by our ancestors don’t change,” Incashola said.
“So, therefore, it goes from generation to generation and working different things. Maybe different issues, different times, different problems. But it’s still that same consistent way of doing those things,” he added.
Even though the Medicine Tree has special significance for the Salish, it’s a gift they willingly share with others, asking for the same respect, and opening the door to same reassurance and peace they feel here.
“It’s not just the site for our people. It’s a site for all people. And we, even though it was created through our culture, and our way, what we do here, it’s not generally just for us,” Incashola said.
“It’s for all mankind. All humans, all in our environment. Like I said earlier, all living things that we find and teach our children to respect,” he added.
The tribe has acquired additional property at the Medicine Tree site in recent years to allow for more parking and safety along the busy highway.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News