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Students get history lesson by planting bitterroots in Missoula

Students plant Bitterroot plants to celebrate and understand their history.
Posted at 2:50 PM, Oct 17, 2019

Instead of visiting a museum or reading about it in a textbook, students from Nkwusm Salish Language School in Arlee and Two Eagle River School in Pablo spent the day learning about their history in a unique way.

The kids planted over 700 bitterroots in an area near Fort Missoula Regional Park on Wednesday. The plants were grown in greenhouses in a collaborative effort by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Missoula County Parks and Recreation.

Planting them is just the first step in a long term plan to reestablish the population of bitterroots in the area so they can be harvested periodically by CSKT.

According to the school leaders, the Salish people would visit the Missoula Valley and collect the bitterroot plant in the early 1900s. Missoula Conservation Lands Manger Morgan Villiant believes this project is bringing history back to life.

“This project is one where we are not just understanding the history but we’re rebuilding. Doing active restoration. And turning it into an active site to help maintain culture," he explained. "And I think that’s unique. A lot of history is interpreted with signage or in museums, but this is history on the ground actively growing and something that we can use."

Each of the older kids were tasked with helping one of the 50 kindergarten students plant the bitterroots. Passing this lesson on from one generation to the next is part of what Nkwusm teacher and Cultural Specialist Allen Pierre says is important.

He added it's just as important that each student learns what it takes to help create a sustainable future and to treat the earth with respect.

“It's not just another field trip. They’re taking but they are giving back. That’s a key thing for them to understand is that whenever you take something you have to give back all the time,” said Pierre.

Pierre hopes these students will someday return to the site with their children.