Beartracks Bridge Now Subject to Montana Transportation Commission Approval

MISSOULA – With the support of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the City and County of Missoula, it is now up to the Montana Transportation Commission to affix its official seal to the Beartracks Bridge.

Missoula County signed a letter of support for the new name of the Higgins Bridge last week and sent it to the commission ahead of next month’s meeting. The bridge is undergoing a $ 17 million renovation, which is expected to be completed this fall.

“The completion of this project will provide a great opportunity not only to dedicate fully renovated infrastructure to future generations, but also to do so in a way that helps make our community more inclusive and fosters greater respect and understanding.” between all of our citizens, ”the city and county wrote in their letter of support.

The name Beartracks, or Sx͏ʷuytis Smx̣e in the Salish language, was not chosen for the “charismatic megafauna” that inhabit the area, noted Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. Rather, he was chosen by the CSKT to honor the Beartracks family line, which has been associated with some of the most respected Salish leaders over the past 200 years.

Among them, Alexander Beartracks signed the Hellgate and Lame Bull treaties in 1855. His daughter, Mary Beartracks, later married Louis Vanderburg, who served as sous chef under Chief Charlo. Venderburg led a group of his people out of the Bitterroot Valley during the forced withdrawal of the United States Army in 1891. During the withdrawal, they either crossed the first rickety “Higgins” bridge or forded the Clark Fork River. near the same place.

“He’s led this group on what in many ways is considered our own Trail of Tears here in western Montana,” Strohmaier said. “It is a shameful event that we would be remiss not to remember.”

Strohmaier often pointed out the important names that adorn much of Missoula’s infrastructure – the names of American presidents and city fathers, such as Francis Warden and Christopher Higgins. Missing are the names of people who inhabited the area long before they arrived on Lewis and Clark’s tails. Those behind the name change effort believe it’s time to correct the oversight.

“It’s not just a name that we attach to an object. Naming these public facilities is an act of public education, ”said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “This is not a rewrite of history. It adds to our story and makes it more complete. Having things as iconic as this bridge with this name (Beartracks) will help us fill these gaps in our history. “

Missoula City Council also approved the Beartracks name last month, although some council members have expressed reluctance to “rewrite history.” Other cities across the country have removed statues of former rulers due to their ties to different eras in America, and some have criticized the process.

Strohmaier said naming the bridge was not part of what has come to be known as the “culture of cancellation”.

“This bridge does not have a name at the moment,” Strohmaier said. “Higgins Avenue will continue to cross the Beartracks Bridge in the future. “

In conferring the name Beartracks Bridge, Defenders seek to recognize the Beartracks family and the Salish people as a whole, and the sacrifices they endured as well as their legacy and presence in Missoula.

The name was recommended by the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribe and their cultural committee. But the bridge is owned by the Montana Department of Transportation and renaming it requires approval from the state legislature or Transportation Commission.

“Place names mean something to everyone. It’s not just a name, it’s a story, a story, our way of life, ”said tribal elder Tony Incashola. “As I have history in this region where my ancestors lived, it’s always good to be at home. It feels good to still be in this area.


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