MISSOULA - It's a recognition that has been years in the making.
The Beartracks Bridge in Missoula — formerly known as the Higgins Avenue Bridge — will be officially dedicated next week.
MTN News talked with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and Missoula County officials to learn more about the collaboration leading up to this event.
"This area that we're standing on — and extending in pretty much all directions — was our homeland,” explained Martin Charlo.
The US government forcibly removed tribal ancestors from their land, passing through what is now known as downtown Missoula, back in 1891.
“We have always been here, and I think that we are making sure that the people of Missoula. A lot of the new residents, even people that have lived here their whole lives, don't really know the history,” Charlo said. "We want to acknowledge it and heal from it, the past, and move forward."
CSKT elders and members will take part in a procession along the same route, across the newly dedicated Beartracks Bridge on Indigenous Peoples Day, which is Monday, Oct. 10.
“Bear Tracks was actually one of Chief Charlo's top advisors. Chief Charlo was the leader of the Bitterroot Salish. They were the band that held out and didn't move to the Reservation,” Charlo explained.
Monday's procession will be part of an official commemoration of the new bridge. “This really is over a century in the making,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier told MTN News.
The Vanderburg family, who are the descendants of Grizzly Bear Tracks, will also be honored. “The Vanderburgs have served a really prominent role in our retention of our culture,” Charlo noted.
The CSKT Culture Committee, Missoula city and county officials and the Montana Department of Transportation collaborated over the course of bridge construction to change the name.
“We're still doing well, and still working to be good partners and friends,” Charlo said.
Strohmaier says he hopes this kind of collaboration doesn't end here.
"We really hope this will be a model and be an inspiration for other regions of this state and this nation,” Strohmaier said. “In the very act of dedicating public structures like this -- and anything that we do in public places -- to take effort to recognize the long and enduring history of Indigenous Peoples, Native people in this country."
“Working together we can solve a lot more than we can just working alone. So, Missoula County and the City of Missoula -- they've been great,” Charlo said, “And I hope that other municipalities can see we definitely just want to work with them to make things better, and maybe add some history of ours along with that."
The celebration kicks off at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, and as part of the event, some information about the history of the land will be installed on panels, so that everyone who walks across the bridge can learn more.
Additional information about the bridge rehabilitation project can be found at https://www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/higginsbridge/.