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Special ceremony marks naming of Missoula’s Beartracks Bridge

Beartracks Bridge Dedication.jpeg
Beartracks Bridge Dedication
Beartracks Bridge Dedication
Beartracks Bridge Dedication
Beartracks Bridge Dedication
Beartracks Bridge Dedication.jpg
Posted at 3:19 PM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 09:31:01-04

MISSOULA - It was a special way to mark Indigenous People's Day in Missoula as the Higgins Avenue Bridge was rededicated as the Beartracks Bridge in honor of the people who once called the area home.

The ceremony was in collaboration between the Salish Cultural Advisory Council, the city and county of Missoula, and the Montana Department of Transportation. The renaming of Beartracks honors the complex history of Missoula and recognizes the intersection of cultures that created this place.

The events began with a dedication ceremony that renamed the bridge is being renamed in honor of Grizzly Bear Tracks who was a leader of the highest stature among the Salish people and was one of Chief Charlo's top advisors.

Watch video of Monday's dedication ceremony of the Beartracks Bridge below.

RAW VIDEO: Beartracks Bridge Dedication in Missoula

MTN News talked with Joe McDonald of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes about the Salish people's history with this bridge. He told us the night before they crossed the bridge, they camped at what is now the intersection of Third and Higgins — which is where Monday’s ceremony was held.

The Tribe crossed the bridge the next morning and camped at the base of Evaro Hill. McDonald recounted that Chief Charlo then told his tribal members to put on their finest regalia to complete the journey. They were to walk on to the Reservation looking happy even though most were pretending.

Watch below as CSKT elders and tribal members make their way across the Beartracks Bridge during Monday's dedication ceremony.

WEB EXTRA: CSKT elders and tribal members cross the Beartracks Bridge

The descendants of Grizzly Bear Tracks — the Vanderburgs — honored their ancestors as well as the dedication on Monday. During the ceremony, tribal members asked the public to not only celebrate this day but to learn from it. They asked that people meet tribal elders, shake their hands, and get to know them in friendship.

"For me, today is not so much a celebration but a time of remembrance and a time to remember everything that my ancestors have gone through just to make sure that I am able to stand up here today and I am able to learn my language and my culture and share it with everybody," said Malia Vanderburg. "So happy Indigenous Peoples' Day!"

MTN News is estimating at least 300 to 400 people joined in the day’s bittersweet events.

The dedication ceremony was followed by a powwow, drums, dancers, food trucks, educational materials, and a craft vendor fair at Caras Park which ended at around 6 p.m.

The entire Beartracks Bridge is not open at this time. MDT officials told us last week that construction was expected to wrap up, but some repairs need to be completed, including on the west side. However, the shared-use path on the east side of the bridge opened for pedestrians and bicyclists on Monday.

The west side of the bridge is expected to close for repairs, which will cause traffic to move to the east side. The bridge will not fully open until repairs are complete, however, both walkways are open.