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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Honoring the Legends:
Medicine Tree Continues Its Spiritual Sustenance
by B.L. Azure - Char-Koosta News
credits: all photos by B.L.Azure
Hundreds of folks of all ages prayed at the Medicine Tree last week.
MEDICINE TREE — Deep in the heart of the craggy Bitterroot Valley lays one of the traditional spiritual touchstones of the Bitterroot Salish, the Medicine Tree. It is one of the Creation Stories foundations that has sustained the spirit and history of the Bitterroot Salish for hundreds of years. Each year in the spring and fall the Salish and Pend d'Oreille people make journey south to reconnect with the past, take heed of the present and plant spiritual seeds in the young people.

"We have come back here today to remember our ancestors and to continue our connection to the past to remind ourselves who we are, to remember our grandparents and ancestors and what this land, this site meant to them," said Salish Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola in his welcoming address to the nearly 100 folks of all ages who made the more than 200 mile round trip journey from the Flathead Reservation to the aboriginal homeland of the Bitterroot Salish. It is a homeland that they were forcibly removed from in the late 1800s. "We are the Salish and Kalispel people, we will continue to exist as Salish and Kalispel people because of what we pass down to our children."

One of the things passed down is to care for the physical and metaphysical existence.

Pend d'Oreille Elder Pat Pierre offers words of wisdom to the young folks gathered at the Medicine Tree.

"We were sent here to be the stewards of the land," said Pend d'Oreille Elder Pat Pierre. "We are at the sacred place so we can share our knowledge with the young people so that knowledge can go on forever."

Salish Elder Louie Adams said it is always a pleasure to make the journey to the Bitterroot homeland and it doesn't take him long to get into the spirit of trip, a spirit that has been going on since time immemorial.

"Just coming down here today I can see our ancestors, see them hunting and fishing, going to the hundreds of lakes in the area," Adams said of his heart's eye vision. "We've lived in peace, the Salish never spilt the blood of the whiteman."

Salish Elder Louie Adams addresses folks at the Medicine Tree.

Incashola said the spiritual and cultural strength passed on by the ancestors has helped the Salish and Kalispel people maintain their identity in an ever-changing human and political landscape created by the Western invasion.

"Every year we struggle to maintain our existence," Incashola said in reference to the latest battle, the water rights compact imbroglio. "People fear that we will take someone's land and water. In reality it has always been our land and water but we don't own it. It is ours to take care of, to utilize for our needs. We don't necessarily own it but we protect it so we can pass it on to the future generations. That's what the ancestors did for us; they protected the land and water and passed it down to us to care for. That's why we're here today, to pass on that privilege of caring for this to the future, to the young people. I hope in 100 years people will still be coming here to pass on our traditional spiritual values, they are part of our existence, our sustenance. Our ancestors' footprints are all over this place; it is now our responsibility to leave the footprints that the children of the future will walk in. Our dreams and hopes walk with the children that are here today. This place will always be important to us because we put the ways of the ancestors in the hearts of the young ones here today so they can pass that to those yet to come."

Offerings are tied together so they can be tossed up to the branches of the New Medicine Tree.

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The Sacred Medicine Tree of the Salish
The Medicine Tree is prominent in the traditional stories of creation as passed down by the Salish over time. This is the story of a great medicine man named Coyote who traveled the land destroying evil monsters to prepare the earth for human beings who were yet to come.

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