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(Many Paths)
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SQCC Director Tony Incashola Presented With Montana Historical Society Heritage Award
by B.L. Azure - Char-Koosta News
Salish Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola addresses the Montana Historical Society upon his receiving its Board of Trustees Heritage Keeper Award in Helena. (B.L. Azure photo)

HELENA, MT — Tony Incashola, director of the Séliš-Ql?ispé Culture Committee, was acknowledge Friday at the Montana Historical Society's 44th annual Montana History Conference in the Capitol City.

Incashola was presented with the MHS Board of Trustees Heritage Keeper Award for his dedication to preserving, protecting, and perpetuating the culture, history and language of the Salish and Pend d'Oreille people of the Flathead Nation, said trustee Tom Nygard.

"The length, depth and breadth of Incashola's service to the Culture Committee, the Salish and Pend d'Oreille peoples, other communities within the Tribes' traditional homeland, and the people of Montana as a whole make him the very epitome of a heritage keeper," Nygard said of Incashola, a U.S. Army and VietNam War veteran who began working at the SQCC in 1975 and became the director in 1995. "He is deeply respected as a bridge builder."

The Yamncut Drum sings an honor song in respects to Tony Incashola's MHS award presentation. (B.L. Azure photo)

On hand for the presentation was an entourage from the Flathead Reservation that included the Yamncut Drum who opened the Friday evening's awards banquet with three songs then followed up the award presentation to Incashola with an honor song.

"Tony's steady leadership, dedication to the cause of cultural survival and revival has help establish the Séliš-Ql?ispé Culture Committee as one of the foremost tribal cultural institutions in the nation," said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Council Chairman Vernon Finley in letter to the MHS read by Nygard. "That has helped spur our young people to learn their own identity and has helped the wider public gain greater respect for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes."

Incashola, as is his manner, directed credit for those who birthed and sculpted his being. He lost his mother when he was a toddler and was raised by his grandparents.

Tony Incashola displays the Montana Heritage Keepers Award presented to him by MHS Trustee Tom Nygard. (B.L. Azure photo)

"By honoring me, you are honoring my parents, my grandparents, and our ancestors who have existed here for thousands of years," Incashola told the approximately 200 attendees at the awards dinner. "I was very fortunate to be raised by my grandparents. They were strong and understanding. They pushed me and made me who I am today. What a gift they left me."

Incashola said American history is like a giant puzzle that contains many pieces, some are beautiful and some are ugly but they all make up the mosaic portrait of the true history of America, which for the aboriginal inhabitants began more than a half a millennium ago with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The Aboriginal people then were the entire puzzle of the Western Hemisphere.

"It takes many, many pieces to complete this picture. The puzzle pieces, our puzzle pieces paint a clear understanding of who we are and where we came from," Incashola said. "We are just part of a bigger picture."

The bigger picture of America however has often blurred or disregarded the American Indian's place but Incashola reminded folks that change is slow — change for the better extremely slow — but change comes and hopefully it's for the better.

Tony and Denise Incashola stand as Tony is being honor with a Yamncut honor song. (B.L. Azure photo)

"The 1960s were not the best times for a lot of people but we survived by building bridges and filling in the gaps that kept people apart," Incashola said. "We were able to come to an understanding of people of different nationalities. It's people like you that help bring our dreams to reality. It takes all of us here to get people to understand what life should be so we can go wherever we want to go without being afraid, to a place of comfort. Tonight, this place has that feel."

The Indian piece, in particular the Salish and Pend d'Oreille part, of the American puzzle is cherished and perpetuated by Incashola, the SQCC and cultural traditional practitioners.

"We continue to do this for our children and grandchildren. What we do is never for ourselves today, it's always for the future," Incashola said. "We want to give the generations yet to come the hopes and dreams that the have been passed down from the generation of our people that came first. I think that many of the ancestors' dreams are realized today. We still have a long ways to go but we have proven we can bridge the gaps of misunderstanding. We must continue bridge-building so our kids will be in a better place."

The Yamncut Drum wishes Tony Incashola well following their honor song in his honor. (B.L. Azure photo)

A better place includes understanding the light and dark side of history.

"History is like a teacher. You can learn from it so you don't make the same mistake twice," Incashola said. "When you teach history, you must teach not only the good but the bad. Don't turn away from the bad history; learn from it. We need both to build the truth so we can make corrections and move forward."

Incashola said his journey forward would not be as successful without his significant other, wife Denise.

"We always have someone who will always be there for you. Sometimes we take that person for granted," Incashola said. "I wouldn't be here today if wasn't for my wife, Denise. She's always there for me, through the hard times, through the good times. Sometimes I take her for granted. Thank you, Denise."

Thank you, Tony.

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