Bitter Root Day is a cultural heritage event at the Ravalli County Museum set for Saturday.
This is the second year featuring The People’s Center in Pablo. Traditional Salish drummers, singers and dancers will perform. They also will bring exhibits, demonstrate native bead art and will have items from their gift shop available for purchase.
Tamar Stanley, museum director, said the cultural experience is impressive.
“It is exciting to see their art combined with their love of life and it is a living culture today,” Stanley said. “This is their homeland and we need to respect that and live with them here. Whenever we have the chance to share their culture, respectively we do.”
The People’s Center in Pablo brings the cultural heritage of the Salish tribe that has passed from generation to generation. They have adapted with time and technology yet preserve and share their heritage, history and culture. Their website says their goal is to “dispel myths and stereotyping of Native Americans and create better understanding between all peoples.”
Stanley said the Salish pick the Bitter Root plants only at certain times of the year, using it for sacred rites.
“For them to share that piece of their culture with us is special,” she said.
Sarah Monson, marketing, graphics and events coordinator, said the museum welcomes The People’s Center from Pablo.
“They coordinate the Salish components of the event for us. Bitter Root Day is a cultural heritage event that is centered on two stories,” Monson said. “One of them is about the current residents here and how the bitter root flower became the state flower. The other is Salish and centered on the bitter root as a sacred flower.”
The Salish story of the bitter root is a remembrance and a creation story that is usually only spoken of during the winter.
“We want to be very respectful to our Salish guests and we have been given permission from Tony Incashola to tell the story for Bitter Root Day,” Monson said.
The story is told that near the end of a particularly harsh winter, the Salish People were on the verge of starvation with their stores of food nearly depleted. A grandmother fed the last of her food to her family then prayed to the Creator for something to come. She wept and her tears splashed to the ground and formed the first bitter root flower.
The museum will have bitter root plants for sale. Ed Purcell purchased a piece of land with bitter root plants. He contacted the museum and the plants were rescued before a construction project began.
“John Stroud will also present information on the bitter root plant,” Stanley said. “He is trying to preserve them for the community. They once were plentiful in Missoula, about where Costco is now.”
The Ravalli County Museum is pulling together activities, vendors and performances for the celebration on Saturday.
The “Flathead Nation” drum group from the Salish tribe will drum, sing and dance in full regalia showing the traditional Salish dances. The People’s Center will have a display about their culture with information from Dana Hewankorn, the Education Director. There will be beading demonstrations and sales of the artists’ work. Bead artists are Dana Hewankorn, Evelyn Caye, Claire Charlo and Maxine Michel.
The museum will have a food booth in the center of the lawn. They are selling buffalo brats. Other vendors will also have food and produce for sale.
The museum’s two signature competitions, jerky and recycle crafts, will be at the museum’s booth.
“The recycle competition is ‘People’s Choice,’” Monson said. “For some reason these entries come in at the very last second, so I don’t know how many we will have.”
The jerky has tasting judges.
“The contestants bring in eight strips of jerky and their entry form that tells us what it is that they created,” Monson said. “We have two to three judges that taste each entry and the winner earns bragging rights.”
Randi Burdette, educator for the museum, said she is building games.
“We’ll have Salish-based games and activities or Montana activities if I couldn’t find something specific to the Salish people,” Burdette said. “Stick and ring” and “hoop and dart” are two games that improve hand and eye coordination particularly useful for hunting small game.”