By Jenna Cederberg, of the Missoulian:
HOT SPRINGS – Family and tradition came together in the rolling hills of greening prairie near Hot Springs on Wednesday, where the first tribal bitterroot dig of the season yielded plentiful bounty.
Led by members of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, the outing opened the gathering season for tribes.
“Not only do we honor the bitterroot, but we also honor our parents, grandparents and ancestors who have passed this on,” committee director Tony Incashola told the crowd waiting to dig.
Considered the “first visitor” by the Salish and Pend d’Oreille, the bitterroots sprout in large numbers throughout the Flathead Reservation. The roots growing under short green tufts – which sprout before the plant’s signature pink flower blooms later in the spring – are one of the most important traditional food sources for area tribes.
Before the dig could begin en masse, a single bitterroot was dug and blessed.
Salish Kootenai College Salish language instructor Alec Quequesah gave the opening prayer in the language of his ancestors. His granddaughter, Joanie Quequesah, 6, dug the first bitterroot.
Surrounded by more than 100 diggers, Joanie retrieved the tuft and dirty roots from a cracked mound of dirt, then presented it to the oldest woman at the dig, Salish elder Felicite McDonald, 88, for peeling.
“The first one that usually gets dug out of the ground, we talk to that bitterroot just like it’s a human being because it’s our first visitor and we thank that bitterroot for being here again for us,” said Charlie Quequesah, Joanie’s dad.
Thus continued the connection between nature and generations of Indian people.
“I hope that our young people who are here will continue to participate and learn from our elders and carry on the tradition for years to come,” Incashola said.