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Sustainable Missoula: We’re all on indigenous land

This photo is part of a broader project called “Indigenizing Colonized Spaces,” which features portraits of Native women wearing traditional regalia in metropolitan settings – illustrating that wherever a person goes, they’re on Native land. Pictured is Rose Bear Don’t Walk, a UM alum and descendant of the Bitterroot Salish and Crow tribes. (Adam Sings in the Timber photo)

Classes have begun at the University of Montana once again and let’s be honest – students choose to come here because they love Missoula’s great vibe and Montana’s outdoors.

They love the numerous rivers to float on or fish, the local trails to hike, run or bike, Glacier and Yellowstone parks, and our dark skies to watch the Perseid meteor shower in August. They also love the numerous venues downtown to hang out and enjoy local food and music.

The majority of our UM students are not from Missoula and about a third are from out of state. Some states require Native American studies as part of their primary and secondary education curriculum. However, most do not. In Montana, we require “Indian Education for All.” But even with these programs I was surprised to learn that many of our students do not realize that no matter where they go in the United States they are on Indigenous land.

I teach in the Environmental Studies Program at UM. And my family has been in what is now Montana for thousands of years. I am Blackfeet on my mother’s side and Métis on my father’s side. I often introduce myself, jokingly, by saying “I am a 100th generation Montanan.”

Indigenous people have been in North America for more than 30,000 years (each year new scholarship pushes that date further back). During that time various tribal groups have developed intimate relationships with the land and landscape they call their own.

The Salish call what is now Missoula and western Montana home. They have been here for thousands of years and they continue to be here. After my first semester at UM, I recognized that most of my students did not know this and so I set out to change that. All my students now learn about Indigenous people.

In one assignment in my class, “Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Indigenous People,” the students do an in-depth project on places important to the Salish. They read The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition written by the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee. It is an engaging and fascinating book that shares the stories of Salish elders of their traditional knowledge and understanding of the landscape. The students go to the Mansfield Library archives to learn from old maps, drawings, photographs and documents. They meet with Salish educators, language specialists, ethnobotanists, tribal historians and wildlife biologists. And they look at maps.

The Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee has spent the last 25 years documenting their own places and place names across the northwest. They recently completed 24 full-color maps with hundreds of Salish place names, photographs and elder’s knowledge. UM’s Environmental Studies is lucky to own a complete set. With this wealth of evidence, it does not take long for students to appreciate that they are newcomers to an ancient landscape.

They joke as they look at the Google Earth images of Evaro Hill to see if it really looks like what the Coyote story (included in The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition) says it looks like. They are mortified to learn that a large paved parking lot in Missoula, of the former Shopko, was once a favorite place to harvest bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) by Salish elders not that long ago.

Montana is fortunate to have twelve tribes call it home. This means our landscape is saturated with thousands of environmental stories. Everything in Montana – every mountain, hill, river, creek, meadow, grassland, badland, animal, fish, tree, plant, bird, insect and even the night sky – has an Indigenous name and story.

Whether you are an incoming student or a long-time local resident, now is a great time to learn more about these places, Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and the environmental stewardship of the tribes of Montana. Reading the new 2019 edition of The Salish People is a great place to start.

Indigenous people have been here for thousands of years and we are still here. This is our home – you are on Indigenous land.

Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), Ph.D. is the author of Invisible Reality: Storytellers, Storytakers and the Supernatural World of the Blackfeet and an associate professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Weekly through September 3. Montana Renewable Energy Association’s Summer Series. Thursdays at 12:30 p.m., join in on virtual lunchtime presentations about renewable energy topics. More details and RSVP here.

August 15-September 30. Bike to Barns farm tour. Join CFAC exploring local farms and flavors on a self-guided 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Register here by September 15.

August 27, 11am-1pm. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Waste and Recycling. Free webinar from the National Recycling Coalition, kicking off their National Zero Waste Virtual Conference. Register online here.

September 10, 4 – 5:30 pm. Decarbonize Your Money: Investments, Banking, Offsets. Hosted by Families for a Livable Climate, this happy hour Zoom panel discussion will focus on how to decarbonize your money from personal investments, and business or organizational investments, to where you bank. And we will dive into the value of (LOCAL) carbon offsets. See more details and sign up to register.

September 12. Spontaneous Construction (SponCon) at Home ReSource. SponCon is a building contest and celebration of reuse in which teams compete to build their greatest creations out of Home ReSource materials. Register online today!

September 13-26. Missoula in Motion’s Commuter Challenge. Create or join your workplace team and log your sustainable trips to win prizes. Yes, working from home counts!

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.