Missoula dedicates Sxʷúytis Smx̣e [Beartracks] Bridge in honor of a Salish leader
Hundreds of people gathered on Indigenous Peoples' Day Monday to dedicate a landmark bridge in Missoula in honor of a Salish tribal leader and his descendants.
To the sound of drums and singing, elders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes led a procession over the Beartracks Bridge on Higgins Avenue Monday. The walk from south to north was meant to symbolize a similar path taken by the Séliš (Salish) people more than 130 years ago after the U.S. government forced them to move from their home in the Bitterroot Valley to land on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
The bridge’s name honors Sxʷúytis Smx̣e [pronunciation], or Grizzly Bear Tracks, a prominent Séliš sub-chief whose descendants maintain an important presence within the tribe. Jesuit missionaries gave the Bear Tracks family the last name “Vanderburg” in the 1800s.
Founding member of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee and Bear Tracks descendant, Lucy Vanderburg, said she’s proud of her relatives’ efforts to preserve Séliš culture.
“And I know in my heart the renaming of this bridge is pleasing to Bear Tracks and to all the Salish Pend d'Oreille people,” Vanderburg said.
Interpretive signs explaining the bridge’s namesake were also unveiled, and banners bearing Grizzly Bear Tracks’ likeness and name in the Séliš language line the bridge’s lamp posts.
The ceremony was the culmination of nearly two years of collaboration between tribal leaders and the Missoula County Board of Commissioners. Commissioner Dave Strohmaier first approached the CSKT Tribal Council with the idea that the bridge’s name recognize the history of the region’s Indigenous peoples.
“It’s only fitting that finally, in the year 2022 on Indigenous Peoples Day, we dedicate this bridge ‘Bear Tracks bridge,’ recognizing this deep cultural landscape here in the Missoula Valley,” Strohmaier said.
A tribal affairs official with the U.S. Department of Transportation also attended alongside representatives from Montana’s congressional delegation.