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Missoula Co. continuing trend of marking Native American heritage

CSKT Flag Ceremony Missoula County
Posted at 7:17 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 21:17:21-05

MISSOULA — Missoula County is continuing a trend to rename local landmarks in honor of the Native tribes that have, and still do, inhabit this land.

County commissioners voted on Thursday to change the name of the Mullan Area Master Plan to Sxwtpqyen.

What's in a name? Walking around downtown Missoula, you'll streets named after trees, bridges named after local settlers.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier says that's because we name things after what's familiar to us, but that's not good enough anymore.

“Names are critically important,” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) spokesman Robert McDonald.

He says he was pleasantly surprised when Missoula County officials asked for input on renaming the Mullan Area Master Plan and Higgins Avenue Bridge.

“We have stories about geographical places there. We all know the history is not the easiest history sometimes, but here we are today,” McDonald said.

Commissioner Strohmaier says this small gesture is long overdue.

"We're not recognizing the depth and importance that other cultures and other peoples have played in this place, in this community over time,” Strohmaier told MTN News.

The borders for Missoula County and the Flathead Indian Reservation overlap in some areas.

"As such it's important to maintain and strengthen our relationships with this Sovereign nation in our midst,” Strohmaier said.

Over the past couple of years, the Missoula County commissioners renamed their meeting room after Sophie Moiese, a Salish tribal leader, and hung the CSKT flag in the room.

"When a government says let's see how we can do things better and acknowledge the fullness and the wholeness and the complexity of the history, and then reach out to us in an effort to help do that, what a wonderful thing,” McDonald said.

McDonald says he looks forward to continuing work like this with Missoula County in the future: "Possibilities. If we can do this, what can we do next?"

CSKT leaders are still in the process of deciding on a new name to present for the Higgins Avenue Bridge.

It will need to be approved by the Montana Department of Transportation and will require the approval of either the Montana Legislature or the State Transportation Commission.

Watch an extended clip below with CSKT spokesman Robert McDonald below.

WEB EXTRA: CSKT's Rob McDonald expounds on the importance of names, history