Saving the Stories

Salish-Pend d’Orielle project puts tribe’s oral tradition on the record

Story and photos by RYAN GROVE

If you want to hear the heartbeat of the St. Ignatius tribal community, listen for it at the Longhouse.

Funerals and wakes are held there. On racks outside the building, the people often dry meat that has been donated to serve those who come for the many gatherings and meetings that knit a society together.

But they also come for the stories so carefully preserved by the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, which has worked since the mid-1970s to “preserve, protect, and perpetuate the living culture and traditional ways of life of our people.”

One of the organization’s primary tasks is to record the history of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille peoples, said director Antoine Incashola.

“Our history is passed down through the stories of our ancestors,” Incashola said. “Because of this, it could very easily be lost to the younger generations. It is our responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

To save the stories, the committee has interviewed dozens of tribal elders and recorded their memories. Today, the tribe’s youth have access to more than 300 audiotapes containing hundreds of hours of interviews, some in the Salish language, some in English.

Language specialist Shirley Trahan is responsible for transcribing the tapes from Salish to English and vice versa.

“It’s important to have our history preserved in the Salish language to preserve the language as well, “ she said. “But it’s also important to make it available to people who aren’t fluent in the language so that they can understand who we are and where we come from.”

The committee also participates in cultural and tribal events in the surrounding area, such as the annual fall bison roundup at the National Bison Range, where Incashola offers the opening prayer.

Members of the culture committee are active beyond St. Ignatius. They speak at schools, town meetings and local events.

Each year, Incashola meets a group of Corvallis High School students at places of cultural significance to the Salish and Pend d’Oreille peoples. He shares with them the knowledge passed on to him by his ancestors.

“It is important to me to educate not only my own people,” said Incashola. “But also the non-Indian community in order to foster a better understanding of the First People of this country and to understand why we do the things we do to protect and preserve our environment for future generations.”