With the Flathead River flowing in full spring form, community members of all ages visited its banks near Moiese last week during the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ annual River Honoring.
Featuring a variety of cultural and scientific-themed activities, the three-day event paid tribute to the river’s legacy and the role it plays in the life of local residents.
“The first thing people probably think of is swimming and fishing,” Tony Incashola, director of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, said. “But a lot of people don’t realize how much is being shared down here.”
Over 1,000 fourth graders from around the Mission Valley took in this message during the River Honoring’s educational extravaganza on Tuesday and Wednesday. Stations manned by employees of the CSKT Natural Resources Department taught students about the various issues and efforts associated with the health of the river.
“We let them get hands on,” Martin Barnaby of the CSKT Division of Water, said. “They love it.”
Barnaby and fellow hydrologist George McCloud showed students some of the hi-tech gadgets used in their field, including a $40,000 remote controlled boat that collects stream flow and other data.
At the next station over, CSKT Water Quality Program Manager Paula Webster lead a lesson on invasive species, particularly zebra and quagga mussels, which were detected in Montana for the first time last fall.
With Flathead Lake and the greater Columbia River Basin at risk of infection via contaminated boats and watercraft, Webster said preventing the spread of invasive species should be second nature, liking putting on a seatbelt when entering a car.
“It starts with you guys,” Webster said. “Repeat after me: Friends don’t let friends transport invasive species.”
Webster explained the various methods mussels are transported between water bodies, including boat trailers, boots, fishing waders and even wet dogs.
“That seem kind of silly, right” she asked. “But it’s not.”
While her audience occasionally became sidetracked by some of the more rambunctious activities such as a Native American stick game called double ball, Webster had a trick to regain their attention.
At every noisy outburst from their neighbors, Webster told her students to scream back, “invasive species.”
After instilling the importance of cleaning, draining and drying all watercraft and equipment, Webster urged the students to spread the message among friends and family.
“That’s pretty powerful information and you guys know that now,” Webster said. “I want you to be the educators.”
Passing lessons between generations fulfilled a primary goal of the River Honoring.
Incashola said he remembers his family camping beside the river every fall, hunting, fishing and gathering food for the winter. This experience, he said, taught him the importance of preserving the resource.
As the river emerges as a popular recreation area, Incashola said he has noticed an increase in ATV trails and abandoned fire pits dotting the landscape.
“A lot of things don’t bounce back,” he said. “We’re trying to teach them to take care of it.”