Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - On a sun-splashed afternoon in Missoula, officials from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the City of Missoula, and Missoula County met together at what is now officially the Beartracks Bridge for a long-awaited dedication ceremony.

The first to speak was Stephen Small Salmon of the Salish Kootenai tribe, who opened with a prayer in the Salish language and welcomed the crowd.

“Why are we dancing and all this stuff, you know?” began Small Salmon. “We need to love each other, not fight each other, because, we don’t have very much time left. Today we meet new friends, and shake hands with them. Don’t be bashful like me (laughter). Just enjoy yourselves; enjoy the sunshine, because tomorrow it’s supposed to snow (laughter).”

CSKT Chairman Tom McDonald also celebrated the day and remembered the contribution of the late Mayor John Engen as a driving force for the renaming of the bridge.

“It’s really important to be able to have those folks that are enlightened that are bringing forward the movement to be inclusive, to recognize our native people in the landscape. And it's so heartening to have a mayor that Missoula had for such a long time, Mayor Engen is really something.”

One of the principal movers of the project was County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, who gave an impassioned address to the crowd.

“So today is about remembering,” began Strohmaier. “It's about reconciliation. It's about redemption. It's about renewal and hope and to lean into the future with that hope. There are many thanks to be given did and some of the folks who I would have  already been mentioned, but I'll just say again, a big thanks to the Vanderburgh family for joining us today and the heritage that they bring with them to this place at this spot.”

Also speaking at the ceremony was new Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess, who celebrated the inclusive spirit of Missoula.

“The city of Missoula strives to be a place that is just, that is equitable, that is inclusive and diverse,” said Mayor Hess. “And when we do that, we strive to be a community where everyone is valued and welcomed and can have their physical and spiritual and mental and emotional and social needs met.”

Following the ceremony, led by tribal drumming and singers, the crowd symbolically retraced the steps of the Beartracks family over the bridge to Caras Park for a community powwow.

2022 Montana Griz Homecoming Parade

Missoula, MT - A collection of floats, banners, pageantry and fun during the 2022 University of Montana Homecoming Parade, the 1st in two years.

Get to Know Missoula A to Z

All about Missoula, Montana.

More From Montana Talks