A story from the Bitterroot Salish
Montana, 1891 — Last night, I stood outside alone, under the cold October moon. I took off my moccasins. I wanted my feet to remember the earth where my grandfather is buried. I wanted my feet to remember the stones. I wanted the souls of my feet to remember where I came from.
Tears rolled down my face and dropped into the dust. I hugged myself. My children ask me a million questions a day, and they think I have the answer to everything. They asked me why we had to leave our home. They asked me what makes a family take a home away from another family, and I don’t know what to say.
We lost our home, and to my kids, it feels like we’ve lost everything. I told them to remember nobody can take away our love for each other. Wherever my children go, however old they get, wherever they live, I will always love them, and I will always pray for them.
The day we left the Bitterroot Valley for the Flathead Reservation, I said to my kids, “Look at the grassy hills connected to the tall mountains. Look at your arms connected to your body. Look at your feet connected to the ground you walk on. You are connected to everything. You are made of this land, and the trees, fish, deer, and clouds are made of your ancestors. You are always connected to someone who loves you.”
Others had already moved to the reservation. A little over 200 of us stayed with our chief, Chief Charlo, as long as we could. On the last day, we all traveled together, taking what we could from our homes. I wonder how long it took for another woman to stand in my doorway or put her kids where my kids had slept.
We traveled over 50 miles. People built stores on land where we harvested bitterroot. We traveled across Missoula, a town with churches, houses, schools, a bridge and railroads. People stared as we passed by.
When we got to the Flathead Reservation, I had so much to do, I didn’t know where to start. I felt like someone had died. I wanted to cry, but I had to feed my kids. My husband and I had to build a new house with nothing. All we had was each other.