Missoula County Recognizes Place Names, Mullan Area and the Higgins Avenue Bridge

Horses graze in a field in the Sx͏ʷtpqyen area.

Missoula County and the City of Missoula acknowledge Missoula County is the homeland and aboriginal territories of the Salish and Kalispel people.

In recent years, we’ve made efforts to recognize and bring awareness to the history ingrained deep within Missoula County, memorializing past traditions, leaders and events that laid the foundational components of life as we know it today. This authentic honoring of an established friendship reconciling the impact of settler colonialism and elevating contemporary collaboration between Missoula County and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), is intended to inspire a lifelong relationship of respectful partnership.  

Missoula is expanding and developing, which presents an opportunity to recognize place names and honor the deep cultural landscape of this place. Two central projects are under construction: the Mullan Area and the bridge on Higgins Avenue. Led by Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, Missoula County met with the CSKT leadership and asked if they would be willing to provide appropriate place names for the locations being repaired and developed.  

After much research and thoughtful review, the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee submitted Sx͏ʷtpqyen (pronounced S-wh-tip-KAYN) as a place name for the Mullan Area development. Missoula County has been working with the City of Missoula on a joint master plan and form-based code to promote consistent and orderly development in this area. The result of this effort is the Sx͏ʷtpqyen Neighborhoods Master Plan and Traditional Neighborhood Development Form Based Code. A $13 million federal BUILD grant, secured in 2019, incentivized development of this cherished area, located on the western edge of the city limits, between Mullan Road and West Broadway, west of Reserve Street and east of the Missoula International Airport, which will help fund expansion and improve connectivity throughout Missoula.

Sx͏ʷtpqyen means a Place Where Something is Cut Off and Comes to a Point. “The area is located amid a rich cultural landscape for the Séliš and Ql̓ispé people,” the Culture Committee shared in their renaming proposal. “Before its recent transformation, most of the Missoula Valley was open prairie, rich in Speƛ̓m (bitterroots), and other food and medicinal plants, and maintained with the careful, regular application of fire by tribal people. The Missoula Valley as a whole was the most important and abundant bitterroot digging grounds in all the Séliš and Ql̓ispé people’s territories. This sacred plant is honored each year in the bitterroot ceremony, when tribal people gather to welcome the return of the ‘visitor’ — to pray for its well-being and abundance, and to express their gratitude for speƛ̓m and all the other plants that they will harvest through the coming months.” 

“Looking south of the planning area one can see a line of trees in the distance along the north side of Nmesulétk͏ʷ (the “middle” Clark Fork River). Prior to development, this riparian forest stood in sharp contrast to the surrounding grasslands. It was wedge-shaped, wider in the west and gradually tapering to a point in the east, somewhere in the vicinity of present-day Reserve Street.”

Four miles across the Missoula Valley, traffic is moving a bit slower through downtown as the bridge crossing the Clark Fork River on Higgins Avenue is under complete reconstruction. Missoula County and the City of Missoula recognized this reconstruction project as a meaningful time to name the bridge.

The Cultural Committee shared Beartracks Bridge as the appropriate name to honor the agonizing journey the Salish experienced as they crossed the river on their journey to the Jocko Valley after being exiled from their home in the Bitterroot Valley. The name honors “both the Vanderburg family and the Salish people as a whole,” as stated in the committee’s proposal.

“Beartracks is a name steeped in Salish history and culture,” the proposal states. “It is also of direct relevance to the site of the bridge itself, which figured prominently in one of the saddest episodes in our history – what is often called the Salish ‘Trail of Tears.’ In October 1891, the U.S. government forced some 300 Salish people to leave our Bitterroot Valley homeland and move north to the Flathead Reservation. To this day, that time is remembered with a deep sense of grief by our elders.”

During this arduous journey, Chief Charlo delegated sub-chief Louis Vanderburg, married to Mary Beartrack, to lead a group of the Salish tribe across the Clark Fork River, near or at the location of where Higgins Avenue now crosses. The name Beartracks Bridge was suggested as a tribute to the Vanderburg-Beartracks family legacy.

The Vanderburg-Beartracks family have continued to be prominent leaders, and their influence is respected by many. As shared by the Cultural Committee, “Louis’s son, Čicnmtú (Passing Someone on the Trail — Victor Vanderburg), was a prominent leader among the Salish who served on numerous delegations to Washington- D.C. under head chief Martin Charlo. In later life, Victor was married to prominent Salish cultural leader Čɫx͏ʷm̓x͏ʷm̓šn̓á (Sophie Moiese) for whom the Missoula County Commissioners named the public hearing room in the Missoula County Courthouse in 2018.”

Missoula County would like to thank the CSKT Tribal Council and the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee for their in-depth research and thoughtful selection of place names for these treasured landmarks in the Missoula Valley. The county recognizes Missoula is the homeland of the Confederated, Salish and Kootenai Tribes and will continue to acknowledge it as such.

To learn about ways Missoula County and CSKT are shaping tomorrow together, visit the links below:

Missoula Health Board to Consider Finalists for Health Officer 

Following a nationwide search, the Missoula City-County Board of Health will consider four finalists to replace outgoing Health Officer Ellen Leahy when she retires in June after serving in that role for more than 30 years.  

There will be several opportunities this week for the public to participate in the process, including community meetings with each candidate. These meetings will feature representatives from a broad cross-section of interests, including BIPOC and LGBTQ communities; area healthcare providers and emergency services; bars, restaurants and entertainment venues; community councils; aging services; advocates for people experiencing homelessness and low- to moderate-income residents; education; environmental groups; and other community organizations. Members of the public can listen in to these meetings via Microsoft Teams.  

Health board members also will interview each of the finalists on Friday, March 26, starting at 9:30 a.m. The interviews will be conducted via Teams and will be open to the public. The board will take public comment following the final interview, and residents can also submit comment ahead of time by emailing Karen Harrison, Missoula County human resources director, at kharrison@missoulacounty.us

A schedule of the public meetings and information on how to join via Teams is available online at http://missoula.co/healthofficersearch.  

The four finalists are: 

Eric Aakko, Greeley, Colorado, has worked in population-based public health at the state and local levels for 25 years. He is currently the director of the Division of Health Education, Communication and Planning for the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment. He has a bachelor’s degree in corporate and community wellness management from Southern Adventist University, a master’s degree in organizational communication from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, and is a master certified health education specialist.  

D’Shane Barnett (Mandan/Arikara)Missoula, currently serves as the executive director of All Nations Health Center in Missoula. He has worked in the American Indian health field for more than two decades and is the former executive director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health in Washington, D.C. Barnett earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with an option in inequality and social justice, from the University of Montana and has a master’s degree in healthcare administration and interprofessional leadership from the University of California, San Francisco. He is currently completing his doctorate in public health at UM. 

Brian Hanft, Mason City, Iowa, has 25 years of experience in public health and currently serves as director of the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. He has a bachelor’s degree in environmental planning from the University of Northern Iowa and a master’s in public administration from Drake University. He is a graduate of the National Center for Environmental Health’s Environmental Public Health Leadership Institute and is a registered environmental health specialist through the National Environmental Health Association. 

Sara Heineman, Missoula, has worked in public health for 14 years and is currently the Health Services Division Director, International Travel Clinic Nurse Practitioner and Operations Section Chief for the COVID-19 response at the Missoula City-County Health Department. She has a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health/applied health from Montana Tech, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Montana State University, and she recently received a certificate of public health from the University of Montana as she works toward earning a dual master’s degree in public health and public administration from UM.  

“The Missoula health board is extremely grateful for Ellen’s service and the knowledge and compassion she’s brought to this position for the last 30 years, especially as we faced the COVID pandemic,” board Chairman Ross Miller said. “Finding her replacement is no easy task, and we feel fortunate to have four high-caliber finalists who all have a wealth of experience and education in public health, both from within and outside our community. We find ourselves in the fortunate position of having a difficult decision ahead of us.” 

The Missoula City-County Board of Health is the policy-making body that determines the goals, objectives, and programs for the delivery of public health services to Missoula County residents. The board has statutory authority and responsibility, including rulemaking and adjudication, as well as budgeting authority. The seven-member board is responsible for selecting the health officer, who carries out statutory duties and directs the health department. The Missoula City Council and the Missoula Board of County Commissioners each appoint two citizens and one elected official to the health board, and the health board then appoints a local physician as the seventh member. 

Missoula County to Remain in Vaccine Phase 1b Next Week

To allow more residents in Phase 1b the opportunity to get vaccinated, Missoula County will remain in that phase for at least the next week before moving into Phase 1b+.  

As of March 1, 98% of Missoula County’s state-allocated vaccines have been administered, with an operational gap between when vaccine is received and when clinics are held accounting for the remaining 2%. Despite the county’s high administration rate, approximately 85% of county residents who qualify for Phase 1b have yet to receive their first dose of vaccine. The Vaccine Coordination Team and health officials want to provide those vulnerable residents extra time to sign up for a vaccination before opening access up to the broader criteria included in Phase 1b+. The team hopes to announce next week a firm date to move into Phase 1b+.   

“We appreciate that the state guidance on Phase 1b+ still allows local officials to look at data for their communities and use that to inform their decisions,” said Office of Emergency Management Director Adriane Beck, who heads up the Vaccine Coordination Team. “We know a lot of people are eager to get vaccinated, and we’re confident we’ll keep pace with the increasing supply coming into Missoula County and that we’ll be able to get shots in the arms of everyone who wants a vaccine.”  

All public clinics will be open to Missoula County residents in Phase 1b, and residents can find information on when appointments are available at covid19.missoula.co or by calling 406-258-INFO (4636) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day Depending on their patient base, individual providers and pharmacies may choose to move into the state’s Phase 1b+ sooner.  

Also, following President Joe Biden’s directive this week, many local pharmacies will offer portions of their federally allocated vaccines to educators and childcare workers. This includes a partnership between Granite Pharmacy in Missoula, Missoula County Public Schools and the Vaccine Coordination Team to hold mass vaccination clinics for about 1,000 MCPS educators. Other local pharmacies are also opening appointments to educators, who can visit the Vaccine Information page at covid19.missoula.co for more information.  

As of Monday, March 8, the following Missoula County residents will be eligible to sign up for vaccination:  

  • People 70 and older 
  • Native Americans ages 16-69 
  • People of color ages 16-69 
  • People ages 16-69 with one or more of the following health conditions: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions, immunocompromised from organ transplant, severe obesity (BMI 40 or higher), sickle cell disease, and Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes 
  • Educators and childcare workers (at participating pharmacies only) 

The Missoula County COVID-19 Vaccine Coordination Team is managed by the Western Montana All Hazard Incident Management Team under the Office of Emergency Management. The team formed in January at the request of the Missoula County commissioners and the mayor of Missoula to coordinate the distribution of vaccine in Missoula County. The team aims to reduce public anxiety by providing timely, accurate information and to identify and address barriers to administering the vaccine to all who wish to receive it. 

Missoula County Seeking Nominations for Land Stewardship Award

Missoula County Community and Planning Services is now accepting nominations for the annual Land Stewardship Award. The award recognizes landowners and residents who are taking stewardship of land and water seriously and embarking on projects and practices that make a difference for land, water, forests, wildlife and communities.  

Community members and organizations are invited to nominate landowners and residents who are restoring, protecting or enhancing land and natural resources to ensure natural systems are maintained and strengthened. The nomination form is due Friday, April 30, and is available on the CAPS Open Lands website at http://missoula.co/stewardshipaward.  

The award program, through the leadership of the county’s Open Lands Citizens Advisory Committee, recognizes the critical role private landowners and residents play in resource conservation through their stewardship activities.  

Missoula County has presented the award annually since 2011 to show appreciation to tireless, voluntary stewards for the work they do to protect our lands. The county uses the recipients’ successes and challenges to highlight tools and programs landowners and residents can take advantage of to restore, enhance and protect land and water resources.  

The award has recognized previous recipients for their innovative and cooperative land management of forests, ranches and properties throughout the county. An interactive map highlighting past recipients is online at http://missoula.co/stewardshipmap.  

The Community and Planning Services Open Lands Program focuses on connecting communities, private landowners, local organizations and agencies with resources and opportunities to conserve the diverse mix of forests, grass lands, agricultural lands and water resources throughout Missoula County. More information about the Open Lands Program is online at http://missoula.co/openlandsprogram.

Public Encouraged to Comment on Draft Plan to Advance County, City Clean Electricity Goal

Missoula County and the City of Missoula today released a draft Implementation Plan that identifies collaborative projects to advance the city and county’s goal of 100% clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by 2030.

The city and county developed the plan with NorthWestern Energy in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed by the three entities last year. The draft plan includes several projects to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state. Among these are the development of a “green tariff,” which will give NorthWestern Energy customers the choice to purchase power from newly developed solar or wind farms; a community solar project in the Missoula area; and pilots of new rate structures that have the potential to facilitate the transition to a clean, modern electric grid.

The county and city invite input from the public on the draft plan. The document is available for review at https://www.engagemissoula.com/missoulas-100-clean-electricity-initiative. Comments on the draft plan are requested by 5 p.m. Monday, March 1. There will be an additional opportunity for public comment once the plan is scheduled for consideration at a meeting of the city council and board of county commissioners.

“Our 100% clean electricity goal was driven by our obligation to address climate change in order to protect our public health, safety and quality of life in Missoula County,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “This Implementation Plan is an essential step toward that goal.”

The county and city jointly established the goal of 100% clean electricity in 2019, and subsequently signed an MOU with NorthWestern Energy committing the three entities to work together to pursue that goal. The MOU also committed the three entities to develop an Implementation Plan and to report on progress annually.

All the projects identified in the plan will require the collaborative efforts of NorthWestern Energy, Missoula County, the City of Missoula and other stakeholders, and some will also require approval by the Montana Public Service Commission.

“The projects identified in this plan have great potential to accelerate the shift to a cleaner electric grid,” Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg said. “However, they aren’t enough on their own, to reach 100% clean electricity. We look forward to advancing these projects with NorthWestern Energy while also actively seeking additional partners and opportunities to achieve our goal.”