After a dedication ceremony with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes on Indigenous People's Day 2022 which saw Missoula's iconic Higgins Street Bridge officially renamed as Grizzly Beartracks Bridge, many Montanans are wondering...

How do I pronounce this thing?

I was wondering myself, so I asked the Missoula subreddit r/missoula:

Credit: Benny Edwin / bedwinsounds via Reddit
Credit: Benny Edwin / bedwinsounds via Reddit

Author's note: some of the comments in this post are insensitive and vulgar. Read at your own discretion.

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To several users who responded, this combination of Latin characters with odd unicode symbols is very foreign and looks confusing. It is, however, the native language of the Séliš (Salish) and bears the name of Sxʷúytis Smx̣e or Grizzly Bear-Tracks, a chief of the tribe who signed both the Hellgate Treaty and the Judith River Treaty in 1855.

Under these treaties, the Bitterroot Salish and Kootenai tribes agreed to live on what was then known as the Jocko Reserve (today's Flathead Reservation) and cede much of their land to the United States.

Credit: University Of Montana
Credit: University Of Montana

How the land looked after the 1855 treaties. Oregon wouldn't become a state until 4 years later, Washington and Montana gained statehood in 1889.

RELATED: City, State Thank Missoulians For Patience During Beartracks Bridge Construction

How To Pronounce It In Salish

I am not a native Salish speaker, however thanks to editors from Char-Koosta News from the Flathead Reservation, we are able to learn the pronunciation of "Bear Tracks" in Salish. Once you hear it a few times, you can read and follow along, sounding it out for yourself.

  • the X is silent, unless you see the dot underneath it as in Smx̣e then it is pronounced like a very soft heccch
  • the superscript w in Sxʷúytis is pronounced like a "y"

My best attempt to transcribe it for English speakers:

swee-WHEE-tis SEM-uh-HAY n-hud-LEY-us

Translated into English, it means "Tracks (of the) grizzly bear Bridge." One of our Facebook followers got back to us with a video explaining it as well:

Big thank you to Tachini Pete in the comments!

Especially on Indigenous People's Day or during celebrations of other nations, it's always a good idea to stay mindful that we share this Earth with many different cultures. Whether you choose to call the bridge by its official name or its old one, it's still a bridge that just like other recent attempts to honor our history will connect people instead of divide them.

Happy Indigenous People's Day, Missoula.

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