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Before There Were Thru-Hikers

Before There Were Thru-Hikers

As thru-hikers, we get to walk through some absolutely incredible places while really bonding with the land. We often feel like we become part of the landscape- we don't feel like visitors or tourists, but like we truly belong out here. We live here, day in and day out, we eat, sleep and breathe these trails, and sometimes begin to feel entitled to these precious experiences we receive from the land. When I see or feel this, I take a step back and think of those who were here first.

The area that is now known as Glacier National Park was once inhabited by the Kootenai and Blackfeet peoples, each with their own creation stories and connections to the land. The Continental Divide along which we hike, is known to them as the Backbone of the World. 

These lands that we are walking through, that we are feeling both connected and entitled to, are lands with which these tribes also share a strong connection. Their stories, their traditions, their way of life all were developed here. Their beliefs and traditions persist, despite being pushed from their sacred land, and they have not forgotten the animals, plants, and even the rocks of their ancestry. 

The town of East Glacier Park has a strong Indigenous population, and as the trail leaves town, you pass through a corner of the Blackfeet Reservation. As I hike farther south in Montana, I will pass through the land of the Salish people, and eventually the land of many other Indigenous tribes throughout my journey. I think about how they used this land, how they cared for it, and the traditions and stories that have been created because of it. As thru-hikers, we need to remember that we are not entitled to anything at all, but are truly blessed with the gift of connection we feel to the land through which we walk and the people who were here before us. 

I found this book and a few others and took some time to read about this land and these people at the Hearst Free Library in Anaconda, Montana. Many thanks to the patient librarian who found them for me and allowed me to spend part of my zero taking over a table, using the wifi, doing some research and broadening my horizons. 

- Scribe

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