May 17, 2012
NKwusm students among guest performers at Frenchtown Junior High School
By B.L. Azure
usm Salish Language Institute provided drumming, singing and dancing as part of the Frenchtown Junior High American Indian learning project last week. (B.L. Azure photo)
FRENCHTOWN — Several representatives from the Flathead Indian Reservation motored to Frenchtown Thursday to participate in a end of the school year celebration of a junior high school education project that focused the Bitterroot Salish historical experience in western Montana.
Students from Nkwusm Salish Language Institute drummed, sang and danced for the assembly in the junior high gym. Salish poet Vic Charlo, former Frenchtown Junior High student, read examples of his poetic works. Dr. Vernon Finley gave the keynote address. Tribal elder Octave Finley shared some of his life journey experiences spiced with words of wisdom. Stephen Small Salmon did his shtick to entertain the captive audience.
Poet Vic Charlo, who graduated from Frenchtown Junior High School in 1950, read a selection from a book of his poems at Frenchtown JHS. (B.L. Azure photo)
According to Superintendent Randy Cline, the Frenchtown School District received a substantial Indian Education For All grant this past November from the Montana Office of Public Instruction for the K-12 grades.
“The grant provides a number of opportunities for both elementary and junior high school students to work with Native American educators in a variety of areas,” Cline said.
Daryl Whitworth with Matthew Nenemay shadowing his every move gave a presentation on powwow dancing at Frenchtown JHS. (B.L. Azure photo)
The middle school grades focused their studies on the 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate. The main activities the students participated in included a melding of American Indian history, art and storytelling as it relates to the treaty. Also included was the experience of the Bitterroot Salish tribe’s removal from their aboriginal homeland in the Bitterroot Valley to the present day Flathead Indian Reservation. The students also read books by American Indian authors.
Blackfeet artist Dwight Billedeaux painted three murals in the halls of Frenchtown JHS including this one about the signing of the 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate. (B.L. Azure photo)
“I have made so many friends up on the Flathead Reservation because of this project,” Susan Dansie, junior high school art educator and project leader, told the assembly. “I hope you can all really appreciate what we’ve done here. It wasn’t too long ago that all this land was the tribe’s land. Their children were taken away from them and put in boarding schools. Indians must be really tough. They have gone through a lot and are still here today. They are survivors.”
The NkWusm students performed several songs while the dancers displayed various types of dancing. Stephan Small Salmon invited a couple of Frenchtown JHS students to get out on the dance floor and shake a leg.
Tribal Elder Octave Finley offered words of wisdom to the Frenchtown JHS students at the gala event marking completion of their American Indian learning project. (B.L. Azure photo)
“No one will laugh at you,” he said. However, he couldn’t keep from laughing at the dancing style of one of the students before providing some constructive criticism. “Don’t be waving your arms around like a wild man.”
Vic Charlo sang a song and read a poem for the assembly then Finley gave the keynote address.
“For hundreds of years there has been a lot of effort made to change us, to be American. There is nothing wrong with being an American but that doesn’t fit who we are, the traditional tribal people. We are still trying to figure out where we fit in the Western tradition of America,” Finley said in his address that focused on a Creation story. “Today, for us, is a very valuable experience to come here and share our story with you. This day is all about understanding, and that is always good, very important. I hope this is a beginning of a real good relationship. You’re all right and we’re all right. Let’s be good neighbors.”
Stephen Small Salmon tells a Frenchtown JHS student to get out on the floor and dance. No one will laugh, he assured them. (B.L. Azure photo)
“Your life is precious, the most important thing you have. Don’t waste it,” Finley told the students. “We are losing too many young kids to alcohol and drugs. Find a positive direction to go forward with because it hurts families when they lose young people.”
“It was wonderful to have all the people from the Flathead Reservation come here today to share their culture and traditional stories,” said Jennifer Jam of the Montana Office of Public Instruction. “The children were very intuitive and observant of what was going on. This has been a good Indian Education For All project.
“The Indian Education For All mandate provides good education fare to the students to learn about Montana as well as opportunities for professional development of educators,” Jam said. “Schools have the responsibility to integrate Indian education curriculum into content areas.”
Dr. Vernon Finley gave the keynote address at the Frenchtown JHS American Indian learning project. (B.L. Azure photo)
“We’re resolved to erase stereotypes and overcome biases through education,” Dansie said. “Once we started this it got a life of its own. This is something that will go on and on. This has been a real lovely day.”
A set of three murals was also included in the project. Blackfeet artist Dwight Billedeaux painted the murals related to the treaty, the Bitterroot removal and life on the Flathead Reservation. The murals will be permanently displayed in the halls of the Frenchtown Junior High School.