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Telling Stories:

Stevens winter camp fulfills dream of returning to traditional ways

By Alyssa Nenemay

The three-day Winter Coyote Story telling event was attending by over 200 people overall. (Courtesy photo by Chaney Bell) The three-day Winter Coyote Story telling event was attending by over 200 people overall. (Courtesy photo by Chaney Bell)

ST. IGNATIUS — Tradition was given new life as children rode horseback and dug in the dirt, elders shared ancient stories, and to celebrate the winter season, a feast was shared by all. A longtime dream was manifested as Willie and Patty Stevens hosted their first annual “Winter Coyote Stories” event.

The Stevens have been known for hosting kid-friendly events, whether it was in a community or family setting. The couple took their passion to the next level in 2008 when they designed and built their home on Sabine Road. Nestled in a wooded strip near a creek, the couple planned every square foot of their property to accommodate large gatherings.

Patty Stevens is known in her family for hosting kid-friendly events. She and her husband built their home to accommodate community gatherings. (Alyssa Nenemay photo) Patty Stevens is known in her family for hosting kid-friendly events. She and her husband built their home to accommodate community gatherings. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

“We built our home with a large main room so we could have gatherings as a community with the emphasis on promoting a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. We want the community to get used to the idea that you can just come to our home and be welcomed. We want to learn our language, culture and ways and share them with others who desire to learn,” said Patty.

Cultural education and promotion being the primary focus, the couple’s goal is to host an annual community gathering for all four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and spring. So far, the couple has contributed to two seasonal events: the summer horse camp, which aims to re-introduce the horse culture to the Flathead Reservation and the fall hunting camp, which aims to instill traditional hunting techniques and values.

Willie Stevens gave children rides around his property on a four-wheeler. Steven learned many coyote stories from elders in order to share them during the camp. (Courtesy Photo By Chaney Bell) Willie Stevens gave children rides around his property on a four-wheeler. Steven learned many coyote stories from elders in order to share them during the camp. (Courtesy Photo By Chaney Bell)

The couple’s latest winter installment, the Coyote Stories gathering, featured many activities including stick game, horseback riding, artwork construction, camping, and of course fire side story telling. With nearly 200 guests throughout the three-day event, Patty came to an observation: “Judging by the number of people that we had each day, our community is hungry for these types of events where they can learn our ways and have fun too,” she said.

In a tipi glowing with firelight under the stars, the main attraction was the coyote stories, which were shared by guests of all ages from elders to children. Coyote stories are ancient tribal accounts describing the earth, belief system, and creation. For the Flathead Salish, the stories are used as a teaching tool and can only be told when there is snow. Elders who shared their knowledge for the event included Louie Adams and Francis Vanderburg.

The main attraction of the camp was fireside coyote story telling. A variety of camp goers shared stories, from elders to children. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) The main attraction of the camp was fireside coyote story telling. A variety of camp goers shared stories, from elders to children. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

Aside from the Stevens, many like-minded community members contributed to making the Winter Coyote Stories gathering possible, such as the youth group Yo Yoot Skwkwimlt and the non-profit organization The Salish Institute. Both have similar goals in preserving the Salish language and culture. Financial contributors included the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Services’ Circle of Trust program, which is dedicated to preventing suicide through outreach initiatives.

“We wanted to do something for this time of year. We asked some elders to help. We asked TSS (Social Services) if there was any funding. As far as cooks and helpers, they sought those who had a passion for doing what we like to do. We try to give those who help a little honorarium. Our helpers are young parents or college students. Some just want help,” said Patty.

Frank Stanger (Left) leads young riders during the horseback riding component of the camp. (Courtesy Photo By Chaney Bell) Frank Stanger (Left) leads young riders during the horseback riding component of the camp. (Courtesy Photo By Chaney Bell)

Willy and Patty are looking into a fishing camp for the spring and are planning their fourth annual stick game tournament in honor of Patty’s father Bearhead Swaney in April. The couple hopes the introduction of fun cultural activities will combat negative aspects of the community such as prescription drug abuse and meth addiction.

“There is a lack of community cultural activities, especially this time of year. We want to keep doing things that encourage youth that they can learn and have fun without the negative influences. We want to share our knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. Learning more of our language has also influenced us to continue on our Red Road to Well-briety,” said Willie.

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