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Culture Camp connects elders and youth

By Alyssa Nenemay

Double ball, a traditional Native game was a hit as the young camp goers learned healthy and traditional activity. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)Double ball, a traditional Native game was a hit as the young camp goers learned healthy and traditional activity. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — The Salish and Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee hosted its annual summer camp to introduce locals to the tribes’ history, language, and culture. The weeklong day camp was held at The Long House and connected cultural instructors throughout the reservation.

Recent high school graduate Vance HomeGun was appointed as this year’s culture camp facilitator. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)Recent high school graduate Vance HomeGun was appointed as this year’s culture camp facilitator. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

Bitterroot Salish elder Agnes Vanderburg founded the event over 30 years ago to encourage the tribal community to gain a sense of identity by learning about their Indigenous origin, which is deeply rooted in the natural world. This year’s culture camp featured demonstrations in language, baking camas, crafts, drying meat, games, and time with elders.

Attended by over 100 people in a span of five days, this year’s culture camp was unique as recent high school graduate Vance HomeGun was appointed as facilitator. HomeGun, 19, has been working with the SPCC for two years assisting director Tony Incashola and said he had one goal in mind during planning:

A younger camp goer shows instructor Stephen Small Salmon his newly finished choker. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)A younger camp goer shows instructor Stephen Small Salmon his newly finished choker. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

“My main goal was to reconnect the elders with the young people. These elders are the last generation that grew up 100 percent in our language and culture. They hold that wisdom and it’s important that they teach the young ones because this is our last chance to learn,” he said.

In order to bond decades of generational gaps, HomeGun said he relied on a “dedicated” support system. Aside from the SPCC, members of Nkwusm, The People’s Center, The Flathead Reservation Extension Office, Summer Youth employees, tribal elders, various language instructors, and volunteers offered assistance in making the culture camp possible.

Ronan High School Salish language instructor Felicia Paul hosts a Power Point language lesson using a laser pointer. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

“This was my first time planning something like this and I got a lot of help and advice. There are a lot of problems that needed to be solved and it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of people to make it run smoothly,” he said.

HomeGun said he has attended culture camps in the past and saw room for a revamp. One of the changes the Salish language instructor made was scheduling stations, which allowed camp goers to experience each cultural activity in rotation throughout the day.

“I wanted to make sure everyone stayed busy throughout the day. I wanted everyone to leave here having experienced and learned everything we had to offer. To leave with a love for what they learned. When it was a free for all some people brought projects to work on but some people weren’t doing anything and that needed to change,” he said.

The camp had a record number of youth in attendance. The Flathead Reservation Extension Office provided funding and brought its Boys and Girls Club students to participate. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)The camp had a record number of youth in attendance. The Flathead Reservation Extension Office provided funding and brought its Boys and Girls Club students to participate. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

In half-hour increments, camp goers were exposed to a Salish language Power Point lessons hosted by various language instructors including Salish Kootenai College’s Mary Matt, Ronan High School’s Felicia Paul, and Head Start’s Aspen Smith.

“This is a pataq,” Paul said as she used her laser to point at a cartoon image of a potato. The young camp goers repeated the word “Pah-tahq.” “Is pataq a fruit or a vegetable?” she asked.

Several Summer Youth Program employees facilitated the stations including Cedric Earth Boy. “This (camp) has been pretty cool it’s my first time here. It’s been a good learning experience,” he said. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)Several Summer Youth Program employees facilitated the stations including Cedric Earth Boy. “This (camp) has been pretty cool it’s my first time here. It’s been a good learning experience,” he said. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

Salish language specialist Stephen Small Salmon of the Nkwusm Immersion School hosted a station on crafting chokers and war bonnet earrings. Small Salmon is known for sharing his knowledge in traditional crafts, language, dancing, and singing.

The People’s Center’s Loushie Charlo taught the young camp goers how to construct yaya dolls, which were created using cloth. The “yaya doll” is a traditional toy, which was constructed of buckskin, beads, and horsehair during ancestral times.

Members of the SPCC Elders Advisory Council offered camp-goers a meet and greet where they answered questions and shared knowledge on traditional culture, language, and history. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)Members of the SPCC Elders Advisory Council offered camp-goers a meet and greet where they answered questions and shared knowledge on traditional culture, language, and history. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

SPCC history and geography project coordinator Thompson Smith created an informational Power Point to teach meeting goers about the tribes’ history. “What do you know about the Hellgate Treaty?” he asked.

Members of the SPCC elder’s advisory council treated guests to a one-on-one session where they answered questions and shared information on the tribes’ culture, history, and language. “It’s been a hard question for us to think about how we can start teaching our kids our language again or event adults,” said Nkwusm language specialist Pat Pierre. “A long time ago, it was the parents or grandparents who taught the kids and now they aren’t able to teach because they don’t know.”

SPCC employee Thompson Smith presented a Power Point to the children on the Salish and Pend d’Oreille history. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)SPCC employee Thompson Smith presented a Power Point to the children on the Salish and Pend d’Oreille history. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

Although it has been a daunting and confusing task, Pierre said the urgency to learn grows each day. “No matter how hard it is we need get our culture and our language back in place. It’s our identity. It’s who we are. We need to make sure our children grow up with their identity in place.”

Lastly camp goers were given insight into healthy and traditional physical activity during the double ball station, which was facilitated by Summer Youth Program employees. Double ball is a traditional game, where players use sticks to hold and toss the ball (which is two stuffed pouches connected with a string) in order to make a goal.

Camp goers stayed busy crafting chokers and war bonnet earrings. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)

As another year wound down for the SPCC Culture Camp, HomeGun said he was pleased. “We had a lot more kids this year because the Boys and Girls Club students came down. I think we had a really good response. Everyone has been enjoying themselves and learning something new every day. I think the elders liked it too because they’ve been so busy with the kids,” he said.

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