Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Circle of Trust presents stories of tradition, culture and history

By Lailani Upham

PABLO — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Service’s Circle of Trust Program is launching a new column called “Yaya’s Trunk” in the Char-Koosta News that will be featured every week for the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum.

The column will be a collection of stories from community members to carry on the teachings and stories of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille. The stories reinforce the value of traditional beliefs and practices in daily lives of the families that are served, according to Mary Jane Charlo, Circle of Trust Youth Activities Coordinator.

The personal short stories will be included in the curriculum of the program in the context of teaching mindfulness and to strengthen youth connection to tribal culture by naturally introducing practices and stories of native tradition, Charlo says.

Charlo says the staff is ready to help anyone write their story if they choose to simply tell it. She said the staff understand there are some folks that don’t feel comfortable writing. It is more important that the stories are carried down to the next generation she says.

If you want to contribute stories, please call Mary Jane Charlo at 675-2700, ext. 1333; or email at

The first story depicts the treasures that are passed down from generation to generation — just as the stories will be and are.

It is called “Yaya’s Trunk” written by Myrna Adams DuMontier.

The antique aluminum trunk was a constant in my life during the time I had with my Yaya. It was that special place where we visited family, friends and tribesmen while going through the articles in its contents. Occasionally and almost ceremonially the trunk came out of the closet and those of us kids who were present would gather around the trunk and sit on the floor as close to the trunk as we could get. As I got older I sat on the bed next to Yaya anticipating the stories about the people attached to those precious belongings. I don’t remember ever not wanting to see the contents of the trunk or hear her stories. Every time was totally different from the last time we had been here. Sometimes there would be new articles placed in there, things that made it in there during the course of time that had passed since the last time we visited YaYas’ Trunk. These articles came by way of giveaways mostly. In the “old days” at a giveaway many personal traditional items were given away such as traditional cloth dresses, shawls, buckskin gloves, beaded purses, crochet belts, scarves, beaded belts, corn husk bags, blankets, quilts, necklaces, whatever belongings the person had that’s what was given away. Many of the items in YaYas’ trunk came from her Mother, her two daughters, and her sister which were her special keepsakes.

Usually the first things to come out of the trunk were various traditional dresses, some made by her and were kept with special care for the day when we, her family, would be having a feast in her honor. Other dresses she had received at a giveaway, others were keepsake. Next would be the shawls. Oh the many beautiful shawls; some were gifts from family and friends, some she had received at a giveaway, others were handed down. My favorite belonged to her mother, Rosalie Vanderburg. It was blue and it had the old style flat fringe decorated with embroidered flowers. This shawl always prompted many inquiries about my great-great grandmother. As YaYa told of her mothers skills, abilities, character and personal history, her eyes would glisten. Little did I know then that one day YaYa would hand me the shawl during our routine visit to the trunk and give it to me as a gift. As we continued through the trunk a small corn husk bag would emerge that had also belonged to her “Mama” as she affectionately referred to her. I loved to look at this bag. It was small about five inches by six inches with an intricate design on one side that looked like two arrowheads pointing in opposite directions. On the other side was two geometric designs one over the other and both the same color. My questions led to wanting to know how to make a corn husk bag, when did my great great-grandmother wear this? Where did she wear it to? and so on. My absolute favorite article was a very large corn husk bag that YaYa had received at Adeline Sundowns’ Feast in 1978. It was awesome. I could spend a great deal of time looking at the beautiful geometric designs, running my hands over the weaving and thinking about its history. Who made it? What had been its journey to bring it to my YaYas’ Trunk? The contents also included a pair of opal earrings my Father had given to his Mother Suzie when he was home on leave from the Korean War. Suzie was my YaYa you see, and she had passed on when I was two. In her absence our only “YaYa” was really our Tjotjo, Louise Vanderburg.

It was through the keepsakes in the trunk that my YaYa Suzie was immortalized. My Tjotjo (great grandmother) talked about the beaded items my YaYa left and the stories attached to each one and how much she loved her family. Tjotjo also had a daughter that had died at the age of eight. In the trunk was a small beaded bag with little toys in it and it was here that we met her and knew her. Every item was precious then and even more so now. Every person the articles belonged to are cherished. They had been YaYas’ family, friends, and tribesmen. Just as carefully as each article had been taken out and remembered the return to the trunk was just as thoughtful. I felt as though I had been in the physical presence of every one of the people embodied in those articles and I cherished the visit, for I knew we were connected and we would again return to YaYas’ Trunk.

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