|January 16, 2014
Amerra takes learning out of state
By Lailani Upham
Chemawa High School student Amerra Webster-Yaqui makes a visit to CSKT Tribal Education office while home on holiday break last month. (Rob McDonald photo)
SALEM, Ore. — Not many leave the Reservation before high school just for the “outside experience.” But, Junior Amerra Webster-Yaqui took that leap to the oldest, continuing Indian Boarding school in the United States for not only “the experience,” but also, the larger selection of academics, culture and “to see the ocean.”
Webster-Yaqui, a 3.8 grade-point average student, said when she arrived on campus at Chemawa Indian School, she was the only Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member out of the 400-student body.
“There were about 20 Indian students from Montana, some from Browning, Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap,” she said.
Webster-Yaqui was a student at Ronan High School with a 3.8 GPA and did well in her community and with her family. However, she said she had an urge for adventure.
“I went for the experience and I knew there was more out there and I wanted to find out what it was,” she said.
What she found out immediately hitting the grounds of Chemawa were the differences in tribal cultures from all over the country. “We are really different, we talk different, we look different, but all in all in we all get along.”
She said she loves to see all the different symbols and tribal flags hanging along the walls of school.
There are a wide variety of cultural classes than in her home Rez school she explained. She said she appreciates the pick of learning from areas of Native literature, Native arts, and Native studies of several tribal cultures, and not focusing only on “your own.”
Webster-Yaqui said her biggest fear was getting lonesome, however, she said the school activities and the multiple friends she has made has kept her quite busy.
“Everyone is in the same predicament as you, and you never feel like an outsider. We help each other.”
She explained the atmosphere as being “a family.” There are no cliques, and everyone hangs out with everyone, she added.
Her favorite class is Full Circle. “We talk about our hardships and learn how to keep our stability in our all areas of our life. It (Full Circle) re-energizes and re-focuses you.”
Webster-Yaqui said the impressive thing that stood out to her the most was the application process. Letters of references were submitted from parent, teachers, school counselors and people who knew her fairly well. “It was like they (Chemawa staff) really read them, like they knew me when I got here.”
She said she would definitely recommend Chemawa to anyone. “It gives kids exposure to what’s happening — the real world.”
Her current activity she is working on is coordinating a first annual round dance on campus.
Webster-Yaqui says after high school she wants to study Native American law. She said her interest in the study came from hearing over the years of CSKT water rights issues.
Chemawa Indian School, located in Salem, Ore., dates back to the 1870’s when the U.S. government authorized a school for Native children in the Northwest to integrate the Native population into general society though education. Over a century changes in the mission of the school to tailor to Native culture have kept students returning each year. Now, students from all of the U.S. attend the 300-acre campus.