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GONA camp lays positive foundations for tribal youth

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

The middle school students at the GONA encampment participated in many learning activities such as this where a person’s actions has ripple effects throughout the community. (B.L. Azure photo) The middle school students at the GONA encampment participated in many learning activities such as this where a person’s actions has ripple effects throughout the community. (B.L. Azure photo)

BLUE BAY — Nearly 100 Indian youth from throughout Montana and Wyoming recently gathered on the shores of Flathead Lake for the annual Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) in Montana. Each year the GONA event is held at different locations in Montana to forward its anti-tobacco/substance-abuse message and this year, the Flathead Reservation and Blue Bay the site.

Dana Kingfisher of the Missoula Indian Center’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse- and Tobacco Prevention-programs said there were middle school aged youths from the seven Indian Reservations in Montana, as well as from the landless Indians of the state and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Indian youths also came from Missoula and Helena. There was also a high school aged representative from each area high school on or near the reservations as well as the two urban-Indian high schools. All the participating groups were accompanied by chaperones.

“We use a cultural community-based curriculum to uplift our people so they can work with our young people,” Kingfisher said. “Our vision or mission is to teach our young people a different way of life that doesn’t include tobacco, drugs or alcohol.”

Middle school student Sage Nicolai crafts a hand-drum drumstick as part of a cultural component activity at the GONA encampment. (B.L. Azure photo) Middle school student Sage Nicolai crafts a hand-drum drumstick as part of a cultural component activity at the GONA encampment. (B.L. Azure photo)

Kingfisher said the urban Indian youth — 52 different tribes are represented in the Missoula school system — love the event because they don’t have as good or comprehensive access to their tribal traditions in the urban setting.

Some of the leadership skills presented at the annual gatherings have been well absorbed by 16-year-old Trace Yellow Owl of Browning. She has now been in a Montana GONA leadership role for seven years now and it comes natural to her.

“When I was nine years old I was invited to Bozeman to attend the Native Youth Academy,” she said. “I met a lot of great people there and ever since then I have been involved with GONA. I speak from my heart, people saw that and asked me to do some presentations. I really like GONA. My involvement has given me a lot of self-confidence, self-control, morals, values and leadership skills. I tell people to get out of their shells, find out who they are, find their voice and have fun.”

Theda New Breast encourages GONA participants to learn and embrace their culture and traditions to heal negative aspects of their lives and for empowerment. (B.L. Azure photo)  Theda New Breast encourages GONA participants to learn and embrace their culture and traditions to heal negative aspects of their lives and for empowerment. (B.L. Azure photo)

GONA is not just about today but also about tomorrow.

“We want to let our future leaders understand who they are and where they belong, and how to heal and thrive,” said Theda New Breast, GONA presenter. “It is vital so the children in the next seven generations have a foundation of well being.”

The message of a safe future for those yet to come is not just meant for American Indians but for all people, especially people of color.

New Breast said she has witnessed positive results of the GONA effort. “This has helped people sober up and many are now traditional leaders in their tribal communities,” she said. “We have had success in suicide prevention, curbing domestic violence, post traumatic stress disorder and anti-bullying among our youth.”

The four-day GONA event featured, among other things, recreational activities, presentations, team-building exercises, traditional gift making, Native games and story telling.

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