Char-Koosta News

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Students, community members honored

By Lailani Upham

CSKT tribal chairman Vernon Finley speaks on “transitions” in life. (Lailani Upham photo) CSKT tribal chairman Vernon Finley speaks on “transitions” in life. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Honoring the transition in life was the idea of the second annual Confederated Salish and Kootenai Graduates Recognition dinner banquet at the People’s Center last week.

CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley opened the ceremony by addressing the graduates of their transition time in life. He said songs mark certain occasions and his song of choice for the graduates was “the caterpillar song.”

He said that the caterpillar goes along through life, not as a predator and doesn’t harm any one. Yet he progresses on through life.

“He is also aware that one day he will be a butterfly. He transforms to one stage to another,” he said.

“This is what you are doing,” he told the students. The song was a message to the students to “help” in their next stage or to transform into graduates and spreading their wings.

Katie McDonald, SKC Tribal Preservation graduate delivers the keynote address. (Lailani Upham photo) Katie McDonald, SKC Tribal Preservation graduate delivers the keynote address. (Lailani Upham photo)

Speaker for the evening was Katie McDonald, Salish Kootenai College graduate. McDonald is one of few that have earned a bachelor’s degree in Tribal Historic Preservation, the only degree program of the kind in the nation.

McDonald shared her educational journey in a nutshell with the other graduates.

“I had a lot of fun and got to meet a lot of people…It’s an endless road of learning to do things,” she said.

Naida Lefthand received the Kootenai Cultural Preservation award and Lucy Vanderburg received the Salish Pend d’Oreille Cultural Preservation award.

The Cultural Preservation Awards individuals are folks known to give their time to the preservation of traditional values, languages and spiritual guidance to others.

They offer school presentations, historical insight, and language preservation efforts throughout the year, according to the CSKT Tribal Education Department.

An individual presented for the Lifetime Achievement Award is one who dedicates a lifetime of education and in improving schools and providing guidance and direction to students and also stands as a role model. This award is selected by the CSKT Tribal Education Department.

Naida Lefthand waits patiently as CSKT Tribal Education Director Bill Swaney boasts up her accomplishments. (Lailani Upham photo) Naida Lefthand waits patiently as CSKT Tribal Education Director Bill Swaney boasts up her accomplishments. (Lailani Upham photo)

Naida Lefthand, the recipient of the Kootenai cultural award, grew up around fluent speakers and Kootenai was her first language.

As a young girl she attended the Ursalines and had to bridge both non-native education with her traditional values and upbringing. She has worked as the Kootenai Culture Committee Assistant Director and continues to bridge both worlds together.

According to the Kootenai cultural committee reports, Lefthand has spent countless hours assisting others and supporting her family and community members in their cultural paths.

Lefthand offered nuggets of wisdom to the graduates when receiving her cultural preservation award.

“I am also available to anyone in learning the culture, that is very important. As you go along in school you will realize how important it is, as you get older. It gives you that pace, that foundation. I watched young students who have not had that foundation instilled in them, and students that have had it instilled in them seem to progress much further and faster and they don’t seem lost. And so I encourage the young people to go to someone, go to an elder.”

Lucy Vanderburg gives an appreciation to her recognition and announces her retirement from the People’s Center. (Lailani Upham photo) Lucy Vanderburg gives an appreciation to her recognition and announces her retirement from the People’s Center. (Lailani Upham photo)

Lucy Vanderburg was the Salish Pend d’Oreille recipient.

She was born to Agnes and Jerome Vanderburg in Arlee. She was raised with her four siblings in the traditional ways. Salish was her first language.

Upon entering public schools she also lived in two worlds. Learning and speaking English while at school and coming home where she felt safe again and speaking Salish. Salish language has always been an important part of her life, according to culture committee reports.

She has been a language specialist for 19 years. In 1998, she was hired at the The People’s Center to educate.

Carmen Taylor cracks up at Swaney as he throws in some humorous jabs during her intro. (Lailani Upham photo) Carmen Taylor cracks up at Swaney as he throws in some humorous jabs during her intro. (Lailani Upham photo)

“I enjoy what I do. I was raised in a cultural traditional home, and if I had anything to share with students, I am happy to do that,” said Vanderburg

Carmen Cornelius Taylor was the lifetime achievement recipient.

She was born to Ernestine and Art Cornelius in 1949; and grew up around the country moving with parents as they had various positions in the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Several families take in the evening CSKT Tribal Education festivities at the People’s Center front lawn. (Lailani Upham photo) Several families take in the evening CSKT Tribal Education festivities at the People’s Center front lawn. (Lailani Upham photo)

Carmen received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in Social Work in 1971. Not long after she served as a volunteer lobbyist for the Montana Indian Education Association’s efforts to keep the Indian Studies Law alive. Later she went to OPI to implement the Indian Studies Law. In addition she served on the first reservation-wide education committees in 1973.

She received her Master’s degree from Montana State University in Education Counseling in 1979; then moved to Washington D.C., and worked as the Division Chief for the Office of Indian Education for four years.

However, in 1983, the National Indian School Board Association (NISBA) became her lifetime work, according to CSKT Tribal Education’s report.

Families are treated to a tasty pulled pork dish with fresh fruit catered by Kate McDonald’s“Kate’s Kitchen.” (Lailani Upham photo) Families are treated to a tasty pulled pork dish with fresh fruit catered by Kate McDonald’s“Kate’s Kitchen.” (Lailani Upham photo)

Other work includes: SKC’s Interim Vice-President of Academic Affairs, appointed by Governor Schweitzer in 2010 to represent Montana on the Education Commission of the States and she was reappointed by Governor Bullock in 2013.

Upon receiving her award, Taylor said she appreciated the dedication and work over the years of her guides.

“Like everyone we have mentors. I have two that are here, Dr. Joe McDonald certainly has had a great influence on my life; and Alice Chumura was my predecessor as vice-president,” she said.

Taylor has been serving at Dean of Academics Affairs at Aaniiih Nakoda College in Fort Belknap since 2012. She added that she hopes her next transition will be to come home.

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