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Ronan High School Native American Studies class opens up the possibilities

By Alyssa Kelly
Char-Koosta New

In light of a lesson on traditional and contemporary uses of fire, Native American Studies students were given a tour of tools used in fire management including from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire Department. Most popular were the air attack helicopters. (Alyssa Kelly photo) In light of a lesson on traditional and contemporary uses of fire, Native American Studies students were given a tour of tools used in fire management including from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire Department. Most popular were the air attack helicopters. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

RONAN — Traditional and contemporary fire management was the lesson behind Gwen Couture’s Native American studies class trip to see air attack helicopters. “We’ve been studying about how the tribes traditionally used fire to manage the forests and I thought it was a good opportunity for the students to learn about how the tribes are continuing that effort today,” she said.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Division of Fire gave the students a tour of equipment used to fight fire including a pumper trunk, an air attack helicopter, and an aerial ignition dispenser, which is used for the back burning method.

“Our fire fighters work very hard in dangerous conditions,” Division of Fire Hellitack manager Todd Couture said. “Operating an air attack helicopter is a balance of weight and equipment. The helicopter can carry 120 gallons of water max and we can drop equipment to the crews like batteries or first aid. The helicopter is also used to carry two people in the back that can jump out to the site of the fire.”

Aside from a lesson on fire, Gwen said she planned to expose her students to potential careers. “There are so many different kinds of professions for our students to learn about here on the reservation,” she said. “I want to get them thinking about what careers they might be interested in after high school or college.”

Similar to traditional methods of forest management, the Division of Fire discussed its uses of Aerial Ignition Dispenser, which is used to ignite fires in the back burning methods. (Alyssa Kelly photo) Similar to traditional methods of forest management, the Division of Fire discussed its uses of Aerial Ignition Dispenser, which is used to ignite fires in the back burning methods. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

The Native American Studies class is offered as alternative elective course for Ronan High School’s Social Studies requirements. Couture said the course has had great interest. “I teach the class in two sections and I planned for six to eight students per section. I had 25 students enroll in each class, which is capacity. I think it shows an interest for students wanting to learn about Native American studies,” she said.

According to StartClass.com Native Americans make up 51 percent of Ronan High School’s student population. Gwen said implementing courses on Native American studies is important. “I think it’s important for kids on the reservation to learn about the tribes here and their cultures, the tribal government, and this area’s history. This is their reservation,” she said.

Following its lesson on fire, Gwen said the students would be visiting CSKT’s Tribal Preservation Department, which is responsible for protecting the tribe’s cultural resources. “We’re going to be focused on the cultures here and the traditional ways of looking at the connection to this valley. We will also be taking a trip to Council Grove to learn about the Hellgate Treaty,” she said.

Gwen Couture is a Native American Studies instructor at Ronan High School, which is offered as an elective alternative in the Social Studies program. “I think it’s important for kids on this reservation to learn about the here and their cultures, the tribal government, and this area’s history,” she says. (Alyssa Kelly photo) Gwen Couture is a Native American Studies instructor at Ronan High School, which is offered as an elective alternative in the Social Studies program. I think its important for kids on this reservation to learn about the here and their cultures, the tribal government, and this areas history, she says. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Gwen said she has also provided individual students with independent research opportunities. “I have a student who is working on a project to teach Native and non-Native students about the drum and the many different dances that go on at the powwow and their meaning,” she said. “When it’s complete he wants to present his research to the school and have dancers and drummers demonstrate. He said he had met kids living on this reservation that had never been exposed to a drum before and he wanted to change that.”

The Native American Studies course is in its first year of operations and Gwen said it is available to Native and non-Native students. “I hope that the kids enjoy this class and leave with a better understanding of everyone,” she said.

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