Here’s an interesting and uplifting story about a new camp that brings the youth of two nations together to keep traditions alive:
By Laura Lunquist, of the Ravalli Republic:
Sometimes one critical grant can bring different people with similar ideas together.
The culmination of one local set of ideas and grants started Wednesday when 21 seventh-graders from the Bitterroot and Flathead valleys came together in Hamilton for the first Salish-Bitterroot Summer Camp and Cultural Exchange.
Camp coordinator Steve Archibald welcomed the campers at Hieronymus Park, saying they were the first of many to reach across the Clark Fork River to celebrate both the Salish and the recent history of the Bitterroot Valley.
“This is the place the Salish called home. The park is one of the campgrounds of the Salish, so we decided to start here,” Archibald said.
After introductions, nine campers from the Bitterroot and 12 from the Flathead Indian Reservation intermingled and split into two teams to learn the traditional Native American game of shinney, which is similar to field hockey.
“I expect those of you who know the game to help those who don’t,” said Marie Torosian of the People’s Center in Pablo as she taught the basics. “It used to be the duty of the youth of the tribe to teach the younger children because it taught teamwork and the fact we need to look after each other.”
The groups that created the camp demonstrated their own version of teamwork.
Six years ago, the camp was the brainchild of Archibald and Bitter Root RC&D director Becki Koon, but this was the first year they found the necessary funding, Koon said.
“It’s taken that long,” Koon said. “The Forest Service opened the door with More Kids In the Woods. Steve and I read about their program and thought it would be the perfect opportunity.”
Koon said they were able to complete the planning with a grant of more than $4,000 from the National Association of RC&D Councils. But it was the $30,000 grant from the Forest Service that allowed them to advertise the camp as a reality.
The camp was publicized during the two new cultural lessons that the council added to its Earth Stewardship Program. The program sponsors monthly classes in five Ravalli County schools that usually focus on environmental issues.
Those lessons attracted Josie Lewis and Amanda Corder of Victor to the camp. Both girls said they enjoy learning and had already been to a science camp in Bozeman.
Corder said she is a percussionist and was looking forward to learning about traditional drumming. Lewis was interested because it would be something new compared to 4H camp.
“And most of all, it was free,” Lewis said.
None of the campers had to pay for the four-day camp, thanks to additional money from the Merging Waters Educational Center in Darby, and help and support from other partners, including the Travelers’ Rest State Park and several organizations that are part of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The Salish Kootenai College provided most of the camping gear.
“It took time to develop the relationship with the tribes – it’s not a quick process,” Koon said. “But now they want it to be an annual event to connect their kids to their historical lands and heritage.”
One of those kids was Nicole Rae Perry from Arlee. Perry said she wasn’t initially going to come because she was also attending the Stevens horse and culture camp in St. Ignatius.
“But I left early to come down here when I heard there was still room,” Perry said. “I like playing the Native games.”
After Perry joined the rest of the campers in a game of shinney, they piled in a bus headed for Fales Flats. There, they will camp and work on a stewardship project to restore what once was a traditional meeting ground for the Salish and Nez Perce tribes.
“This place used to bring two tribes together,” Koon said. “What better place for kids from two cultures to get to know each other better?”
Reach reporter Laura Lundquist at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: bitterroot, Bitterroot Valley, Flathead Indian Reservation, flathead valley, laura lunquist, marie torosian, ravalli republic, Salish, salish-bitterroot summer camp and cultural exchange, steve archibald