Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 2

Native stories, our stories: Sleuthing Salish names gives sense to place, culture
By ROB CHANEY
Condensed by Gina Boltz, Director, Native Village Publications

Salish [Flathead] Reservation, Montana: Julie Cajune is transforming Montana's tribal history into lessons for schoolteachers to share with students.

Juli's home is near St. Ignatius, a Flathead [Salish] town known for its ornately painted Roman Catholic mission church. On her Salish map, it's called Snyelmn: The Place Where You Surround Something.  That name refers to a Salish hunting tactic where men built corrals to chase deer or elk herds inside. In a single word, Snyelmn means a landmark, a food source, a harvesting method and a time of year when corralling is effective.

“Now, it is like that place describes us as Indian people,” Cajune said. “We are surrounded geographically, politically, socially and spiritually. We could literally and figuratively refer to the reservation as ‘The Surrounded Place.' ”

With help from the Salish tribe and elder Tony Incashola, Julie is creating a language map to show how the Salish Indian neighbors saw their countryside. When the information arrived, “I opened the envelope and read the names and started to cry," Cajune said.  "I saw they had given me over 100 names. I had only asked for 30. Reading those names, it was an overwhelming feeling of cultural loss.  What we had was so rich. It was beyond adequate. All the times I'd sat with elders and heard them talking about so many fish in the rivers you could walk across on their backs. There was such an abundance of resources, and their knowledge was so deep. We were self-sufficient in such a powerful and magnificent way.

Julie has also collected books, posters, DVDs, music collections and guidelines through the Tribal History Project from Montana's Indian Education Department.  While Cajune has an office at Salish Kootenai College, she said so many people are interested in her progress, she can't get any work done there. So she takes the collection home to transform into lesson plans in social studies, science, math, poetry, and gym curriculums. In two such lessons, physics students learn how feathers improve arrow accuracy, and literature students are reading James Welch's “Fools Crow.“

"Teachers want to do craft activities,” Cajune said. “That's what's out there in the commercial sites - tag-board tepees, paper-bag vests, anything with feathers on it. That isn't a meaningful alternative.”

Nationwide, just over 50% of American Indian high school students graduate, compared with more than 75% of the general population. In Montana, Native American students regular fail the yearly progress required by the No Child Left Behind federal tests. Montana hopes these lessons from the state's seven Indian tribes will improve Indian students' achievement gap. The idea is, if you went to a school where no one talked about the people who looked like you or your family, you'd think school was a place you're not meant to be. Poverty and unemployment rates already cripple Montana's reservation communities. Invisibility shouldn't be added to the burden.

“I want them to see Indian people have persisted into the 20th century," Cajune said. "From the time Europeans colonized America, the policy has gone from genocide to assimilation. It's remarkable Indian people have persisted with their languages and culture. Five hundred years later, Indians are still Indians.”

And it starts with the names. The names start the stories, and the stories reach across time and culture to bind families.

“A story can change your life,” Cajune said. “If that's true, what's that mean for me as a ya-ya, a grandmother? What stories should I be sharing as a sister or a daughter or a friend? If you could only tell them 10 stories, if there was some law, what stories would you choose to tell your children?”

The Missoulian

Graphics and Photos::
http://www.ourfactsyourfuture.org/cgi/databrowsing/?PAGEID=4&SUBID=249
www.cowboyethicsrealty.com
http://www.yourmuseum.org/events/eventgraphics/tony02w.jpg

Missoulian

 

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