Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

February 18, 2010

Coyote stories engage students, educators and parents

By Naomi Billedeaux

Not quite the Salish Luche Libre: An artistic and playful Nkwusm staff dress for their parts. L-R: Chaney Bell as Buffalo, Echo Brown as one of the Night Hawks, the "Rock" played by Rosie Matt, Rolanda Moran as the other night hawk and Jesse Janssen as the Bear. (Courtesy photo)
An artistic and playful Nkwusm staff dress for their parts. L-R: Chaney Bell as Buffalo, Echo Brown as one of the Night Hawks, the "Rock" played by Rosie Matt, Rolanda Moran as the other night hawk and Jesse Janssen as the Bear. (Courtesy photo)

ARLEE - Ever wonder how Flies were created, or how the Night Hawks got their markings? Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute performed "Coyote Helps Create Flies" and "How the Night Hawks Got Their Markings," two Salish Coyote stories. The presentations were showcased last Monday night at the Salish language school here. Nkwusm's educational team weaved Salish language throughout the two coyote stories told on Monday night. The props, stage, and outfits set the stage for an artistic theatrical presentation.

Tribal elder and language specialist Pat Pierre says theater is a good idea, but he doesn't want people to think it's appropriate to make fun of Coyote stories. Pierre adds he doesn't want them to be exploited in the media either. Pierre says he has turned some groups down when requested to share Coyote stories because the stories are to be respected and told only during the winter months after the snow sticks to the ground.

Ester Johnson, Nkwusm school's dietician prepared hearty bowls of chili prior to the students' and school's performance. The audience made up of parents, students, and interested community members sat and watched both Coyote story presentations.

Tribal elder Stephen Smallsalmon, language specialist at Nkwusm is also recognized as a traditional dancer and an actor, says "Coyote Helps Create Flies" was told by the late Pete Beaverhead and is a story that has never been told through theater.

Public tours of Nkwusm are available the following dates:

    Wednesday, February 24,
    Tuesday, March 16 and Wednesday, March 31
    Wednesday, April 14 and Tuesday, April 27
    Thursday, May 13 and Wednesday, May 26
    Tuesday, June 22
Nkwusm is located at 72040 Bitterroot Jim Road, Arlee; telephone: (406) 726-5050

All tours begin promptly at 9:30 a.m.

Monetary donations as well as other donations are welcomed and graciously accepted anytime.

Performing artists for "Coyote Helps Create Flies" included Nkwusm staff: Adele Martin as narrator, Smallsalmon as the hungry 'Coyote; the camp Chief was played by Tachini Pete, Executive Director; Jesse Janssen, Melanie Sandoval, Chaney Bell, Curriculum Specialists; Charlie Quequesah, Teachers Aid; Jenny Fowler and Chantel Sorrell, Instructional Aids; Trina Felsmen and Jennifer Jilot, Teachers; and Michelle Matt, Secretary; and Julie Cajune, Development Director; enthusiastically performed as camp people and flies during the first Coyote story.

Nkwusm educators also reenacted "How the "Night Hawk got their Markings, " which included "Rock" portrayed by Rosie Matt, Director of Curriculum; Night Hawks One and Two were played by Rolanda Moran, Curriculum Specialist; and Echo Brown, Teacher. Cajune portrayed "Coyote", Janssen performed as "Bear", and Bell as "Buffalo."

Eleven year-old Nicole Perry and nine year-old Arianna Henry did a reading of "Frog and Grizzly," with Nicole reading in Salish, Arianna in English. Both children were very brave and did a wonderful job.

A school tour of Nkwusm the following day enabled interested community members to learn a little about Nkwusm from Julie Cajune. According to Cajune, Nkwusm is a place where being Indian is celebrated.

"Being bilingual is the highest cognitive function a brain can perform. Our children are encouraged and strengthened in their self-identity, efficacy, and self-esteem. Students have positive intergenerational relationships and are gaining competency," states Cajune.

An example of the positive intergenerational relationships the students have was when the students went to water rights negotiation talks with their instructor Pat Pierre.

Cajune believes students are learning who they are in relationship with their cultural landscape such as place names, oral traditions, songs, and plant identification and its uses. The cultural environment will become who they are and what they value. Students are now are getting a strong foundation in math, geography, botany, history from a native perspective and language. Educators at Nkwusm are moving education beyond just memorizing and educating in a more experiencial way.

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