Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

March 25, 2010

Cultural exchange takes on literal meaning

By Lailani Upham

Exchange students and program representatives rip up the floor with newly acquired powwow moves during a dance-off at the Cultural Exchange night last week. The Cultural Exchange was held at Two Eagle River School and students competed amongst each other after observing demonstrations from tribal students and community members. (Lailani Upham photo)
Exchange students and program representatives rip up the floor with newly acquired powwow moves during a dance-off at the Cultural Exchange night last week. The Cultural Exchange was held at Two Eagle River School and students competed amongst each other after observing demonstrations from tribal students and community members. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO - Foreign exchange students took a tour on the Flathead Reservation and experienced a quick taste of the Native culture for one day that included some energetic participation from the students themselves.

The tour was offered through The People’s Center and Two Eagle River School.

Exchange students on the Flathead Reservation from the Youth Exchange and Study program (YES) and the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) scholarship program got acquainted with a few tribal community folks and students at the Cultural Exchange event on Monday, March 15.

The group began their Rez journey at the People’s Center receiving a first hand history lesson from Marie Torosion, People’s Center Educational Coordinator. She covered a snapshot history about the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes to the students. “What I try and teach everybody is that we (Tribes) don’t begin with the treaties, but our existence and culture was prior to treaties with the U.S. government.”

Torosion explained different types of clothing, design, seasons of food and the process of cooking camas bake and drying berries. “The students seemed very interested the foods we eat and the process of cooking,” she said.

The students displayed great deal of interest with the entire educational tour of the museum. Torosion described the process of hide tanning and how the deer hides turn to buckskin through being soaked in brains. “Most kids get grossed out, but these kids were so amazed at the process,” she said.

Two Eagle River School Japanese exchange student Shun Ikegai and Ronan High School exchange student Arman Aytassov from Kazakhstan armed with Shinny sticks race to be the first to strike the ball in a game of Shinny. Shinny is a traditional Native team game with goal posts, much like hockey. (Lailani Upham photo)
Two Eagle River School Japanese exchange student Shun Ikegai and Ronan High School exchange student Arman Aytassov from Kazakhstan armed with Shinny sticks race to be the first to strike the ball in a game of Shinny. Shinny is a traditional Native team game with goal posts, much like hockey. (Lailani Upham photo)

During the lesson of the Jesuit priest era, when Indian children were placed in boarding schools and not allowed to speak their own language, the foreign exchange students found it very disturbing. Torosian said, “One particular student spoke up and voiced how disturbing it was that the nuns and priests would not allow the tribal language to be spoke.

“The kids had a lot of questions,” Torosian said. One question was about religion, whether on not the tribal people practiced their own religion and if so, how does it compare to the non-Indian religion. Torosion explained in modern day that Native tribes practice both native religion and Catholicism and/or Christianity, or only the Native religion or only the Christian belief. Torosian told the student that the Native belief still remains within “our people.”

Another topic the students found interesting and pleasing was the language revitalization with the Tribes. “They were very interested in that, and happy with the language school,” she explained.

The YES program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and began during the post-9/11realization that the public was unaware of world culture, especially in the nations of high Muslim populations.

The FLEX scholarship program was developed in 1992 from an idea that Senator Bill Bradley believed the most effective way to ensure a long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and Eurasia was to help young people to learn democracy through direct experience.

Following the People’s Center museum educational tour the students were toted over to the Two Eagle River School for the Cultural Exchange night. The students immediately were ushered down the football field to take in a few lessons of Native traditional game of shinny.

Following the practice shinny runs the students were directed to the TERS cafeteria to find a plate-size, mouth-watering Indian taco to reenergize them for the next agenda item - a powwow dance-off.

TERS drum and Red Sand drum group did the honors for the exhibition dances for the evening.

CSKT Tribal Chairman, Bud Moran was present to offer a warm welcome to the students to the Reservation.

Elders Octave Finley and Frances Stanger were present to kick-off the event as well.

Moran urged the student to learn all they could from the elders, explaining it was the ways of the people. Moran mentioned the Homesteading era and how drastic change came to the Native people of the Flathead Reservation, “Some of you don’t understand it, but you will learn as you are here and learn our culture,” he said.

CSKT Polson Council Representative, Steve Lozar was also present.

During the event, a Russian student, Katy was celebrating her 18th birthday. Red Sand did the honors of singing “Happy Birthday to You” round dance song while the crowd joined in to share a friendship dance with young appreciative lady. “Turning 18 is something big in my country,” Katy said with a smile and tone that seemed to be on the verge of a tear, “And to be surrounded by each of my student friends makes me happy,” she said. “I love you all,” she added.

Following the round dance special TERS official Aggie Incashola engaged the students in every dance powwow dance style. “I want you watch these dancers very closely, then we are going to have you come out here to dance and compete against each other,” she said.

Over a dozen community members volunteered to demonstrate the Grass dance, Chicken dance, Fancy Shawl, Jingle and Ladies Traditional.

A representative of Thailand took first place in the women’s traditional category and the student from Kazakhstan took first place in the men’s grass dance category.

All students received t-shirts courtesy of Two Eagle River School.

The night came to close with each exchange student or group of students sharing an eight-minute presentation about their country with the crowd.

Foreign exchange host parent Bill Bjarko expressed he was impressed to see all foreign exchange student and tribal students together. “It’s such a blessing,” he said. “I feel this night is a learning experience for me,” he added. As he addressed the crowd, he expressed the deepest appreciation to foreign exchange coordinator, Marilyn Murchie and her husband Archie for making this all happen.

Chairman Moran addressed his appreciation to the foreign students. “You are all special guests and great people.”

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