Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

April 29, 2010

Head Start powwow is truly a family thing

By Lailani Upham

The Arlee CSKT Early Childhood Center students proudly display their banner during Grand Entry at the 35th Annual Head Start powwow on Friday. Volunteer parents and students from each center took time to design and make a banner for their respective centers, according to Lolita Hendrickson, Early Childhood Education Coordinator. (Lailani Upham photo)
The Arlee CSKT Early Childhood Center students proudly display their banner during Grand Entry at the 35th Annual Head Start powwow on Friday. Volunteer parents and students from each center took time to design and make a banner for their respective centers, according to Lolita Hendrickson, Early Childhood Education Coordinator. (Lailani Upham photo)

RONAN -— Over 700 people came through food line at the 35th Annual Head Start powwow; however, hundreds more were counted to take in the generational family event.

“Food is a big deal,” said Lolita Hendrickson, CSKT Early Childhood Education Coordinator. Until recently, the meal was a chore and half for the staff and volunteers at Early Childhood. Three years ago the program secured the Ronan Event Center as the primary location for the annual Head Start powwow. Since then it is considered a breeze to feed so many people, according to Hendrickson.

The Ronan Event Center is located at the Ronan Middle School.

Hendrickson raved that Marsha Wartick, the Ronan school head cook, is a big boost in making the dinner less work. Wartick takes on the task of ordering and cooking some of the food. In the years past, most of the food was coordinated and cooked by staff and parent volunteers. The locations didn’t always have cooking means, therefore making the meal prep and serving a bit more challenging. “Being connected to the school made it so much easier,” Hendrickson said. “She (Wartick) made the chili and the Head Start cooks made all the fry bread,” she added.

Adorable twin sisters Kason and Kooper Page, from the College Drive Early Childhood center are arrayed in bright purple dresses. The girls pose for a family snapshot. (Lailani Upham photo)
Adorable twin sisters Kason and Kooper Page, from the College Drive Early Childhood center are arrayed in bright purple dresses. The girls pose for a family snapshot. (Lailani Upham photo)

The desserts were donated and baked by the Head Start staff and each center donated a number of water bottles. Sack lunches were prepared in the case a child was hungry and needed to eat right away, said Hendrickson.

Since most food items are ordered through the school cafeteria, the meal seems to now fall into place, according to Hendrickson, who had been with the Head Start powwow from the beginning.

The 232 Head Start students received hand-made moccasins made by local ladies at 35 dollars a piece. Each Head Start class made a sketching of the child’s foot and a pair was constructed and designed months before the powwow, Hendrickson said. Part of the cost for the gifted moccasins came from the program and part from fundraising. “It’s always cool to see the different beadwork when they come in,” she said.

Arlee Early Childhood center student Gayven Swaney lends an ear to his smaller classmate Macklan McDonald during an intertribal dance. (Lailani Upham photo)
Arlee Early Childhood center student Gayven Swaney lends an ear to his smaller classmate Macklan McDonald during an intertribal dance. (Lailani Upham photo)

Most of the families represented at the annual event are generational Head Start graduates. Many folks on the Flathead Reservation can share a connection through the Early Childhood Head Start program. “So many parents that are now with their children in this powwow came through the Head Start program too,” said Hendrickson. “It’s very rewarding to have one of the kids you taught come up to you years later and remember you.”

Not only the family participants have a connection to the history of Head Start but so do most of the staff. Doris Gainan, Early Childhood Coordinator was one of the first students to come through the program in the late sixties, she said. She also had a child, who is now 33 years-old who came through the program as well.

CSKT Early Childhood Director Jeannie Christopher had been with the program since the beginning as a teacher. It was her idea to come up with activities for her classroom that sparked a powwow that would endure for over three decades. “I wanted it to be something to involve the parents,” she said. At the time, elder Johnny Arlee had a child in the program and he was the singer and drummer for the first powwow, Christopher said. “His wife cooked for us,” she said.

The first Arlee Head Start center started out in the buildings that are presently the on-site bathrooms at the Arlee Celebration campgrounds, This is where the first Head Start powwow was held, Christopher said. Mission and Arlee were the only centers to participate in first powwow with 50 participants altogether.

Hundreds of family members enter the circle for the 35th Annual Head Start powwow at the Ronan Event Center last Friday. (Lailani Upham photo)
Hundreds of family members enter the circle for the 35th Annual Head Start powwow at the Ronan Event Center last Friday. (Lailani Upham photo)

“We shared that building with stick game players,” Hendrickson said. “All our tables and equipment were on wheels, so when the weekend came we would roll back our stuff against the walls, drape blankets over it and get it ready for the weekend stick game tournaments.”

The children then and now make their own outfits or parts of their regalia in preparation of the upcoming annual powwows. The resources have increased over the years allowing the centers to help loan out outfits to those in need, but the idea is always to make something the kids can be proud of, said Christopher.

Back in the day, the kids may have only been able to construct a paper bag vest or make paper headbands and feathers, but they were proud and had fun. “That’s what it’s all about - the kids being proud of who they are,” said Christopher.

Not too many years back, Hendrickson’s family farm slaughtered some chickens the night before the powwow to donate real feathers for the little eager dancers.

Now the kids are using real beads, making bustles, dancing sticks, fans, headgear, medallions, chokers so the kids will have a sense of ownership, Christopher explained.

The centers throughout the valley invite in local singers, drummers and dancers to familiarize some the kids with a powwow setting. “Some children have never been to one, so this helps with the preparation,” Hendrickson said.

Ladies choice - A little girl takes the hand of a classmate and dances across the floor during the flag song that was rendered by Post Creek singers. (Lailani Upham photo)
Ladies choice - A little girl takes the hand of a classmate and dances across the floor during the flag song that was rendered by Post Creek singers. (Lailani Upham photo)

Stephen Smallsalmon welcomed the families and CSKT Elmo Representative Rueben Mathias emceed for the event; while local drum groups, Post Creek, Chief Cliff, Yamncut, Sunrise and

Nkwusm ushered in the heartbeat to the children and their families.

The celebration has been a carry-on from 1975 to present day to bring a feeling of pride in the early childhood children of who they are, says Christopher.

“The celebration is also a thank you to our families for trusting us with their kids.”

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