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Helen Charlo honored at Standing Arrow Powwow

By Lailani Upham

In between breaks of handshakes Ms. Helen greets the crowd with a high wave. (Lailani Upham photo) In between breaks of handshakes Ms. Helen greets the crowd with a high wave. (Lailani Upham photo)

ELMO — Helen Couture Hewankorn Charlo, 95, the oldest Kootenai elders was honored at the 33rd Annual Standing Arrow Powwow this past weekend, where many took part in showing their respects to a long lifer known to have a big heart and a huge sense of humor.

Charlo, who was born in the early part of last the century, in 1917, says, she plans on living a full life until the young age of 110.

An overview of Charlo’s life was shared by her daughter, Chrissie Ewing during the Saturday evening session.

The synopsis of Charlo’s life was a shared effort by her children with a touch of comical short stories and the central comings and goings of her life.

“There are so many more, but we had to just give a few,” Ewing said after the doings.

Charlo’s parents were John and Sapine Couture. Charlo was born and raised in Elmo. She lived most of her life in Elmo however, moved to Washington for a few years in the 60’s, but home called for her and she has remained ever since.

She is the sister of three brothers: Alex, Joe and Pete; and a sister to Madeline Mathias and has six children.

She has three daughters, two sons and one stepson: Leona, Flo, Chrissie, Gene, Henry and Victor.

Charlo was born June 2, 1917.

Today, adding to her kin she has 12 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren.

At a very young age Ms. Helen married Sam Hewankorn in 1933. Sam passed away in the winter of 1965.

In the summer of 1970, she married Tony Charlo.

Kootenai elder Helen Couture Hewankorn Charlo, 95, shakes hands with a couple youngsters during a special honoring for her at this year’s Standing Arrow Celebration. (Lailani Upham photo) Kootenai elder Helen Couture Hewankorn Charlo, 95, shakes hands with a couple youngsters during a special honoring for her at this year’s Standing Arrow Celebration. (Lailani Upham photo)

As a young child Charlo experienced the years of the Great Depression. She worked long hours in apple orchards, potato fields, hop farms and transportation means were covered wagons.

According to her children, some of her hobbies and activities have been huckleberry picking, tanning hides, beading, stickgames, bingo, basketball, and country road cruises.

Some other activities that can be added to her list is: powwow security, basketball, a certified Montana teacher of Kootenai language at Two Eagle River School, Salish Kootenai College and the Elmo community.

“Although she can’t see she loves to ride around and ‘look’ at the country side and talk about all the things she remembers,” said her daughter Chrissie.

Although Charlo can no longer hear or see well, she has been noted to, at times, have “selective hearing.” According to Chrissie, about a month ago the family spent time at Kootenai Falls for a family gathering. The story goes that from a distance a small group of people were hollering and shuffling around. Not many of the Couture Hewankorn Charlo family paid attention, yet Charlo quickly looked back and suddenly said, ‘who’s over there?’ Chrissie said they all didn’t see anyone or hear anything. After a closer observation, they saw the rustling and voices from a far off. Who says she can’t hear?

Pend d’O’reille elder Pat Pierre warmly greets Ms. Helen with a smile and hug. Charlo has been enjoying the Standing Arrow annual powwow from the start over 33 years ago. (Lailani Upham photo) Pend d’O’reille elder Pat Pierre warmly greets Ms. Helen with a smile and hug. Charlo has been enjoying the Standing Arrow annual powwow from the start over 33 years ago. (Lailani Upham photo)

She may have a great sense of humor, but her family says, “You better run like the dickens when she gets mad.”

Charlo’s family says still tries to be independent – a little too independent. One of the stories shared at the powwow celebration was of Charlo fixing her own snacks. “One day the great grandchildren asked her what she was eating,” stated Chrissie. Her reply? “Cereal.” It was Puppy Chow. She spread a bunch of sugar on it and chowed down with cheeks looking like a squirrel chomping on nuts, added Chrissie.

Many of the stories came out of her love for bingo. One was at a pit stop at the 10,000 Dollar Bar on a trip from Idaho to Elmo. The family said they stopped to eat and when she got into the car she started freaking out and kicking her leg around, said that something was in her pant leg. A pair of underwear fell out from the last time she did laundry.

Her grandson, Tom, drove Charlo and her daughter Flo hit the trail to Idaho once again to play bingo and with a determination to get there her grandson was stopped for speeding. Tom explained he was trying to “get these two old ladies to bingo.” The officer peeks in and Charlo must have given an unwavering-old-lady-bingo-look, and the cop said back, “Okay, get them there and watch your speed.”

According to the Records and Enrollment Office at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the five oldest tribal members are all women. Velma Bradley of Kalispell is the eldest member and she will be 98 in November. Alice Gardipe of Arlee is the second oldest, followed by Olivine Burland of Ronan. Both ladies will celebrate their 96th birthdays this fall and winter. Evelyn Wilson of California celebrated her 95th this past February and followed by Helen Charlo who is the fifth eldest member.

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