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CSKT tribe and San Manuel tribe find common ground during cultural exchange

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Pat Matt Jr., Chaney Bell, and Steve Arca join the men of the San Manuel Tribe in a Bird Song ceremony dance. (Lailani Upham photo)Pat Matt Jr., Chaney Bell, and Steve Arca join the men of the San Manuel Tribe in a Bird Song ceremony dance. (Lailani Upham photo)

GREENOUGH — It was a powerful cultural intertwining last month when a California tribe and the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes came together for the first time to share a cultural exchange night at the Paws Up Resort in the Blackfoot Valley of Montana.

The orange purplish hue of the sky enhanced the natural beauty of the resort setting amidst a landscape of impeccable rustic elegance and a comforting gourmet buffet spread. Families dressed in shining colors of traditional regalia shared laughs and stories before the exchange began.

San Manuel Tribal Council member Melenie Calderon called the night spiritual and could not get over the beauty of landscape that fell behind the significant words of the CSKT “guests.”

Elder Tony Incashola, Séliš and QÍispé Cultural Committee director shared his 40-plus years of experience working with elders on the Salish language revitalization, stories and customs handed down and the diligent work over the years to keep it traveling from generation to generation.

One-year-old Tahnee Addison the youngest dancing representative for the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille Tribes hold tightly to her mother Marianne’s hands. (Lailani Upham photo)One-year-old Tahnee Addison the youngest dancing representative for the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille Tribes hold tightly to her mother Marianne’s hands. (Lailani Upham photo)

 “I am proud of who we are and who you are,” Incashola told the guests. “It makes me happy when I see people show their way of life.”

Incashola said he felt fortunate that he was raised by traditional grandparents where Salish was the first language. “They taught and gave me everything (culturally),” he said.

During his presentation to the San Manuel, Incashola said people need to be honest with one another. He said as Native people, we might not all agree with what is going on, but must live and do their best to work together to protect and perpetuate the Native way of living. He said it took centuries of work from ancestors to keep language and culture going.

Over the decades of working on the SPCC Incashola said there have been 1,000 interviews from elder’s stories that have been vital to keeping what the CSKT people have today.

Dancing Naomi’s. Naomi Robison and Naomi Billideaux sway gracefully with the ladies of the San Manuel Tribe during the cultural exchange last month. (Lailani Upham photo)Dancing Naomi’s. Naomi Robison and Naomi Billideaux sway gracefully with the ladies of the San Manuel Tribe during the cultural exchange last month. (Lailani Upham photo)

Calderon said seeing their tribal youth take in the words of Incashola, an elder, was unexplainable and the most meaningful. “Listening to another elder and watching their attention tuned into him meant so much,” she said. “Seeing our tribal youth take part in another tribes traditions was magical.”

With demanding lives and people of the San Manuel Tribe being spread out Calderon said taking time to vacation together is valuable in keeping their connections intact and culture alive in the modern day world of social media and business.

Calderon said the San Manuel Tribe has been reaching out across the globe to get to know other tribes for the benefit of their younger generation, and also as a part of getting to know each other.

In the past years San Manuel Tribe have made trips outside of the country to indigenous communities but this year they wanted to visit a neighboring tribe in the United States. They chose the Flathead Reservation. “We researched and found the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and called to see if they were interested,” she said.

The inquiry was sent straight to The People’s Center.

The answer was ‘Of course they were.’

Tony Incashola, Salish Pend d’Oreille elder shares a passage of wisdom with the San Manuel tribal guests at the cultural exchange evening held at the Paws Up Resort. (Lailani Upham photo)Tony Incashola, Salish Pend d’Oreille elder shares a passage of wisdom with the San Manuel tribal guests at the cultural exchange evening held at the Paws Up Resort. (Lailani Upham photo)

Marie Torosian, The People’s Center Program Manager said she and a staff member met with a San Manuel representative this Spring at Paws Up Resort to plan a cultural exchange evening to be held a the end of June.

The People’s Center staff lined up dancers, drummers and presenters to join the visiting tribe to talk about languages, song and their ancestral aboriginal territory. The staff sent invites to the Tribal Council, set the schedule, covered basic logistics, and arranged bus stops along the reservation to pick up and drop people off, all courtesy of the San Manuel Tribe.

“I knew very little of the San Manuel Tribe before our cultural exchange,” said Pat Matt, Jr., TPC Cultural Summer Intern.

Matt said he knew the tribe was a band with a small land base in California. He figured the people may have been assimilated and put to work under the leadership of the Spanish either through local land barons who built large rancheros and plantations, or by the Spanish Catholic priests who established small and large works throughout the California area throughout the 1600s-1800s. 

Torosian said she was taken back by the beautiful “bird songs” of the San Manuel people. “The dances they shared with us was amazing and to me the best part of the evening,” Torosian said. She said when they were invited to learn and be a part of their culture; it was an honor. “Songs and dances are a big part of all our Native peoples lives, it brings us together,” she said.

Calderon said the cultural exchange proved that all tribes regardless of different practices all share many similarities.

Tiny tot San Manuel Bird Song singers are guided during the songs with elder males of the tribe. (Lailani Upham photo)Tiny tot San Manuel Bird Song singers are guided during the songs with elder males of the tribe. (Lailani Upham photo)

“We’re all still here,” she said. Calderon said with all the past histories of atrocities many tribes could be extinct, but their strength united them as the tribes did that night.

“I felt my heart beating when the little boys were singing,” she said of the duo twin brother singers Taylon and Thomas Addison.

Torosian said her hope of the exchange night was the San Manuel people grasped a part of the Salish and Kootenai traditions and cultures to take home with them. And understand both their work as tribal people are to keep traditions and languages alive. “We share in those same concerns and hope we can continue our connections and work together in the future,” she said.

Matt said his wish from the time shared is that Q’lispe and Selis people sincerity, open-heartedness and honesty is received and specifically the San Manuel walk away with ideas of their model of language revitalization with them. “The San Manuel’s have only one main fluent speaker, who is a non-tribal member. It is my belief that they need to look at our language revitalization efforts such as our language camps and the NÂusm Institute, and implement such models effectively now. I feel they need to take the most effective aspects of what we’re doing, and compact such activities into all aspects of their everyday lives. They do not want to lose their language, and I wouldn’t want them to lose it either. Our languages are vital to our cultural and traditional identities as Native people,” Matt said.

Nine-year-old twins Taylon and Thomas Addison drum out an intertribal song during the cultural exchange at the Paw Up Resort. Dana Hewankorn dances next granddaughter, Ni’Ellie, 7, while Beverly Michel follows in step on beat. (Lailani Upham photo)Nine-year-old twins Taylon and Thomas Addison drum out an intertribal song during the cultural exchange at the Paw Up Resort. Dana Hewankorn dances next granddaughter, Ni’Ellie, 7, while Beverly Michel follows in step on beat. (Lailani Upham photo)

TPC Education Coordinator Dana Hewankorn said, “It was amazing to see the dances and songs they shared with us. It was good to see that a small tribe can be so successful in the business world and use that success to reinvigorate their culture.”

 In the brief evening connection Hewankorn she was taken back by the San Manuel Tribes hospitality and genuine care for us as guests — basically in their own lands.

She said she hopes the tribal guests see that the Salish and Kootenai people are much like them and she hopes both will continue to build a relationship.

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