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2010 Elder~Youth Reflections

Earlier in June marked our 5th Annual Elder~Youth Conference at EarthTeach Forest Park. After another amazing Elder~Youth experience, we are breathing that quiet air of accomplishment and happiness as we reflect on the things learned and taught during this camp. Each of the four days of the Conference encompassed different teachings, all of which culminated in a true feeling of a working, living encampment. We once again hosted our "cousin-youth group" from Coos Bay--the Title VII (Indian Education) program through the Coos School District. This marks the third year many of these kids have returned to our Conference, and as they will readily tell anyone, this is their " absolute favorite culture camp of the year!"

The first day of camp is always about how to set everything up. There are huge lessons for the kids in how to put up tipis, how to help plank and brush the Longhouse, how to help gather, split and chop wood for the camp fires, how to set up and create a community kitchen, how to simply ARRIVE in camp and shed the "outside world" in a place for four days that allows the kids to learn to live together in helpful, healthy ways.

The second day of camp started with a morning circle and a healthy, whole grain "super breakfast," followed by the men taking all the boys in camp off for a hike, a Drum Teaching, a primitive accuracy course, lunch off on the mountain and then back down for a men's Sweat Lodge. This allowed the women to host our annual Women's Circle in the Celebration Meadow, followed by teachings from women elders with crafting, acorn processing and hide-scraping. The girls in camp, guided by their elder women, were able to explore which project they'd like to work on for the afternoon. The camp reunited for dinner and then had songs and stories by the Fire.

The third day of the Conference focused on the central themes of survival skills and self-sufficiency. One of our Elders and Keeper of the Southern Oregon Veteran's Eagle Staff, taught the art of hand-weaving, allowing the kids to set up weaving tri-pods and learn (hands-on) how to do this. He also spoke to the importance of the woven sashes and what their uses were for indigenous people in packing camp supplies, making horse halters/bridles, etc.. His teaching helped people understand the significance of "crafting," from an indigenous "work" perspective. Native people didn't craft just to make pretty items--there was a use and a reason behind EVERYTHING made--and the hand-woven items helped teach the kids this art--of creating something beautiful AND useful. A similar theme that afternoon involved a Shasta Elder and Tribal Basketry teacher who taught the camp how plant fibers were wild-crafted and harvested for basket-making materials and how important baskets were for countless uses in camp--from carrying, cooking, rattles for ceremony, storage of food for the winter, hunting, fishing--all things involving catching and preserving foods for survival through the seasons. The kids were also given teachings of fire-making and shelter-making and they continued to learn hide-scraping and brain-tanning as an ongoing process over the course of the four days.

Our annual Elder~Youth Longhouse was once again hosted Sunday morning, the final day of Camp, followed by a wonderful Feast and then a Community Giveaway. R.E.D. and friends offer this Giveaway each year to show our appreciation of the People who help us in so many ways. This year all children and youth received a Giveaway, as well as all Teachers and Elders in camp. As part of our Potlatch philosophy, we also put all the camp food out as part of the Giveaway at the end of Camp. And day ended with take-down of camp, including clean-up of the Longhouse and the taking down of tipis--all great lessons for people still in camp to learn and participate in.

This was the basic framework for the Conference, yet many more teachings and life lessons were interwoven into each day, such as the morning and evening circles before meals, where plans, goals and purposes for the day were shared with the community in camp. Longhouse songs and teachings were also shared and given to the people by our well-respected Longhouse leader from the Nez Perce tradition. Also an important lesson constant throughout the four days was the teaching of healthy food choices and integrating more indigenous foods into the daily menu--whole grains, acorn, freshly ground hard corn from our community garden last year (ground on the spot by the kids!), local organic greens and fruit, wild game and salmon all made up the main courses of each day. Rather than giving high-sugar drinks like juice and sodas as options, we presented herbal teas and fresh lemonades to the kids. By creating a daily menu rich in these extremely nutritious foods, we are instilling healthier food choices. With the rise of obesity and diabetes in children--especially in Native communities--our focus on health and wellness as part of our camp teachings is front-and-center. Being out in the woods hiking, practicing primitive accuracy courses, playing shinny (stickball games) and helping in camp with the daily chores all add a natural element of exercise and activity to go with the healthy diet we all shared in camp. The measure of success with this menu is the kids loved the food, we rarely heard the common phrase between meals, "I'm hungry!" and when they were hungry, they deeply appreciated the diverse and delicious meals.

Other life lessons learned in camp revolved once again on building long-term friendships, trust and relations with each other in our community and with our guest youth group, the Coos Bay Indian Education program. The continuity our camp provides for these kids and how they look forward to it all year all creates strong, unique relationships that teach the kids the most important lesson of all--to respect themselves and all their relations by participating in their community in a healthy way.

We have many entities to thank and acknowledge for their help in providing the needs for our Elder~Youth Conference: Food donations from Pamela Joy and the Food Angels, Shop 'N Kart, Market of Choice, Ashland Food Co-op, Ray's Sentry. Time and funding donations: McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, Coos Title VII Program, many individual donations from our community, including participants in our winter Raffle and Silent Auction, Pete Cotton and EarthTeach Forest Park, all our Elders and Teachers, the Ashland Youth Council, the R.E.D. Community Garden Cache, KSKQ Community Radio for publicity and our R.E.D. extended family of committed souls who CONTINUALLY go beyond the call of duty to see things through and be there with love and support for the vision we share. . .to bridge our Elders and our Youth in a way that allows the next Generations of life to live by traditional indigenous values.