Neb. - Beneath the oak trees at Powwow Arena, the tepees rose with the morning sun.
Omaha tribesman Wilfred Lovejoy Sr. directed a group of Omaha Indian children and Creighton University students
as they raised pine poles and stretched canvas to create six massive tepees Wednesday.
"The opening of the tepee has to face east," Lovejoy said. "That's the
direction the day begins, the direction life begins."
New beginnings - those are what the tepee setup and the whole week's activities at Macy's first Big Elk Camp are
The camp, a collaborative effort between the Omaha Indian Tribe's Four Hills Wellness Center and Creighton University
occupational and physical therapy students, is an effort to reverse some dangerous trends among American Indian
youths, said camp organizer Wehnona St. Cyr.
Since coming back to Macy in 1999 as the tribe's health director, St. Cyr said, she has conducted studies that
show alarming percentages of drug and alcohol abuse and sexual activity among the tribe's young people.
Those numbers, along with longtime health problems that have plagued Indians- diabetes and alcoholism - have made
for a very unhealthy tribe, St. Cyr said.
Kennen Grant, 9, and Cameron Freemont, 8, carry a pole for one of the tepees that campers built Wednesday at the
Big Elk Camp.
"For us to survive, we had to make a change," St. Cyr said. "We decided that we had to shift the
focus from just treatment to prevention. We want to keep these kids from ever taking that first drink or picking
up that first
Along with the message of good health, St. Cyr wanted to incorporate education on tribal customs. So the camp was
born, named after former Omaha Chief Big Elk.
Earlier this week, a 20-mile walk honored tribal members who died alcohol-related deaths. Organizers also hosted
a horseshoe tournament and a dance Tuesday.
Before the tepee setup Wednesday, Elmer Blackbird, chairman of the Omaha Tribe, held a blessing ceremony in the
"Some kids here had never even heard our language before," St. Cyr said.
The 20-foot-tall tepees will be used for the rest of the week for camping and as gathering places for speakers
Later in the week, horse rides, cultural speakers and a buffalo feast are scheduled. The camp concludes at 1 p.m.
Sunday with a powwow, complete with traditional Omaha dress, music and food.
St. Cyr said that nearly 200 people participated in Monday's walk and that about 30 tribal children were on hand
One of those was 16-year-old Tim Griffin, a tribal mentor.
"I know a lot of the kids are enjoying putting up these tepees," Griffin said. "All week, this camp
is keeping them busy and out of trouble."
Among all the youths, it was not hard to spot Michelle Morlock, an occupational-therapy senior and one of three
Creighton students on hand Wednesday.
St. Cyr said the university has been involved with the tribe since getting a minority service grant in 1990.
A Manning, Iowa, native, Morlock has lived and worked at the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservations for the past
six weeks as part of an internship program. Morlock said she has worked at the tribal clinic, at the community
garden and on the planning committee for the camp.
This weekend, when the camp concludes, so does Morlock's stay in Macy.
"I'm trying not to think about that right now," Morlock said. "This has been such a great learning
experience, I don't want it to end.
"At first I didn't know how I would be received, but the people here have welcomed me. I graduate in December,
but I would definitely consider coming back to this area to work or volunteer."
The Omaha Tribe