Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 21, 2001 - Issue 34



Leadership School


 by Rob McDonald Staff Writer the Spokesman Review


Photo by Liz Kishimoto - The Spokesman-Review
Elizabeth Samuels of Wellpinit and Vaughn Eaglebear of Spokane play a round of the stick game at the Northwest Indian Youth Conference at the Ridpath.


1,000 American Indian teens encounter traditional, modern cultures at conference

One moment Tamara Curtis is singing a traditional Indian song. The next she's greeting two Indian guys by lifting two fingers and booming "Peace!"

Curtis, a Puyallup/Navaho who lives on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation is among 1,000 American Indian teens in Spokane this week for the 26th annual Northwest Indian Youth Conference -- a gathering where traditional and modern cultures bump together.

Students spent their spring break attending dozens of workshops, from hide-tanning to career advancement, parenting skills to avoiding gang violence, and drumming traditional songs to the latest in physical fitness.

The conference is a gathering place for young Native American people to mingle and act as leaders for a week, says one of the organizers, Val Vargas-Thomas, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes.

The event is designed to nurture talent and ability, helping the teens reach their personal goals of helping their own people. They are encouraged, even pushed, into leadership roles.

"We're trying to get the young people to get up and speak. Now it's time for them to hear each other," Vargas-Thomas said. "They want to help out and make a difference in their lives."

There was even a chance for aspiring powwow MCs to learn the art of controlling the dance arena and delivering dry jokes to the crowd.

Most of the workshop ideas came from polling teens from the Colville tribes about what mattered most to them, Vargas-Thomas said. She offered a smorgasbord that would appeal to urban Indians and reservation residents.

Student have come from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and the coastal tribes of Washington.

Young members of tribes including the Lummi, Blackfeet and Swinomish mingled with those of the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene and Colville.

"We really don't know each other, but we're really the same," said Donnie Quenelle, 15, a member of the Oregon Grand Ronde Tribe who lives in Vancouver.

Anyone who walked through the Ridpath would have seen dozens of Indian students wearing baggy jeans, khakis, oversized shirts or several necklaces. Some wear baseball caps that say, "Native Pride."

On Tuesday night, acclaimed author Sherman Alexie, teased the baggy-pants crowd during a banquet. Flat rear ends and oversized jeans just don't work, he joked.

For Indians who live in cities, it was a treat to spend the week with rural tribe members, said Chris Gould, 15, an Arapaho and Cheyenne. He lives in Vancouver, Wash., and is one of about four Indians who attend his high school.

He often is mistaken for being Hispanic and has endured racial slurs. "There's a lot of racism in the city," Gould said.

Between organized events, students got the chance to hear what's going on in other places.

Standing in the skywalk above First Avenue, Walter Clark, 15, described an extreme inline skating group that lives on the Swinomish Reservation 60 miles north of Seattle. He's developing a video of their best stunts in hopes of attracting corporate sponsorship someday.

"This is just our way of showing that Natives can skate. Everybody thinks Natives hang out on the reservation and do nothing," Clark said. "That's what most everyone thinks, that Natives are alcoholics and drug addicts."

It's simply not true, Clark said.

Despite the advances in economic development and battles against social ills, the longest-running stereotypes affecting American Indians still linger.

While their downtime was a chance to strut, flirt and trade stories like teens anywhere, powerful moments came when students were asked to step in front of their peers and relate experiences that Indians especially understand.

Dylan Lodge shared her story about filing a complaint in September with Spokane School District 81 about a Lewis and Clark High School marching band halftime show that offended Lodge and her friends.

The show re-enacted the last battle of Custer with students dressed in Indian braids who did a simulated "war dance." Lodge's initial complaint, along with following calls supporting Lodge, led to District 81's decision to remove all Indian elements from the show.

Lodge, who was 16 at the time, explained how she was berated and ridiculed for standing up for her beliefs

She said she was nominated for a Chase Youth Award but did not win.

Lodge felt a more meaningful award came Wednesday when 1,000 peers clapped and cheered her on after she shared her story.

Rob McDonald can be reached at (509) 459-5533 or by e-mail at




  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.



The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.