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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 11, 2001 - Issue 42


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Devotion to Dirt


story and photo by Brian Kelly Everett Herald Writer -August 7, 2001

Arlington, WA - Calloused hands, skin rubbed raw by a shovel handle. Sun and sweat, dirt and devotion. Taken together, it's an earthy education.

Last November, the Stillaguamish Tribe celebrated the launch of its BankSavers project, a native plant nursery and habitat restoration business located on the tribe's 56-acre farm near the Stillaguamish River.

Now, just more than nine months later, organizers have discovered that more than just red cedar saplings and sprouts of salal have grown stronger in the once fallow fields.

Eight Native Americans are apprentices in the BankSavers program. They're learning how to propagate and care for native plants, how to lay water lines, operate heavy equipment and build greenhouses.

Tribal leaders hope the apprenticeship program will give Indians the skills to find jobs after their schooling ends and improve the tribe's overall economic self-sufficiency. The program is open to qualified Native American youths from 16 to 25 years old.

Melody Smith, 24, has been in the program almost five months. Before Smith started working at BankSavers, she had been a housekeeper.

"I was used to cleaning up the dirt, not playing in the dirt," said Smith, a member of the Stillaguamish Tribe.

At first, she said, the apprenticeship program was intimidating. She had never propagated a plant or tended a garden before BankSavers. Later she found herself excited about going to work.

"I had never been involved in a program like this before. So when I came in, I came into something totally new. Everything was a big change for me. I had to start from the start.

"I had no idea of what I was doing, and if I was doing it well and if I was doing it right," she said. "I never took horticulture in school or really had even been involved in plants. So when I came out here, the potting, the planting, the fertilizing, all of it was new."

Those who run the BankSavers apprenticeship program are learning, too. They're now testing the idea of using the program as a forum for internships, using Sandy Hensley as their pilot student.

A sophomore in the natural resources management program at Northwest Indian College, Hensley hails from Oklahoma and has roots in the Comanche, Northern Arapaho, Kiowa, Caddo and Winnebago tribes.

Hensley, 25, started her internship at the Stillaguamish nursery in late June and will work for BankSavers for 12 weeks.

"We're trying to give her a broad introduction to native plant production and application," said BankSavers project director Doug Kenfield.

"It's a very hands-on learning approach here; not too much formal classroom setting, more of a mentoring and job-training type of approach," he explained.

Students will learn more than just business management of a nursery and the technology of crop production or how they can be used in restoration projects, however. They'll also learn the important cultural and traditional roles that plants play. Students say that's an important part of the program.

"I want to be able to show people it's not just working out here and sweating and pulling weeds," Hensley said. "A lot of people may look at it as a labor job. And it's not at all. It's a whole lot more."

Managers of the program hope to lose their jobs in the years ahead. If all works out, Stillaguamish members who have been through the apprenticeship program will continue to hone their skills and strengthen their schooling until they can take over BankSavers and nurture future crops of students.

So far, the signs have been encouraging.

Nursery manager Erika Morris pointed to the progress that Smith has made. She's become a responsible leader who's willing to take on added responsibility but still doesn't hesitate to ask how something is supposed to be done.

"Melody's my best hope so far," Morris said. "She's going to have my job in about three years, that's what I'm hoping."

The apprenticeship program has already changed her, Smith said.

"Before, I had no interest in plants whatsoever," she said. 'This has totally changed my life in what I've wanted to do. I was going to open up a cleaning business, but I like this so much I would like to stick with this."

Stillaguamish Tribe offers apprenticeships

The Stillaguamish Tribe's youth training and apprenticeship program is aimed at qualified Native American youth (ages 16-25) within Snohomish, Skagit or Whatcom counties.
Selected applicants must go through an intensive one-week orientation, followed by matching and placement as an apprentice with cooperating local businesses or organizations. Opportunities include auto supply, hardware, office supply, grocery, packaging, banks and financial institutions, manufacturing, and other profit and nonprofit organizations.

Stipends are paid during the orientation period, followed by payment of above minimum hourly wages and/or salaries by the employer.

Interested candidates can get an application and additional information by calling 360-652-7362, ext. 411, or by writing The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, P.O. Box 277, Arlington, WA 98223.


  Maps by Travel


Stillaguamish Tribal Information
On October 27, 1976 they achieved status to be federally recognized.

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


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