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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Tribe's Bet on Future Pays Off

by Virginia de Leon Spokesman Review
Kalispel Tribe Logo"I've always felt that I was a valuable person, but it didn't show that on paper," said Auld, who's now majoring in accounting at Gonzaga University. "I went back to school to know that I accomplished something with my life."

Auld, a Kalispel Indian who lives on the reservation near Usk, Wash., would never have pursued a bachelor's degree if she hadn't received support from the Camas Institute.

Established about a year ago with profits from Northern Quest Casino, the Camas Institute is a chartered entity of the Kalispel Tribe -- a center that not only provides educational and training opportunities, but one that addresses "the mental, physical, emotional and cultural needs" of the Kalispels.

The dream for the Camas Institute began a dozen years ago, during a drive on the reservation's back roads. Glen Nenema, chairman of the tribal council, and Dave Bonga, a Minnesota Chippewa and now the tribe's attorney, wanted to explore ways to liberate the Kalispels from generations of poverty.

At that time, unemployment on the reservation -- where about half the tribal members live -- was at 70 percent. About 60 percent didn't graduate from high school.

Only two people from the entire tribe of about 340 had received a college degree.

Thanks to funding and support from the Camas Institute, the Kalispels will have 22 members with higher education degrees this year.

"We took an island in the sky and moved it into the 20th century," said Camas Institute director Glenn Raymond, describing the recent changes for the Kalispel Reservation. The institute "opened up windows of opportunity for people who had been traditionally underserved."

With a budget of $1.4 million, the institute has paid for dozens of Kalispels to pursue higher education degrees, get their General Education Development certificates and find jobs and internships.

No other tribe in the country has an all-embracing program similar to the Camas Institute, according to its founders.

The name "camas" was chosen because -- like deer meat and berries -- the camas root is among the natural foods that provided subsistence for the Kalispel people, Raymond said.

"Once you have camas, you can survive," he said.

Auld, who grew up on the reservation, never imagined she could attain an accounting degree, let alone attend Gonzaga. Like many Kalispels, particularly those who live in rural Eastern Washington, Auld didn't have the money to pay for tuition. Until she received some advice from the staff at the Camas Institute, Auld also didn't know which courses to take in the first place.

"The Camas Institute people were very encouraging," said Auld, who dropped out of high school at 17 but earned a GED and eventually an associate's degree from the Institute for Extended Learning in the 1980s. "I wouldn't have been able to go back to school" without the institute.

As part of its comprehensive plan for the tribe, the Camas Institute has an individualized training plan for each tribal member -- from Derrick Bluff, a 6-year-old who attends an after-school program funded by the tribe, to the oldest Kalispel, 80-year-old Alice Ignace, who recently received a formal "lifetime instruction permit" for passing on ancient traditions to younger generations.

"The casino and the institute have made our living better," said Ignace, who teaches everything from beading and dancing to speaking Salish and harvesting medicinal plants. "It has helped us preserve our culture."

To help tribal members find jobs and earn a living, Nenema and Bonga realized they had to take a "holistic" approach.

"To obtain economic development, you need a healthy population," Bonga said.

That's why their vision consisted of a learning center "to not only help people learn professional skills, Bonga said, "but to become strong and healthy; to offer them the chance to become the person they want to be."

The institute includes an adult healing and wellness center that integrates Native American values, spiritual beliefs and culture with Western philosophy and practices.

Staff from the institute works with each tribal member to identify their goals before financing their education and other needs.

In addition to paying Auld's tuition at Gonzaga, the institute also provided her with an internship with the accounting department. "I'm learning something new every day," said Auld, who spends three hours driving from Usk to Spokane and back each day.

While Kalispel members are the primary beneficiaries of the center, the Camas Institute helps other Native Americans living on or near the Kalispel reservation. Eventually, the institute wants to serve as a model for other tribes.

Besides financing the education of tribal members, the institute also provides free youth programs for the Kalispels, courses in writing, computers and other topics, as well as classes that focus on Native American art and history.

The institute also offers a mentorship program, a dealer school that offers certified courses for both Indians and the general public in blackjack and other casino games, and a computer school that will provide free computers and training to every Kalispel household.

"We want our people to be leaders in the community," Raymond said. "We want to build an atmosphere where both Indians and non-Indians can grow."

Kalispel Tribe of Indians
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians, one of the oldest Native cultures of the Pend Oreille River, possesses a bright vision for the future. Through perseverance, we have overcome numerous cultural, economic and social hardships facing our sovereign nation

Camas Institute
The Camas Institute, a chartered entity of the Kalispel Tribe, provides educational and employment opportunities to Kalispel tribal members, and other Native American people living on or near the Kalispel lands and the general public. The institute provides vocational and occupational training, community services, Indian culture and history education including GED preparation and testing. Other activities and services will be expanding into chemical dependency treatment and cultural exchanges.

Kalispel I.R., WA Map
Usk, WA Map
Maps by Travel

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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