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TERS students interview, photograph influential people

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POLSON — Seventh grader Ida Couture was a little nervous as she asked Pablo “Chib” Espinoza questions. Espinoza is Chief of Fish and Game Department for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Couture started off asking Espinoza his name, how to spell his name and how many years he had lived on the Flathead Reservation. 

After finding out Espinoza’s dream job is “the job I have,” Couture asked about the worst part of Espinoza’s job. 

“The only bad part of the job is trapping skunks,” Espinoza said, grinning. 

While Couture asked the questions, another student unobtrusively circled the classroom photographing the interviewee as the remaining students listened and took notes on the interview.

Al Bone, seventh grade teacher at Two Eagle River School, said the students receive a grade on their notes, which must make sense. 

Couture and her seventh grade and a few eighth grade classmates at TERS are learning to interview and photograph people by participating in “We Dare Tell.”

“We Dare Tell” is a program developed by poet Jennifer Greene and photographer David J. Spear through A VOICE, an art vision and outreach in community education organization that brings arts programming to the rural areas of Montana.

The Humanities of Montana funded “We Dare Tell” this year.

Greene and Spear meet with the students on a weekly basis, teaching them photography and interviewing skills. The students, with input from Greene, Spear, and their teacher Bone, developed a list of questions. The questions are tweaked with each interview. For instance, after Espinoza’s interview, Bone said he would like to add more questions about family.

Then the kids practice what they’ve learned by interviewing “very influential people” on and near the Flathead Reservation. Spear taped the interviews, which are transcribed and sent to the person who was interviewed before the photos and interview are displayed.

In addition to Espinoza, the students also interviewed Bill Swaney earlier in the year. Swaney teaches science at Salish Kootenai College.

Next week the middle schoolers will go to the University of Missoula campus in Missoula. On tap are interviews with Deborah Magpie Earling and George Price, both professors at the U of M. Earling teaches creative writing and wrote “Perma Red,” a novel based on her aunt and set on the Flathead Reservation.

Price, who lives in Dixon, taught at Two Eagle River School at one time. The students will sit in on one of Price’s classes as well as interview and photograph him.

Spear would like to set up interviews with Joe McDonald, outgoing SKC president, and Luana K. Ross, the incoming president.

As one of the final chapters of “We Dare Tell,” the students photograph each other and write a short biography. Then all the interviews and photographs are displayed. People who are interviewed are asked for any important family photos they would like to display. Right now last year’s work is showcased at The Hangin’ Art Gallery in Arlee after spending a month at the Tribal Complex.

Greene and Spear have been working with middle school students as well as some high school students for about five years, on the Flathead Reservation as well as Rocky Boy Reservation and in Helena. They plan to compile a book of the students’ photos and interviews. 

Spear asked the students if anyone felt he or she was too shy to do the interview. One young lady raised her hand and was selected to do one of the interviews in Missoula.

Spear said the project incorporates storytelling, sitting around in a circle and listening as somebody talks. 

Part of the educational process for the students is that Greene and Spear are both engaged in their respective work as a poet and a photographer. 

Greene has a second book of poetry coming out entitled “What Lasts.” Spear’s photographs have been published in magazines such as New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. In 1995 Spear received the Ernest Haas Photography Educator of the Year award. 

Spear and Green both bring their excitement about their work back to the students. 

“We’re connected to what we do,” Spear said.

Bone agreed, saying the students enjoy the project, and the kids become more and more connected as the interview process continued.

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