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Tribal culture shared with local, Missoula students

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PABLO — A deer hide with grayish white hair was ready to be scraped, and students from the Missoula International School, a Spanish immersion school, were eager to try. 

Randy Michel, who teaches hide tanning at the People’s Center, talked about hides and how they go from hairy and wet to supple, soft and beautiful. Joined by Patrick Chief Stick, Michel brought his handmade horn-handled tools and a scraper. He had two stretched hides, an example of a tanned hide and some beaded bags he had made. 

“They are having fun, and they get to try it,” Michel said as children tentatively touched the deerskin, poking their fingers through bullet holes in the stretched hides and stroking a tanned fawn skin.

The Missoula school was one of many that came to the People’s Center during Native Awareness Week, Sept. 15-18. They celebrated the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille cultures, histories and ways of life, according to the People’s Center website at 

Kids from Polson, Hot Springs, St. Ignatius and Ronan also visited the museum, according to Loushie Charlo, who worked with children at the craft tables.

Kids learned to play shinny, a Native American game played with sticks and a hide ball stuffed with deer hair. They also visited tipis set up on the museum grounds, made beaded chokers and decorated their own small paper tipis.  

Leslie Walker and her crew made fry bread for the kids to try. 

“What do you make frybread out of?” “How do you cook it,” and “How did you learn to make frybread?” were all questions Walker fielded as she expertly patted and flipped the dough and then deep-fried it. 

“I like it,” one student said. “It was fluffy like bread and then it had honey and syrup.” 

Every child and all the adults, too, received a piece of frybread and then headed on to the dry meat station, where venison was drying on a huge metal frame over a smoldering fire. 

A trash can caught some of the kids’ eyes. Although many children might have been grossed out by the discarded deer legs and pieces of meat that couldn’t be used, these kids checked out the tiny, sharp deer hooves and the way the leg joints bent, daring each other to touch them.

Eldon Big Beaver, one of the dry meat cooks, talked to the kids about how the deer were shot. 

“A head shot is best so it’s doesn’t ruin the hide,” he said as he explained field dressing an animal, the importance of quickly cooling the carcass and keeping the meat clean.

Patricia Cano, a teacher at the Spanish immersion school, said the children have been studying tribes, particularly tribes around the Missoula area. 

The classes toured the inside of the People’s Center after first enjoying some drumming and singing from Kenneth Lozeau and Josiah Nichols, who had all the kids clapping along with them. They had questions about what sort of wood the drum was made from (cedar), what kind of hide covered the drum (elk skin) and how the drumsticks were made. 

A parent from the immersion school said the children are encouraged to ask questions to find out why and how, and to be global citizens by learning about other cultures. 

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