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Camp focuses on traditional skills

ELMO — No matter your age or interests, last week’s Kootenai Language and Ancestral Skills Camp in Elmo made for a fascinating learning experience. From tiny tots listening to ancient lore to parents and grandparents learning how to fashion bark baskets, the Elmo Community Center was a hub of activity June 14-17.

The annual day camp is put on by the Kootenai Culture Committee and focuses on teaching the language and traditional skills to community members, organizer Gigi Caye said. As one of the first activities of summer, the camp is especially popular with the younger crowd.

“The turnout’s always good with our youth,” Gigi said. “I think they look forward to it every year.”

Each morning, everyone from infants to elders gathered for an hour of storytelling by Vernon Finley, followed by language class taught by several Kootenai elders.

“They’re the experts on (the language),” Gigi said.

After Rosemary Caye’s daily lessons in traditional singing, campers enjoyed hearty made-from-scratch lunches served up by Willie Caye, who said he especially enjoyed having young helpers join him in the kitchen this year. 

For future camps, Willie plans to incorporate more traditional ingredients like roots, berries, deer and elk into the food for the week.
 
“We just didn’t have the product this year,” Willie noted.
 
Between 150-175 people ate Willie’s lunches each day of camp, he added.
“It’s been great,” he said.
 
Afternoons were filled with fun activities like crafting bustles, moccasins, arrowheads, toy spears, dreamcatchers, keychains and bark baskets, to name a few. Volunteer teachers showed campers how to fashion the traditional crafts, always emphasizing the cultural importance of the projects. Traditional tools expert Tim Ryan taught a group of several adults how to make single-fold cedar bark baskets, a process he said is an integral party of Kootenai history. 
 
“This is very traditional, especially for the Kootenai,” he said.
 
Only enough bark for one basket should be harvested from each cedar tree, Ryan explained, so that nature is damaged as little as possible.

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