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Josie Adams
Lifeplace Essay
Heather Jurva
Furthering Native Education: Dancing with Traditions and Change
I wake up on the 4th of July, I feel the earth beneath my body, warm, I fall asleep to and
wake up to the sounds of buckskin drums beating- bum bum bum. I still hear the Native
American rattles chatter from a round of stick game thats been going on for four days now. This
beating heart rhythm travels. As I sit up, the perspiration resting on the bridge of my nose and
under the back of my hairline quickly retreat. With a small but noticeable gust of wind, I start to
take in everything else that is happening outside of this tipi that insulates me from the sweltering
July weather. Laying back down again, I hear laughter, I can feel the happiness that escaped
through the chipped teeth of the people who own each belly laugh I hear. I acknowledge the
Salish that rolls off of my grandpas lips and casually bounces off his cheeks, his tongue clacks
with the lispy slurs that come from this dialect. Although I do not understand what is being said,
I roll over to get a better listen and to try to wake up my half-conscious body. I taste the dirt that
gets picked up, tossed into air, and carried by the wind of each passing car. My eyes, finally
adjusting the overwhelming brightness, look to the far side of this resting place where the bristles
of grass are slowly moving toward the outer edges of this shelter. I look to the top of the tipi and
see nothing but blue skies, not a cloud in sight.
After the sleep is wiped from my eyes, I get up in a rush. I have no idea what time it is so
in a hurry I get out of the place where Ive rested, making certain that I do not sleep this day
away. Stepping outside I see aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, grandpas, and familiar strangers,
people whose faces dont remind me of names but something deep within my being causes me to
think, I know these people, I know that they are to be respected. Once outside the poles and

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animal hides where I hid to rest, I am able to connect the voices and faces together. I sit and
listen to the jokes and small talk and stories being told by my grandpa. My grandpa was a
prominent figure for the Salish people, with him his mind carried stories of history and
knowledge beyond comprehension. Some of the stories I have heard a thousand times but they
never lose interest or detail when coming from the mouth of Louis Adams, Grandpa Lou.
By this time in my life I am probably thirteen and this is the thirteenth consecutive Arlee
Celebration that I have attended. My interest and affirmation of my culture has just started to
really blossom. Stepping outside this tipi was something that then I didnt know was more than
just a physical step outside of a development. It was a movement toward a curiosity, desire, and
passion for my people and for my knowledge about differences in humankind. All of my inquiry
and inclination about life, who I am and where I come from is because of the annual Arlee
celebration, where I spent the best time of my adolescent summers, the Arlee Powwow.
There are many reasons why people attend powwows. Every year you will see people
from all over the country come to Arlee, their purposes for visiting vary. Some come to dance in
their vibrant dresses and regalia that are more than clothing. They are pieces of artwork. Other
people come to buy or sell their beautiful beadwork, all handmade, small beads, each as different
and detailed as a snowflake. Some people come to sell knockoff, cheap clothes with stupid
sayings on them, like the couple clothing hes mine or shes mine; something along the lines
of tacky and popular circa 2006. For the locals, most people from the reservation, come to see
who has the best frybread stand this year. It is always a battle for whose pieces are biggest,
cheapest, and tastiest. For other people, they come to the powwow to get firsthand experience in
seeing a culture that is beautifully thriving, to capture outstanding photographs and videos of
beautiful people dancing on the hard ground in moccasins for hours. To see people hitting a drum

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so hard and screaming from the depths of their soul to create a sound so beautiful that it
resonates your essence, a song that can be heard for miles.
People come from all over, all carrying with them some kind of predetermined idea of
what to expect when seeing hundreds of Indians in a one mile radius, none of them really
knowing that there is so much behind what they see. The first time visitors dont always expect
to see a thriving culture, people unapologetically being who they have been for centuries. They
see people passionate and so in tune with their ancestors, their history, and their culture. First
time visitors see their fair share of poverty, but more so they see passion. There is a lot more than
what is on the surface, there is a deep connection that most natives have with this powwow.
Maybe this isnt how it is for everyone who goes to Arlee for this celebration in July, but for me,
this is an existential experience.
The Arlee Celebration has been the major pinnacle in my growth and knowledge about
my culture. It is one of the first places where I heard people fluently speaking their first
language, their traditional language, Salish. The Arlee celebration was where I saw all of my
older cousins, beautiful and strong, dress up in their jingle dresses and fancy dance dresses.
Shawls wrapped around their shoulders, feathers in their hair between their two braids, big
extravagant beaded earrings clasped onto their lobes, with moccasins so tightly strapped to their
feet, as if any looseness would cause them to lose all of their heritage. This celebration is where I
saw my family diving into their traditions and dancing to celebrate. This is where I learned pride
and honor.
Seeing my cousins dance was a huge part of my childhood, I looked up to these men and
women. This was before the drugs and alcohol, before the reservations economy was a
comprehensible issue in my life. This was before pregnancy and dropout rates effected our native

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population. Before I understood what a diploma or a degree was or how necessary they both are.
This was all before our youth and the future leaders of our reservation knew how the poverty,
substance abuse, and lack of education on our reservation affected our lives so drastically.
The Flathead Indian Reservation is one of seven reservations in Montana. This is a place
where culture thrives when given the opportunity. Where opinions from every person are strong
and where pride is the driving force in everyone and in everything each person does. According
to The Census and Economic Information Centers data, only 5,000 of the 8,000 enrolled
members of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend Oreille tribes live on the reservation whose overall
population is over 28,000. This isnt yet taking into account the 4,000 people who are
descendants, meaning that their parents are tribal members but they themselves arent enrolled.
These numbers also dont take in the number of people who are members of tribes other than
CSKT. Altogether, this means that only around 30% of the people living on the reservation are
enrolled members or descendants of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes.
With the information provided by censuses I conclude that Montana reservations are
underserved. Montana reservations have a need for doctors, grocery stores, and financial
institutions whose positions arent being filled. More people use off reservation resources
because they are more affordable and more readily available than on reservation resources. This
means that money isnt staying on the reservations, consumer goods are being purchased off the
reservation which aids in the decline of reservation economies. On Montana reservations there
are higher unemployment rates, lower income, and more poverty. None of these factor can be
talked about without the association of another. The lower wages, lower house values, higher
pregnancy rate among teens, higher alcohol treatment needed, fewer with degrees, and higher
dropout rates are all issues that overlap each other and become pressing issues on reservations.

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Huge issues that reservations are facing all across this country is lack of education or
continuing education. According to data collected by the Office of Public Instruction, Native
American students are the highest percentage of dropouts out of all races or ethnicities in
Montana. The percentage of dropout students increase dramatically on or near reservations
versus not on or near reservations. Further studies by the Office of Public Information conclude
that proficiencies in math, reading, and science among Native American youth are far more
inferior to the proficiencies in white students of the same age, living in the same area, and among
the same schools. The same tests are being given to the same students, in the same communities,
in the same classrooms but the differences in results among the white students and Native
American students is staggering. Why is there such a huge gap in education understanding
among students who are supposedly being taught and learning the same exact way? I believe that
this problem starts at home and it can be solved at home too. Teaching the Native youth the value
of their heritage can be enough to place something inside of them that drives them to further their
own knowledge. Howard Rainer, a famous Native American speaker, said, Children learn from
what they see. We need to set an example of truth and action. By setting the example of further
generations through knowledge about traditions will show them what it means to respect
something. My generation and those before me need to be an example. Education has the power
to get you anywhere and everywhere you want to go. I think that continuing to encourage the
youth to succeed in school, to help with funding through scholarships, and to show support to of
the youth can truly make a difference.
Arlee was a stepping stone in my life and without the influence of my grandpa wouldnt
be who I am. My grandpa Louis Adams, has and always will contribute largely to who I am. He
was a man who influenced my life in more ways than I could ever explain. My grandfather was

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an only child so he decided to have a huge family, he and his former wife Nadine had eight
children. All of those children produced my grandfather altogether, hundreds of grandchildren,
great, and great great grandchildren of whom he all cherished. My grandfather was a legacy to
the Salish people, he was an elder, leader, and mentor. The knowledge that my grandpa possessed
was vast, he knew so much about everything and was always teaching. He has been the greatest
influence on my life. Hes been a second father, friend, and teacher. I often stayed with him
during the powwow. This is one of the places where he taught me about my culture and taught
me to respect my elders, culture, and the land the Creator provided us. In 2015 my grandfather
received an Honorary Doctorate through the University of Montana for his tireless teaching of
our culture and language. He instilled in me the value of education and I will forever remain
trying to make him proud.
My culture lead me to the path that I am on and helped drive a will in me to give back to
my reservation and to my people. If I hadnt been taken to the powwow every year, if I hadnt sat
in the heat watching dances, hearing the beating of drums, and watching the diversity in the
people I see, I dont know where I would be. I wouldnt have the desire that envelopes me, the
desire to learn about my people and to help. In Arlee, going back every year with all that I had
learned and experienced since the last time I had been at that same place, I observed things and
was able to take in who I was. Seeing people surround themselves in their culture and traditions
while also seeing them either struggle and persevere or succeed apart from their obstacles was
something that I found very encouraging. I have this desire to help the youth of my reservation
further not only their own education but their whole lives.
I truly believe that if our people, our indigenous youth, had a desire to give back to their
people then the state of our reservation would be different. We would see higher numbers of

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youth graduating high school, going to college, and ultimately less poverty on our reservation. In
the words of Dolores Pompa, a Native American writer from Texas, Our struggle is not about
us, its about our children who are the present and the future. My tribe has always been a part of
me, it has always been there for me, with encouragement throughout my youth, congratulations
when I graduated, and assistance in the form of scholarships that otherwise would have led me to
somewhere other than the University of Montana. My grandfather, my ancestry, my tribe, and my
reservation have always been there for me, I only hope to one day do my people justice by giving
back what has been given to me.

Montana High School Dropout Rates by Race/Ethnicity 2003-04 School Year Linda McCulloch,
Superintendent Office of Public Instruction
http://opi.mt.gov/pdf/measurement/rptHsDropoutByReo2004.pdf

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Pam Harris. April 15, 2016. Census Data and Montana Indian Reservations [PowerPoint Slides].
Retrieved from Census.gov
Howard Rainer, Taos Pueblo-Creek (2012).
Dolores Pompa,
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/indigenous_peoples_literature/conversations/messages/363
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