Native Village Youth and Education News

March 1, 2009 Issue 195 Volume 2


CdA Tribe blessing passes tradition, morals
by Allison Boggs
Condensed by Native Village

Couer d'Olene Reservation, Idaho: When Cliff SiJohn was a boy, he went on a field trip with his sixth-grade class. He was the only Indian boy. One of the chaperones wrapped him in newspaper so he wouldn’t touch any part of her car.

SiJohn rode that way for six hours, wondering what he’d done to deserve the treatment. But he drew strength by singing, over and over in his head, a song he’d learned from his elders, about a buck prancing through the forest.

SiJohn, who is the Xouer d'Olene's cultural affairs director, recently shared this story during the tribe's Winter Blessing.  SiJohn said winter has traditionally been a time for singing and drumming. It's also means storytelling, a time when elders pass on morals and values to their children and grandchildren through stories passed down through generations. Those values help children develop a sense of identity, something they can lean on when times are tough, tribal members said.

“It was like pages in my brain. It was like pictures flashing in my brain,” SiJohn said of the storytelling he remembers from his youth. “They would make things come alive – a song, a beat.”

Counselor Kelly Shirley said children who run into trouble often lack the oral history tradition that teaches them who they are as a people.

“I know they need to fill the spiritual part of their core,” Shirley said. “If they didn’t have a strong family background (in oral tradition), they seem lost” and frequently turn to drugs and alcohol to fill that void. “I totally believe that.”

SiJohn told many stories during the Winter Blessing. One was about Coyote. Coyote was trying to arrange a race among the fastest creatures of the forest. Hawk said he was the fastest and Coyote backed him. Then Turtle came up and said he’d race Hawk. Coyote laughed and called Turtle stupid and ugly.

Coyote said the race would be to a distant rock and back. But Turtle said no, he’d race Hawk back to earth from high in the sky. So Eagle flew Turtle far up into the sky, with Hawk flying alongside. Turtle pulled in his head, arms and legs and said to let him go, and he and Hawk plummeted toward earth. Turtle hit first and his impact blew a hole in the ground. When Hawk hit, he busted into pieces.

Turtle pulled his head, arms and legs out and told Coyote he’d hit ground first, winning the race. Hawk was brought back to life but had lost his beautiful golden neck feathers, left only with a black band around his neck.

The moral, said SiJohn: Don’t make fun of people. People come in different sizes and shapes, but you should treat everyone the same. They just might be smarter than you are.


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