Monday, August 20, 2012

Seven Generations Ahead

It’s summertime and camps are in full swing. Whatever your child’s interest, there seems to be a summer camp for it; art, music, adventure, sports -- you name it. But, did you know that the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) host a tuition-free Salmon Camp each year for 5th-7th grade Tribal youth? Each year, CRITFC works with different partners to put on the camp, this year working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla IndianReservation. This project is also part of our U.S. Fish & Wildlife Connecting People with Nature project set, supported by an internal grant from the National Conservation Training Center!

The whole group after a long day's hike!
Credit: Zach Wong/CRITFC

Unique Summer Camping
Each year, Tribal students from the Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes apply for one of twenty spots in the camp. The students are selected based upon academic performance and personal essays about why they want to attend Salmon Camp. If selected, the campers spend a week learning about the cultural and ecological importance of salmon, and participating in different activities intended to foster their love and appreciation for not just salmon, but nature as a whole. 

Spotted a bear up on the hill.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Focusing on the Land
During the second week of August, 2012, nine boys and eleven girls started their week at Tribal salmon camp. By day two, I made it out to spend a couple of days with them. One of the most exciting aspects of the camp was its location; deep in the heart of the Umatilla National Forest, that could only be navigated to via longitudinal coordinates. This allowed us to break completely free of the surrounding technologically-connected world and focus all of our energy on the land around us.

A happy camper working on her very first tule mat.
Credit: Marty Perez/CRITFC

Fun with Tradition
When I first arrived, the campers had just finished dinner and were working on an arts and crafts project. They were constructing something from sticks gathered from around the campsite, and a collection of soft, beige stick-like rods which I later learned were called tule. It turns out, what they were crafting were Tule mats, traditionally used for various tribal ceremonies and tasks. As the children threaded pieces of tule together with colorful yarns, camp co-coordinator, Wenix, explained the cultural history of tule mats for their tribes. She shared with the campers, most of whom had never made a tule mat before, that their first mat had to be given to a Tribal elder as a gift. Choosing an elder who is especially skilled at that craft assured those skills would be passed down. Chatter rolled across the cabin as campers started sharing stories about family members they would gift their tule mats to.

Each night, campers helped start our campfire.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
After crafts were over, we headed down towards the nearby river for a nighttime campfire. Here, Wenix told the story of First Foods, reflecting on important Tribal foods from the land, like salmon, and the preservation of these foods for seven generations ahead. “We should always be thinking about our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren – seven generations!” Wenix shared enthusiastically. Roasted marshmallows and a round of the campfire sing-a-long “Boom Chicka Boom” closed out the night.

Up close with a Pacific lamprey ammocoete!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Fishing, Netting, and River Ecology
My second day at camp was full of guest speakers and rotating activities. We energized first with a fresh breakfast of potatoes, eggs, yogurt, fruit and toast made by our camp chef, Sean. Our first activity for the day was a visit with lamprey biologists who brought along some juvenile Pacific lamprey, called ammocoetes. The campers were fascinated by the tiny worm-like fish and even more fascinated to learn how important these fish are to salmon, Tribal culture, and river ecology. 

Learning how to make hand-crafted dipnets
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Next, we stepped down to the river where we learned about electro-fishing before moving further downstream to talk about riparian zones and salmon spawning. We then traveled back to the main cabin for more arts and crafts. This time, the campers created models of watersheds using crumpled construction paper and colored markers to predict where water, grass, trees, rock and more would appear on their mock landscapes. Their models were then sprayed with water and later covered in Pop Rocks to simulate potential pathways of water and pollution. Our last activity connected us with a Tribal dip-netter who gave us a lesson about using dip nets to catch fish and the importance of Tribal fishing areas. The campers were then given the chance to test their skills at hand-crafting a dip net. 

Writing about the day's activities
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Learning and Journaling
The campers closed out their evening with a “silent write,” where they spent some quiet time working on journals and posters. These gave the campers an opportunity each night to write and draw about their daily activities, what they learned, and what they hoped to learn at salmon camp. The posters and journals were presented at the end of camp to other campers and visiting Tribal members and workers. Another delicious dinner concluded and we headed back down for a nighttime campfire. This night, we took our marshmallows a step further and indulged in S’mores before recognizing the day’s most hardworking campers. As the fire burned out, I traveled back to our cabin to close out my last night at camp.

A display of some items for a traditional
Tribal First Foods Feast
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Hiking Towards a First Food Feast
The following day, the campers would summit one of the local Wallowa Mountains and end the week with a traditional First Food Feast joined by elders from their tribes. I was saddened to miss what might have been the best part of salmon camp, but I left feeling more cultured, educated and welcomed than ever before! I knew I had attended a successful Salmon Camp having returned home with an expansive new knowledge and appreciation for Tribal culture and nature alike. I am confident the campers arrived home at the end of the week feeling full of knowledge and appreciation for salmon and the legacy of their heritage. 

You can check out the entire photoset from Tribal Salmon Camp over at our CPWN Facebook page, and if you like the photos, make sure to "like" our page as well!

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