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Culture Week closes out the school year at Wellpinit

WELLPINIT, Wash. - A series of cultural events held June 11 - 13 at Wellpinit School on the Spokane Reservation culminated on the final day of school with an all-school picnic of food items created earlier in the week.

Even before the week began, some students had already started preparations. Elders took some students out to traditional sites to dig for camas, using digging sticks as it has been done for many generations. Thirteen students were involved and nearly five gallons of camas were collected.

Other students collected moss from tamarack trees, using poles about 10 feet long with hooks on the end. This allowed them to reach high in the branches, twist the moss around the pole and pull it down. The moss was then brought to school, cleaned of twigs, washed several times and cleaned again.

Marsha Wynecoop, one of many elders assisting throughout the week, explained the cooking procedure: ''When it's soaked, we mix a little sugar in and it's put in a muslin bag and placed in a pit, several layers of it. It has a sort of licorice taste and is eaten like a pudding or dried and cut up. It's high in calcium and one of the first baby foods when they're being weaned because of the calcium.''

The moss and camas were cooking in one pit while two hindquarters of buffalo were cooking in another. Meanwhile, other students and elders were cutting and smoking the remainder of the buffalo and two deer, and preparing to cook seven or eight salmon on the picnic morning.

Back in the school, other students were learning to mix dough and cook frybread under the direction of tribal member John Teters.

''We think the best way to learn is to have hands-on, to get their fingers in and mix the bread. Each family has their own style, but we give them a basic recipe to start off. They all have fun and most of the time it turns out pretty well.''

Not all the activities involved food. The gymnasium was active with elders teaching beading and helping make baby boards. Some worked on baby moccasins while others beaded on baseball caps or made key chains. Sidney Flett Jr., Colville, helped third-graders make drumsticks while others made small medicine bags and added beads to the fringe. Other students made drums, using their own ideas for painting the drum heads; still others worked with flutes while the sound of flutes filled the room.

Outside, a group of older boys shot arrows at targets. Tribal elder Pat Moses pointed out that some students had previous experience with bows but others hadn't, and this was to encourage them to get started.

David Wynecoop, another tribal member and a youth director, commented, ''We're giving them something that's tied to their culture. It's got discipline and a good work ethic and can tie in to a lot of things.'' He's hoping that one or more of the students will progress to compete in state or national levels and possibly even higher.

On another grassy area, tribal members Ray Andrews and Ed Scott explained the intricacies of the stick game with students who formed the two opposing teams. Behind them on a table were sticks that students had painted for their own sets.

Set back in the trees, out of sight below the school, a sweat lodge was set up. A fire burned briskly in front and several elders tended the fire and the sweat lodge. It was another aspect of cultural education for Wellpinit students during the final week of school.

The school is not a tribal school, but 93 percent of the students are Native. Cultural education is incorporated throughout the year. Viola Frizzel, yeye (grandmother) to the students, is an elder who volunteers every Monday during the year.

''We teach respect, perseverance and a good attitude because many mothers are too busy to do that. We have a talking circle every week and Round Dance.''