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Elders teach Catawba youth

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CATAWBA INDIAN RESERVATION, S.C. - On one end of the campus at the Catawba
Indian Cultural Center, children in a classroom learned how to speak their
language. In the next building in another classroom, students listened to a
storyteller, telling them Catawba stories from ancient times. Not far from
there was a class for pottery making, an art that has never left the
Catawba Indian life.

About an hour before lunch, some young children gathered around a drum in
the main hall. They began to drum a pow wow dance beat. Then high-pitched
young voices sang a Catawba song.

"They are getting better," a teacher said, looking at them.

In pottery-making, Catawba children worked with clay, some making pots like
their ancestors did. Others made caterpillars, little snakes, turtles and
little canoes.

These and other classes were held three days a week for eight weeks for 25
students during the summer break. Other classes included bead loom work,
shawl making, pow wow dancing, singing and drumming, arrow-head making,
regalia making and quilting. Most of the classes were taught by tribal
elders.

The program was the result of a six-year, $6.9 million matching grant from
the U.S: Department Health and Human Services through the state of South
Carolina to the Catawba Mental Health Center of Rock Hill, S.C. The Mental
Health Center, through a program known as "Youthnet," then subcontracted
with the Native American Prison Program and John E. George, Catawba, who
heads NAPP. With the contract, George, working from his home office, set up
the program to include tribal social services and the Catawba Indian
Cultural Center.

During a meeting, John L. Wilson, director of the Catawba Mental Health
Center, explained the center's approach in the grant. "You can't take an
opposite approach," he said, talking about the center's thinking. "We came
into this community, asking where were the strengths and what were the
challenges. We did not approach it from the negative, on 'what's your
problem' or on 'what's wrong with you.'"

Wilson explained that matching the grant would be one dollar for every
three that the government gave, and much of that could be in in-kind
services.

At the meeting, Catawba Chief Gilbert Blue said, "The Catawba Nation over
the years has learned to cooperate and enlist the help of various agencies
in the community and the state to enhance the lives of our people; not only
the elderly but the youth as well.

"We have found that there are programs that naturally come with federally
recognized tribes. Certain ones that come down the pike, for instance,
better serve our Indian societies. What we have learned through experience
is that there are many agencies in the state and local government that can
add to these programs that we have. That's why we take advantage of those
things."

In the same meeting, George said, "In Indian country, a lot of people talk
about the elders being the keepers of the wisdom, the children being the
future of the tribes. They need to be together, but in reality very few
were put together."

When setting up the program, George convinced Wilson to allow Catawba
elders to be a key component of the grant. As mentors for the children, the
elders would teach their life experiences to the children. George continues
to advertise for more Catawba seniors to get involved.

For the summer, the Catawba mentor program hired 12 people for
administration and teaching. Some of the funds were used for materials and
payroll.

They kept the children all day, with breakfast at 8 a.m. and classes
beginning at 8:30 a.m. Activity ended at 4:30 p.m. The children took breaks
and sometimes naps during the morning, after lunch and in the afternoon.

"The program is a summer program, and after school program. A culture
mentor program," George said. "The children will learn everything that is
Catawba -- that will include language, Catawba drumming, Catawba songs, and
as close as we can to the Eastern Woodland regalia instead of the western
Plains regalia. We are trying to instill pride in being Catawba and to be
proud of who we are."

George's plan is to continue the program through the school year and into
next summer. Another 25 Catawba students are participating in the
afterschool program.

George said the program will continue for three years and at the end, the
Catawba youth may put on a pow wow to show the regalia they have made, the
songs and drumming they have learned and the dance steps they have
mastered.