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'Four Thousand from the Four Directions'

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Native Wellness Institute offers fourth regional gathering

WORLEY, Idaho - The Native Wellness Institute held the fourth of four regional gatherings, titled ''Four Thousand from the Four Directions,'' at the Coeur d'Alene Resort and Casino in early November.

According to promotional materials, the gathering was ''about awareness, discovery and moving forward from hurt and pain. It's about celebrating our rich cultures and perseverance.''

Jillene Joseph, Gros Ventre, is the institute's executive director. She explained that in past years the organization held just one annual national conference, but the decision was made to expand to four regional meetings this year to expose the concepts to a greater number of people. Earlier conferences were conducted in California, Mississippi and Minnesota.

''These gatherings are creating awareness and expanding people's world view. A lot of our people are suffering from things like historical trauma and things they may not even be aware of, like unhealthy behaviors from themselves or their families. These gatherings are about creating that awareness and opportunities to grow, to heal and to move forward,'' Joseph explained. ''The foundation of our work is incorporating the whole wellness model into all our work and looking at finding that balance between our mind, body, spirit and heart.''

The conference's overall theme was about wellness, life strategy and cultural pride. Numerous sessions were held - many led by board members from the institute.

The first of the conference's four days was devoted to adult and youth training. Sessions were conducted by Howard Rainier, a motivational speaker and Indian education trainer. Last year, he commented: ''The Native Wellness Institute is a ray of sunlight in Indian country. More people need to hear your message. What can we do to make more people come to the gatherings to hear your messages?'' His question caused the institute to expand to four gatherings.

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Cecelia Fire Thunder keynoted the Nov. 7 session. Fire Thunder, a board member and former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, stressed the need to know oneself, to know one's grandmothers and grandfathers for several generations, and to do a family tree. ''You're the sum total of all those people,'' she said, talking of the DNA passed down from earlier generations. ''My strength comes from being in touch with my ancestors.

''We come from very intelligent people,'' she continued. ''Our ancestors didn't have astronomy degrees but knew the names of stars. They knew the plants and trees, where medicine was and when to harvest it, but they never took a course in biology. They knew the names of body parts but never went to college.''

She urged people to forgive wrongs done to them. ''You have to forgive the person that put the pain there. You can't carry it around with you. You will never appreciate the beauty of your culture if you wallow in your pain.''

Youth leadership development is one of the five key areas on which the institute focuses. Fire Thunder also touched on that subject. ''It's time to realistically look at what Indian communities need for our young ones. We should focus half our energy on correcting problems for kids so they can be productive adults.''

Gordon James, former tribal chairman of the Skokomish Tribe and a storyteller, also gave a special presentation. He shared a condensed version of the creation story leading up to the world today. He discussed why mates were picked from other villages and how it was decided where they would live, thus preventing cultural upheaval; and how a third-party approach to disciplining kids, ''usually an auntie or uncle,'' reduced problems within the family. ''Many elements from old village elements still apply today,'' James said, but he expressed concern that new generations often aren't learning in the same way.

James also talked of ''Indian time'' and how it's based on priority rather than punctuality. If someone didn't arrive at an expected time, ''something came up. Perhaps a run of salmon entered the creek and that was food needed for the winter,'' he used as an example. ''The modern world has timelines. Our leadership has to balance those two things, timelines versus priorities.

''We've adopted the ways of someone else. It didn't work for them and we wonder why it isn't working for us. We have walked away from practices that worked for thousands of years.''

Joseph summarized the conference. ''A lot of our people are living in negativity and chaos and all that ugliness we see in our families and communities. When they come to a place like this, they're greeted by people who are smiling and are positive. We hope to rejuvenate and re-energize them so when they go home, they're much more committed to start the good work that needs to be done.''