MILWAUKEE - The theme of the 2003 Indian Summer Festival connected the life and art of the many cultures and generations that gathered on the Lake Michigan shore. The return of these arts required a life of focus, discipline, wisdom and support, as told in the stories of the participants. Each has made a unique and outstanding contribution to cultural arts.
Chandler Good Strike: 'Focus on one thing and do it well'
In his booth, Chandler Good Strike, of the Fort Belknap Gros Ventre, the White Clay people, has begun to paint a new buffalo robe. Born in 1936, Good Strike began to work full time on his parfleche cases, rawhide drums, buffalo robes and shields in 1992 when he retired from a long career with Xerox Corp.
He uses natural earth paints, some formulated more than 500 years ago, and brushes made from pieces of feather-light bone marrow to decorate his award-winning creations.
My sales reinvest in the reservation," he said, explaining that all of his supplies come from the Ft. Belknap area.
Good Strike is a practical man with a strong work ethic. He is dressed meticulously in a fully-beaded vest, western shirt and draw tie.
"I gave 110 percent at Xerox. Most of the time family comes second when you buy into a company," he said.
Good Strike said the way to achieve success is to "focus to on one thing, and do it well."
He chose to stick with the trade of tanning and parfleche painting.
Good Strike was adopted into the Sioux and taught painting by Gerald Red Elk, who showed him how to mix paints, how to design, explained direction of the figures and the stories behind them.
"After learning the process, I knew how to improve. And I have changed my style by doing finer work that is requested by customers."
Material success has not been easy.
"Sometimes when I make rawhide, it's not a pleasant job. Sometimes the meat is rotten, very smelly. My clothes get dirty. After tanning hides all day when I go to the post office, everybody leaves.
"A soaked hide may weight 300 pounds and I may do two a day. Then you have to lift them to stretch and dry them and sometimes you have to take the hair off. I then can decide if they are suitable for hand drums or parfleche.
Ninety percent of the time I paint parfleche rawhide. Very few people do the real McCoy."
Good Strike said the way of life he has chosen is also key to survival. He lives in a 20- by 30- foot cabin, heated only with a wood stove. The physical activity this requires in addition to the tanning, keeps him fit.
"I plan to do this until I am unable to walk or drive," he said. "It gives me a sense of pride and helps me develop the attitude of getting up to work every day."
Good Strike knows the struggle of daily living.
His wife, whom he met at Indian boarding school, has supported him through bouts of alcoholism, he said. She is president of Ft. Belknap Community College.
"I put her through a lot of garbage in her life. I didn't appreciate her. Without her I'd be in prison or on skid-row."
Good Strike has two sons in the art world, one a teacher and one an artist. He passes his knowledge on by traveling throughout Montana, teaching young people drum-making and helping non-Indians to understand the Indian way of living, clothes, religion, and language that was taken away.
"I'll go to an all-white school and see one dark-skinned young man. I try to improve him, because I made it in a white man's world," he said. "We had to hold our hands out. We have to learn to work with white people, how to make a living. Our way of life was in the open fields, in tanning. Now we have to learn math."
He is trying to build a gallery to house the many artifacts that he has collected throughout his life and to house the many others that are leaving the reservation.
"I want a young person to read this and understand this is how I succeeded," he said.
"In my first show in 1993 in Sioux Falls I got there on Thursday to set up my booth. After looking at all the other beautiful artwork there, paintings, oil, acrylics, metal sculpture, wood, hide painting, bronzes, I felt very small. I didn't feel right.
"Closing on Sunday night I had a handful of money. I couldn't get over how much money I had made. I left Sioux Falls at four in the evening and I laughed all the way to Rapid City."
Terry Courtney: 'We are not doing what our ancestors have done for eons'
Sharing knowledge and traditions is not always a simple process. Tribal elder Terry Courtney, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is a traditional scaffold fisher.
The Warm Springs Tribes are working to save the native wild spring Chinook salmon in the Deschute River drainage area, which feeds the Columbia with the Cascade mountain snowmelt.
Courtney is the keeper of the tribes' traditional knowledge of the salmon and fishing.
"The elders made you repeat it, so that when you pass it on, you are the book. You are the library, the reference. As it has been explained, in this way, no one can make changes," he said.
Courtney, who demonstrated the tradition of hand-made long-handled dip nets, is very concerned about educating the public. He also has the responsibility to find a way of passing his knowledge on to his own people. Between 1980 and 1987, he said 80 percent of this knowledge was lost with the passing of elders, mostly due to alcohol.
"If you follow belief truthfully, we are the cause of depletion of salmon, buffalo, and berries because we are not doing what our ancestors have done for eons. This doesn't make our people happy. You have to live it if you are traditional," he said.
"We were taught to take only what we needed. So there was an abundance of fish, trees and lands. There is the richness of money in your pocket. We were so rich, we could go out and get deer, step right outside your door and get everything. And then you had to share it."
Courtney explained that sharing these days is hard. If he has extra fish, people no longer have the knowledge to use them. If a decision is made to share hard-recouped treaty rights, too much is taken by federal, state and commercial interests. If no sharing of what they have won through the courts is offered, the tribes are sued. There is no trust in the state tri-state fishing compact negotiations.
And they are ignoring the key aspect to restoring the salmon, the salmon itself.
The Snake River has four dams, which hold 120 miles of spawning ground that have been disrupted to produce 4 percent of state's electricity, he said. Restorationists say that the dams must be breached.
Logging buffer zones have created shade on the water and brush where insects can propagate and plants can feed the stream, he said. Yet, the abundance of salmon, of their bones and bodies that deteriorated and fed plants, animals, small fish and bottom-feeders, are gone. Restoration of the system needs the abundance of fish.
"There is so much man tries to reproduce but can't," he said. "They need to let the salmon alone - no more hatcheries, no more dams."
Courtney is reluctant to be videotaped or recorded. He said he will pass his knowledge on, perhaps giving five different people 20 percent of his knowledge, so that they can use it for what they need, not for money or control.
"We're not educating people as much as we can," he said. "I find this place beautiful, very peaceful. I love coming here. I have come here seven times."
He touched his Packers hat, which lay on a counter. He said he had not yet visited Green Bay.
"I have limited myself, by not traveling outside," he said. "I have limited myself."
He stepped back to his booth and resumed making his net. Two visitors started to pass by. He began to speak to them but they tried to edge away. He continued talking about fish, talking about tools, weaving his needle in and out. They moved closer and closer toward him.