Native artists build stronger bonds with students.

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By Jack McNeel -- Today correspondent

POST FALLS, Idaho - Students ages 12 to 15 listened attentively as Cliff SiJohn, Coeur d'Alene, spoke of tradition and culture. It was the first meeting of this type in Post Falls, but something that's intended to be an annual event, an opportunity for young people of all races and cultures to be exposed to Native art with outstanding Native artists as the instructors.

''Our tradition and culture as Plateau people is that everything has life - everything, even a rock that lies along a creek or along a hillside. It might lie there for a thousand years, but it has life,'' SiJohn explained.

''George Hill [Spokane sculptor] can take those rocks and show us what is inside. He's able to take that rock and use it to represent his dreams, his mind, his heart.

''George Flett [Spokane] is able to take colors and mix them all up and come out with the perfect color that he sees and wants on his pictures. Today, he's going to be working with pencil and ledger art.

''Ledger art was a form of artistic expression used by Indian people who were taken captive. Indian people were in prison in that era of time, held in forts and stockades simply because they were in the way. They began to express themselves on whatever pieces of paper they had.''

The 15 students in attendance were quiet, hanging on his words. ''Some ledger art was pretty sad, reminiscing of when they were free, hunting and trading,'' SiJohn said.

''Lori SiJohn [Umatilla] is also here, recently accepted at Santa Fe Indian Art Festival. The two men have also been there. Lori will be showing you paper casting - making your own paper, making your own models, pouring and casting. Working it till it's just right.''

The students were divided into three groups, each to work with one of the artists, free to ask whatever questions they had and free to experiment with a new form of art. During the six and a half hours, the groups rotated so each had a chance to practice sculpting with soapstone, paper casting and ledger art. Midway through, there was a break for lunch, but students were soon back to work, eager to try something new.

The event was held at an old church now converted into the Jacklin Arts & Cultural Center. This was part of the traditional homelands of the Coeur d'Alene people, along the river where they lived for many generations. Thus it's a fitting site for bridging the gap between races.

Susan Jacklin talked of the recent history leading to the event featuring Native artists working with local students. She spoke of the beginning of Julyamsh Powwow, held nearby, and her frustration at the low prices outstanding Indian artists' work was fetching.

''The artwork being shown was so wonderful and exciting. I ran into Cliff SiJohn and George Flett as I was leaving one time and said, 'I'd like to invite you to come over to our home with the artists so I can invite some personal friends that will be very much interested in the beautiful artwork, give them the opportunity to observe it, know it's for sale, and to go to the pow wow.'''

That was the beginning that led to this day with the students. The Jacklins invited Indian artists showing at Julyamsh to their home for three years before the Jacklin Arts & Cultural Center was completed. Since that time, the reception has been held at that facility.

''The relationship has built over these years,'' Jacklin said. ''One thing led to another, and George, Cliff, myself and Shaina Morning Owl [Umatilla] sat down and decided to involve the children and make that fabric stronger by inviting Native American artists to work with non-Native children to create a strong bond.

''We wrote a grant to the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts and we received $1,800 to support this day. From the comments, the children are enjoying themselves immensely. You can definitely tell they're engaged. They're learning. They're excited. We want to do this every year.''