Rock'n the Rez lets young people show their skills

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WORLEY, Idaho - Dressed as if for a night at the Emmys or Oscars, the kids arrived in big white stretch limos and a massive black Hummer, and entered the Event Center at the Coeur d'Alene Casino on a red carpet. The thing that was most evident in nearly every youngster was a huge smile.

This was the big finale after five weeks of hard work and fun: the night when they would perform on stage in front of an audience of parents, grandparents and friends. This was Rock'n the Rez at its ultimate best.

LoVina Louie, Coeur d'Alene/Colville, has headed up the program since its inception nine years ago and had started a similar program even earlier on the Colville Reservation. Louie said she loves working with young people. ''I've worked with kids pretty much since I was a kid. I was very involved with United National Indian Tribal Youth and was first co-president of the National UNITY Council. I'm also a former Miss Indian World [1990 - '91], and traveling around the country as Miss Indian World, I got to speak to kids and inspire them to be the best they could be. The reason we started Rock'n the Rez was to help kids make positive decisions.''

The youngsters range in age from 5 to 12 and attend camp Mondays through Thursdays from about 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m for five weeks. During those weeks, the youngsters selected from a variety of different activities to concentrate on. There's a performing arts camp teaching various dances to about 40 kids. The 5- and 6-year-olds were in another camp, where they worked on a variety of things including the Coeur d'Alene language. About 60 kids were signed up in that group. A culture outdoor group had a chance to do hide tanning, basket making and working with natural resources people. They did stick games and drumming; and since the camp was on the shores of Coeur d'Alene Lake, they also got to swim every day.

Another 20 youngsters were in the video production camp. They filmed the activities of the other camps and filmed the final performance. Johnny Guerrero was brought in to help with the production of all the music to make it more of a professional performance including some music written and sung by group members.

Youth leaders are hired to work with each camp. The leaders, young people from 12 to 18, are given extensive training before the camps begin. They attended a leadership camp at Washington State University, ''an awesome camp,'' Louie said. They remain at WSU for an entire week, studying, working and putting on a performance for the community. ''We had 70 kids go,'' Louie said.

''They returned from WSU and we brought in Missoula Children's Theater and they went through a week with them. They had to learn lines, wear costumes, sing songs, and gave a performance called Rumpelstiltskin,'' Louie explained. ''We also train them in first aid and CPR, and some in the Coeur d'Alene language.''

The big performance was the culmination of five week's hard work. The limousine ride lasted about 20 minutes. The walk down the red carpet was single file, waving to friends, high-fiving others, and beaming all the way. ''It's awesome,'' Louie said.

Group after group appeared on-stage to do their thing. Those from the culture camp gave a PowerPoint presentation showing their activities and a piece of rawhide they were making into a box for storage. Some had necklaces they had made and were planning to present to a parent or grandparent. But mostly there was a lot of dancing and singing.

The youth leaders had been taught hip hop, stomp, break dancing, ballroom dancing and salsa. They had then taught their groups some of those dances and all were evident on stage. Many of the girls were dressed in long gowns and many of the boys wore dress shirts and ties, some added sports coats and a couple even had formal tuxedo jackets.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe has funded this all nine years and it's grown from a one-week camp to the present five-week camp. It's also grown from about 30 kids to 200 this year. Louie added, ''We have lots of film. In years past we've done a music video and short films and that can be found on www.rezkast.com. Indian children all over can go to that Web site and see what we've done.''