Camp: Kids' portal to traditions

Posted: Tuesday, August 01, 2000

Brittin Martin-Sheets, 9, carefully chooses colored beads from a small plastic tray. Bending his head to better guide the passage of his needle, he stitches them onto a piece of blue felt, creating a headdress rich with beadwork.

Two weeks ago, he said, he didn't know how to sew. Now it's his favorite part of Youth Culture Camp.

``It's, like, not running around. It's not being crazy. It's doing something you like,'' he said.

Natasha Pruett, also 9, agreed -- but for different reasons.

``I like sewing because I can talk and work at the same time,'' she said with a laugh.

In addition to sewing practice, the children attending the Eighth Annual Youth Culture Camp have learned Tlingit language, cooking, protocol, singing and dancing.

The goal of the camp, said coordinator Gail Napiha'a, is ``to perpetuate the culture.

``That's through the Tlingit language, song and dance, and regalia production,'' she said. ``It's a real holistic approach.''


On average, 40 kids out of the registered 55 attend each day. The camp, offered by Tlingit and Haida Indians of the City and Borough of Juneau, spans a two-week period ending Friday. Each day from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., children ranging in age from 6 to 14 participate in traditional activities and the occasional field trip, including one Monday to the Alaska State Museum.

Napiha'a said the benefits are numerous.

``What I can see immediately is a positive self-identity,'' she said. ``They're able to identify themselves as clan members.''

The kids are just as enthusiastic.

``I'm thinking about coming back next year,'' said Charlie Gallant, 11. ``I mostly like everything, but sewing is my favorite. ... I would have been sitting on the couch watching TV if I wasn't here.''

The sentiment was common.

``At home all I do is watch TV and sleep,'' said Natasha.

Instead, she's beading a headdress and learning Tlingit greetings and songs -- a more appealing prospect for many of the campers.

``It's learning about culture and stuff, and it can teach you a lot of things. I learned a couple of songs and I learned how the Indians used to dance,'' Brittin said.

Napiha'a found watching the children learn to be the most rewarding aspect of the camp.

``I enjoyed the kids,'' she said. ``Just how fast they were able to learn and how excited they were. It's a difficult language, but they're able to introduce themselves and sing our tribal anthem.''

The camp's events will end in style with a potlatch Friday. From noon to 3, the campers will show off their newly acquired skills to parents and community members.

``It's all just coming together with the language, the singing and dancing, and the regalia production,'' Napiha'a said. ``They're all working toward a common goal. ... It's a combination of different aspects of our culture that will be showcased on Friday.''

Next year, the camp will take place again without any major changes, said Judy George, president of the sponsoring organization.

``There might be some minor modifications to the program, but (it's) the same general concept,'' she said.

That's fine with the campers.

``It's fun to play and stuff and the teachers are very, very nice,'' said Shelby Pruett, 8.

``You get to make stuff and keep it for the rest of your life if you want,'' Charlie Gallant added.

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