By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - A group of young people on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation is getting a hands- on lesson in their own tribe's culture this week at Pah-Nah-To Park - Rocky Boy's 7,500-acre recreation area south of Beaver Creek Park.
The park was recently renamed in honor of Pah-Nah-To, who was instrumental in securing a home for the Chippewa and Cree people.
Youth camp organizers said it's important for the youth to learn about people like Pah-Nah-To and other influential ancestors of their tribe who helped shape the history and culture of the Chippewa and Cree.
"Our ways as Indian people are very important to us," said Jason Belcourt, who's helping lead the youth camp. "We're trying to get our youth involved in our culture again, and this youth camp is one way to do that."
The camp's schedule of events includes a number of activities, such as talks by tribal elders, a hike up Mount Baldy, a lesson in medicinal plant identification, fishing and a horseback riding lesson. Camp organizers said they tried to mix a number of fun and educational activities together to keep the kids interested.
"We've got a lot of activities planned," camp leader Virgil Chief Stick said. "I think that's what attracted the kids, is all the fun things we have planned for them."
Horse instructor Shawn Big Knife was taking the campers on trail rides throughout Pah-Nah-To Park Wednesday and today. Big Knife said he was thrilled to take part in the camp and work with the kids, most of whom had never been on a horse.
"There was this little boy that didn't want to ride alone," Big Knife said. "So I led him about halfway and then by the end of the ride he was having a ball and forgot all about being scared."
Big Knife said the campers were "all smiles" when they returned to camp after the trail ride.
Thirty-two kids between the ages of 11 and 14 attended the week-long camp that started Monday and will run through Friday.
"We accepted the kids on a first-come, first-served basis," Chief Stick said. "We had people knocking on our doors to try and get into the camp but we could only take 32."
The youth camp is organized and put on by the Rocky Boy Parks and Recreation Department. Belcourt said the camp budget totalled $16,000 - but those costs weren't passed on to the youth campers.
"All the kids we accepted for the camp received scholarships this year," Belcourt said. "The scholarships cover the cost of the entire camp for the kids."
The kids attended the camp for free thanks to the generosity of several Rocky Boy tribal agencies that donated either money or services to the youth camp.
"We couldn't have done it without the support of the community," Belcourt said. "They helped make this camp possible."
"We're going all out," Chief Stick said. "We have sweat lodges, elder talks and just an overall cultural orientation."
Belcourt said this type of teaching with the youth is vital to the "cultural survival" of the Chippewa Cree.
"We're trying to pass on our culture to the young people," Belcourt said. "It's up to them to pass it on to future generations."
Belcourt said this is the first youth camp of its kind in Rocky Boy, but they hope to continue the camps next year.