CORVALLIS – A collaboration between Corvallis High School and the Salish Tribe will soon produce the 10th in a series of books intended to educate, move and inspire readers with poetry and photographs highlighting the tribe's deep connections to the Bitterroot Valley.
For the past nine years, Corvallis High students taking English and photography classes have met with Salish leaders at a variety of valley locations to learn about tribal culture and places of significance.
The students write poetry, take photographs and produce a self-published book each year.
Photography teacher Maureen Powell and English teacher Rob Plakke have guided the process, which they say gives students a strong sense of place.
The book project began after the Indian Education For All Act was passed by the Montana Legislature. The legislation provided money for schools to use to help students “learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner.”
“We decided to team up with the tribe and bring tribal members here – since this is the Salish homeland and the Salish Tribe is close,” Powell said. “Louis Adams and Tony Incashola, tribal elders and members of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, had written a book called ‘The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition’ that we purchased with Indian Ed money. At that point, we were looking at the places that they identified as important to the tribe and that they had names for."
Powell said the interaction with tribal elders helped students get a “long-term feeling of place,” because so many families nowadays move around a lot.
“Some of us have been here for more than one generation, but I know I haven’t. I have very special feelings for the Bitterroot, but they don’t go back generations,” Powell said. “We wanted them to learn what it means to lose a place also. I think the students’ poems reflect that.”
“Sleeping Child” was the first book, self-published during the 2006-2007 school year. The subsequent books were titled “Calf Creek,” “Lake Como,” “Blodgett,” “Metcalf Refuge,” “Fales Flat,” “Teller Wildlife Refuge,” “Spring Gulch” and “Kootenai Creek.”
Creating the book begins with students learning unique skills in two separate classes.
Photography students start with mapping, learning photography and basics of the photo-editing software called Photoshop.
“To start, I have them draw a map – from a bird’s-eye view – of how they got to school, using true landmarks,” said Powell. “Was there a tall tree or an interesting rock? Did they turn left at the river? Did they go past the big dog mountain? They draw it from an aerial view. I’m trying to teach them about a different perspective and what you would remember if it was before street signs and roads. It develops their sense of place and learning to look at things in detail.”
Then the students start taking photographs and developing those skills.
In English classes, students begin with reading poetry and developing their senses by noticing things such as the wind blowing, colors, dampness – and relating to that with words.
In October, both classes merge for a half-day field trip to a valley location, and meet a Salish elder there. The elder speaks to the students for about a half-hour, telling the history of the unique and special location, what went on there, special uses of the area, how their tribe relates to nature and often the elder’s life and experiences.
“Because we go out in October, it is usually before the snow falls,” said Powell. “The Salish don’t tell their coyote and creation stories before the snow falls, but they will tell life experiences that they had and circles of experiences of generations. They are wonderful at explaining how the Salish look at time and place. It helps kids see that everything is alive and to stop and notice it."
Powell said tribal elder Adams tells stories about places to help the students relate. For instance, the Como Lake area was about camus gathering and Fales Flat was a gathering place for a lot of tribes along the Nez Perce Trail.
“The Salish elders are so aware of nature and a bird chirping or flying overhead, and they point it out to the kids,” Powell said. “I think it empowers the students’ poetry writing to be more descriptive of what is there.”
After hearing the stories, the students take photographs and write about the place. They continue to refine their work back at school and then submit it. A student editor puts the book together. The book is usually finished, published and into their hands by May.
Powell said this is the 10th year and the classes will focus on the Victor area.
“The thing that is most talked about there is Chief Victor and the sweat lodges because of Sweathouse Creek,” Powell said. “Chief Victor would not sign away the Salish homeland, and they were forced to march away. We will look at that aspect – the land and the treaty.”
All nine books are available online at blurb.com. Each library in the Corvallis School District has a copy of the entire set.