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200 Attend Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth Conference

Trish Brown

9/21/2000 12:00:00 AM

Elders and youth circled issues to find points of intersection and understanding at a traditional conference which took place Aug. 9 to 13.

"There is so much that's important about it," explained participant Debrah Clifton. "It's a spiritual experience - spiritual renewal - an educational experience. I learn things coming out to these gatherings they don't teach in any school." Clifton is from Louisiana and is of Creole and Muscogee heritage.

The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth Conference was hosted by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and took place at the Saginaw Chippewa Campgrounds. Over 200 people participated in the program.

The activities were structured around teachings given by a Cheyenne Elder from Montana. The teachings were based on a circle divided up into eight sections. The sections were divided into four groups of Talking Circles.

For example, participants ages 20 to 29 were grouped with Elders that were ages 60 to 69. The younger generation are still often considered kids themselves. However, they have started their families. The Elders have already raised their children and have invaluable advice.

People that are in the age range of 30 to 39 now have children that are eye level with them, called teenagers. The parents receive guidance from the Elders that are ages 70 to 79 on how to deal with their teens.

"Elders' interaction with youth will provide an opportunity where youth can learn firsthand from highly respected spiritual leaders and cultural teachers from many Native Nations," explained Wilma Henry, Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College coordinator.

The Elders and youth met together for four days during the conference.

"This conference is very good because some of the kids never get the chance to ask questions even in their own communities," said Coyote an Elder from California.

The Traditional Circle of Elders and Youth has been gathering since 1976. They are sponsored by the American Indian Institute and travel to different Tribal communities every year. The next conference is tentatively scheduled for March of next year in Arizona.

"The Elders from different areas came together in Montana and decided that these kind of meetings needed to happen to strengthen traditions and communities," said Vickie Downey, conference leader. Downey is from the Tewa Tribe in Tesuque, New Mexico.

There is a lot planning that goes into coordinating this event, according to Charmaine Benz, publications specialist/editor for the Ziibiwing Cultural Society. One aspect involved was finding people to host the Elders in their homes. No one stayed in hotels. The weather was nice enough for the families to camp out.

According to Clifton, she had a really nice time camping with other participants that attended the conference. People came from many different Tribal communities. Attendees traveled from California, Arizona, New York, Montana, New Mexico and many other states.

"Every community has its own issues, but when you listen they are all similar - issues like diabetes, domestic violence, alcohol and many other types of issues," said Benz. "We need to share the knowledge of what works and what is successful."

There was a lot of healing and sharing happening, according to Downey. The whole human race needs to respect the land, air, water and fire.

For more information, contact Bob Staffason, director of the American Indian Institute Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth at PO Box 1388, Bozeman, Missouri, 59771-1388 or call (406) 587-1002.