Summer camp helps Warm Springs tribal members keep traditions alive

Myra Johnson-Orange, Culture Camp volunteer, helps a young camper weave a basket. (Photo by Peg Herring)
Myra Johnson-Orange, Culture Camp volunteer, helps a young camper weave a basket. (Photo by Peg Herring)

Tucked away amid pines in the shadow of Mount Jefferson, families settle into teepees as the night air rustles the trees and the campfire turns to ash. So ends another day of an unusual 4-H camp focused not so much on sports as on tradition and ancestry.

Strengthening Families Culture Camp is a joint venture of the Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H program and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in central Oregon. The aim is to help tribal families bond and keep their traditions alive.

“It was the kids who wanted to learn how their ancestors lived,” said Arlene Boileau, a tribal member and 4-H educator with OSU Extension. “That’s how the culture part of the camp began more than 20 years ago, and it became its own energy.”

Camping together, tribal families explore traditional drumming, dancing, and basketry; they discuss the meaning of tribal ceremonies and prayers. In addition, OSU Extension educators teach diabetes prevention and drug and alcohol awareness. Candy and soda pop are banned at the camp and daily hikes and physical activity are encouraged.

“When we traveled in the old way, we took our knowledge of where to find food–roots, berries, fish, and clean water,” Boileau told a group of campers. “Now, when we travel, we get in our cars and buy food that is full of salt, fat, and sugar. But with new knowledge, we change to healthier ways.”

Share this