Historic youth summit finds Klamath Tribal Youth Council established

IMG_7115 (2)River Rondeau, 6, center, was one of the youngest participants in the social pow wow that kicked off the first Klamath Tribal Youth Summit the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 21.

While the rest of the world was debriefing about the eclipse, history was made quietly this week on the Oregon Tech campus.

The Klamath Tribes has pursued a youth initiative since early this year, and the first Youth Leadership Summit was held from Monday afternoon through Thursday noon. Ranging in age from 12 to 20, a total of 42 youth participated in workshops and activities meant to encourage leadership and educational opportunities.

Klamath Tribal Youth Council members

A highlight was the election of 15-year-old Ashia Wilson as the first Klamath Tribes Youth Council chairwoman. The Chiloquin High School sophomore was particularly inspired by Tyler Barlowe’s presentation on the evolution of Klamath and Modoc and songs.

“He spoke truth to us and was real. He influenced me in my candidate’s speech. I couldn’t read my notes, and I knew that speaking from my heart was the way to be authentic,” Wilson said.

Barlowe used his session to remind those in attendance that the songs and dance experienced at the previous day’s social pow wow were merely mimicry. The displays were taken from Plains Indians, who use these artistic expressions as entertainment for others. Modoc songs are shorter and simpler, and sung for a purpose.

The elder was raised by his grandparents, who were the children of Modoc War survivors. He told a standing room only group that the laws of nature do not allow for forgiveness, self-pity or shame. The young women were encouraged to pursue their education and career goals before having babies and committing to a man. “A man will want to be cared for, too, like a baby,” Barlowe said to hearty laughter.

Will Hess, one of the summit organizers, said Barlowe was a definite favorite of the youth. “Sometimes it is good to be shaken. We need elders to make us think, and younger people to bring things out in a new way,” he said.

“Young people are the threads holding us together,” he said. Hess said that one thing he noted in his youth was a lack of follow through by older Tribal members. Knowing that the future is uncertain, he was committed to seeing the youth summit through to completion. “I didn’t want to see it pushed off.”

Hess is among a group of 20-something young professionals who are strong examples for the youth, and members of the Klamath Tribes. Cholena Wright presented a session entitled Navigating Indigenous Identity: Building an Intrapersonal Relationship to Nation. Her declaration that each individual has a unique experience in their identity, and there is no competition in who can be more Native than someone else, resonated with Klamath Tribal Chairmain Don Gentry.

“My experience might have different, when I was younger, if I had known that,” Gentry said.

Doctoral student Joseph Dupris shared Strong Leaders and Strong Languages: Borrowing and Expressing New Ideas. He has read the Klamath language dictionary and is captivated by how words are added to a language, including creating new compound words. Dupris inspired Henry Rondeau in writing an original Klamath-language honor song for Thursday’s retiring of the colors.

Meanwhile Ada Ball provided insight into Contemporary Native Issues and Resistance. In today’s society, where people of color, including Tribal people, are marginalized, the simple act of taking a selfie can become an act of resistance.

The young adults were not the only presenters, however. Kathleen Hill provided three examples of documented leadership within the Klamath Tribes: Seldon E. Kirk, Marie Norris and Charles E. Kimbol, Sr. She noted that Klamath leadership is usually defined through Captain Jack and Chief Chiloquin. “There are many ways to be warriors,” she said. “Sometimes you have to take actions which are uncomfortable because it is what your people said.”

She noted that Native heroes rely on others and serve their people.

Bringing relevancy to the youth summit, Wright stated that 32 percent of Natives are under the age of 18, compared to only 24 percent of the total United States population being under the age of 18.

The summit was sponsored by The Klamath Tribes, Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services, and the Oregon Tech Native American Student Union.

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