CHILOQUIN – Chiloquin students and staff enjoyed salmon cooked over an open fire pit for lunch Thursday after participating in a powwow led by members of the Klamath Tribal Youth Council.
After watching their classmates perform traditional Native dances, most of Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School’s student body joined them in the Round Dance, forming a large circle around the drummers.
The first-ever traditional salmon bake and powwow was a way to celebrate the Native culture within Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School’s student body and honor National Native American Heritage Month, said Will Hess, a Klamath Tribal member who works with students through the On Track OHSU! program. He organized the event with help from Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services Prevention Program, the Klamath Tribal Youth Council, Klamath Tribes Education & Employment Department, Chiloquin High School administrators, On Track OHSU!, FoodCorps staff, and staff from the Klamath County School District Office Title VI and Food Services.
“We wanted tribal students and staff to feel recognized and celebrated in a way that highlights and respects their culture, and also for all students and staff, native and non-native alike to come together and learn about the first foods of the Klamath Tribes and celebrate the rich history of the Klamath Tribes in the Klamath Basin,” Hess said.
Orville Schroeder, a Chiloquin senior and member of the Klamath Tribal Youth Council, agreed, saying the Youth Council’s goal is to share their culture with other communities.
“To me it’s important that our community is aware of how we as a native people lived. Our songs and dances are a part of that,” he said as his classmates crowded around tables in the cafeteria enjoying salmon and fry bread.
The salmon, donated by the Klamath Tribes Culture & Heritage Department, was cooked in an open fire pit in front of the school, following the traditional fish cooking practices of the Klamath River tribes. Karuk Tribal member Leonard Super was among Tribal members who tended the pit throughout morning, placing the pieces of salmon on hand-carved redwood stakes around the fire. Other Tribal members cooked fry bread to serve with the fish. The 16 salmon – enough to feed nearly 200 students, staff, and guests – were procured by Monica Yellowowl of Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services.
Hess said the idea for the event came up last spring and garnered the full support of school leaders and tribal youth council members.
“It’s a very special treat to be able to provide the students with this experience,” Hess said. “Since time immemorial, our people (Klamath, Modoc, and Paiute) have been coming together to commemorate life events, milestones, and for social purposes with food and dance, so this is what we are doing here with this event also.”
It also is a way for students to share and experience different cultures.
“No matter where you’re at, it is important to recognize, acknowledge, and understand the history of the original inhabitants of the land you are living on,” Hess said. “Failing to acknowledge this can often times result in division and lack of respect for one another, creating harms that can become generational. By coming together in this way, we are hoping to create a space where our tribal students can feel recognized and respected, and where all other students and staff can learn to understand more about the rich cultures of their peers.”
Organizers would like to see the event continue, and there are plans are to make an event featuring traditional foods an annual celebration. Of the 170 students at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School, 77 are Klamath Tribal members. Districtwide, there are about 420 students who identify as Native American.