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Rocky Boy camp aims to unite Hi-Line youth

Kim Skornogoski
June 17, 2006
Great Falls Tribune

climbing ROCKY BOY AGENCY Cliff Singer was halfway up the climbing wall at MSU Northern when he realized he was afraid of heights. The 14-year-old Rocky Boy student was scared, really scared. But his new friend Garrette Brough, an upcoming Havre High freshman, coached him through it. Soon the boys were laughing over lines from "Scary Movie 4."

Watching Garrette, Cliff and the other students giggling crouched around computer screens, John Mitchell saw progress.

The Rocky Boy's Reservation and Havre are just 20 miles apart, yet the communities are divided in the wake of a report from University of Montana journalism students describing examples of Indians being treated poorly in Havre.

A federal mediator met with community leaders from the Hi-Line and surrounding reservations three times, hoping to ease racial tensions. Discussions have fallen flat after several meetings evolved into an angry furor.
But the aired concerns about racism prompted Mitchell, the tribe's education coordinator, to create Climbing Toward Camp, bringing middle and high school students together from both communities.

"These two communities are right next to each other and if they were thinking things about each other that more or less aren't true, then we need to communicate more," he said. "The idea is to try to see each other as brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors."

Mitchell thought the best way to accomplish that was through rock climbing.

climbing The 18 kids started off learning knot-tying techniques and studying the safety gear. By day two, they were climbing the wall at the college and on Wednesday they took their lessons to the field, climbing between 10 and 50 feet up Square Butte.

All the while, they took pictures, documenting their experiences and learning the computer software needed to put their images together to make a mini-movie.

At night, the kids camped together at the foot of the Bear Paw Mountains on the Rocky Boy's Reservation. They played games and they roasted s'mores.

climbing One night, a tribal elder shared stories of the history of the Chippewa Cree, dating back centuries.

Like many of the students, Christina Plum didn't realize that part of the camp's purpose was to improve the relationship between the communities.

"I just always wanted to go rock climbing," she said.

Christina quickly overcame any nervousness about meeting new people. "I'm friends with just about everyone here now. It took awhile, but it happened."

She said beyond bonding with Cliff over their shared fear of heights, rock climbing gave her confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

Garrette was one of the rare campers who had rock climbed before. He said the climbs quickly brought the children together.

climbing "After we went climbing, it was pretty instant," he said. "There's so much trust you have to have. They have your life in their hands. Once you can do that, you know you can trust them."

Students from a Washington university taught the kids how to climb and rappel.

The kids paid nothing to be in the camp thanks to sponsorships by the tribe, Havre businesses and a grant from the O.P. & W.E. Edwards Foundation.

The five-day camp wrapped up Friday with the students showing their videos to parents and the community.

The students were broken into groups of two or three to work on the movies, setting their pictures to music.

One of the organizers, Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, director of Hopa Mountain, said the camp kick-starts a year of friendship and leadership-building activities with the students.

climbing The program's Web site will have monitored chat rooms so the students can keep in touch. Additionally, the group will get together twice over the winter and again in the spring.

Going canoeing in Flathead Lake, whitewater rafting, skiing at Showdown, water slides in Columbia Falls and playing basketball at Montana State University are all options for future activities.

Amanda Belcourt, 13, and Toni Morsette, 14, both Box Elder students, chatted excitedly about the months ahead when they would all get back together.

"It's going to be so fun," Toni said.

"I'm going to get all their numbers so I can call and say what's up," Amanda chimed in.

Sachatello-Sawyer could see the camp's successes as she looked around at the students.

"It's been an incredible group of young people. It gives you a lot of hope for the future working with a group like this," she said. "You can see they've really bonded with each other. They've shared a lot with each other.

"Imagine all the things that could be possible if both communities worked together in new ways, especially on behalf of youth."

Anyone interested in starting a similar program in their community can contact Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer with Hopa Mountain at 586-2455 or bsawyer@hopamountain.org.

Copyright © Great Falls Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.


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