“We learn best at the feet of our elders.”
With this timeless message, Two Eagle River School brought youth and elders together to enjoy each other’s company for the last week of school, a school tradition since 1974. There were so many activities to share in both traditional and newer ways, that there was something everyone could shine in, or just enjoy watching and taking in the laughter and kindness shared between generations.
A day at Blue Bay on Flathead Lake was full of sunshine and relaxation, plus outdoor fun and adventure, including canoe races, bingo, a pie eating contest, fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding.
AND THEN there was the new tradition, only a few years old — painting elders’ fingernails. Home Cultures teacher, Kathy Tapia explained that a few years ago, a professional manicurist brought her supplies to the lake picnic and had a long line of people all day. Since then, students have carried on the effort, a popular way to spend a moment serving and connecting with their elders.
The next day, the Elder Olympics got underway. It was less a competition, and more of just a way to hang out together. Elders were paired with students, and visited several stations around and inside the school, including basketball free throws, horseshoes, archery, photos in the library, throwing a football through a ring, and even rolling dice. After trying each activity, elders received beads to add to a bracelet commemorating the day. With their younger partners, they shared time, laughter, stories, and most importantly, kindness.
But one thing they weren’t sharing — their secret fry bread recipes. Four intrepid bakers took on the challenge of the fry bread contest. One told of realizing late in life she should learn how her mother made fry bread before it was too late. Another learned from a tribal elder. First place went to Judy Andrew, with Maxine Michelle second, Joan Miller third.
THE LAST day included playing the stick game, a dinner, and a powwow with dancing, honors, and a give-away for all the participants.
Some words of wisdom from the elders:
“People ask me how I have stayed so long at this job,” says Home Cultures teacher Kathy Tapia, after more than three decades. “I tell them, because it’s not a job.”
Allen Pierre, Cultural Specialist at Nkwusm in Arlee, who brought their students to the event: “Whether you’re native or non-native, education is the key to life,” he says. “We learn how to adapt to two ways of learning.”