Bringing culture, customs alive

Human Rights Education Institute partnered with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for a tepee building workshop in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)
Human Rights Education Institute partnered with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for a tepee building workshop in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)

Quanah Matheson of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe worked up a sweat Wednesday putting up a tepee like his father and grandfather had taught him.

Watching from a crowd of dozens of children and adults, 12-year-old Milad was reminded of something similar from home: the khaima, a tent used by nomadic people moving their livestock between the seasons.

Milad is one of five Afghan children visiting the Inland Northwest this summer to receive medical care through Solace for the Children. In between visits to doctors and dentists, the three boys and two girls experience slices of American culture.

Wednesday’s trip to the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene included a demonstration by Matheson, the tribe’s culture director, on how American Indians would assemble traditional shelters that once dotted the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Matheson, who noted that as a baby he lived in a tepee with his family for six months, said he hoped the demonstration would help bridge cultures and build appreciation for native customs.

“To bring peace you have to educate one another, you have to bring people over and show them part of your culture – don’t be afraid to show it,” he said. “Even if it’s just a little bit, you know, it makes a difference.”

Matheson, 36, said the area now dominated by downtown, City Park and North Idaho College once was a capital for native people living in this region, with sub-chiefs coming in for celebrations and big decisions.

“To be back here and put up one of our traditional dwellings is pretty cool to me,” he said.

Milad felt similarly as he watched the tepee rise, canvas stretched around lodgepole pine bound at the top by a rope. “It’s cool, it’s cool,” he said.

Matheson enlisted the help of young boys and girls to lift the poles one by one as he wound a rope around the top, binding the structure. Women, he informed the crowd, traditionally did this work.

The Coeur d’Alenes first lived in lodges built partially underground, but later as some bands began to follow the buffalo herds they used portable hide tepees like the Plains Indians’.

With the two “ear poles” in place to control the flaps of the smoke hole, the tepee was complete and kids rushed inside to play and marvel at the spacious interior. Then they made paper and stick models of tepees to take home.

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