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Kootenais share culture at Morrison school

| March 29, 2005 11:00 PM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Five Kootenai-Salish Indians in traditional clothing adorned with feathers and bits of porcupine, otter and deer brought Native American culture to Morrison Elementary School in Troy last week.

Rex Aitken along with daughters Hannah and Desire and sons Daniel and Numa performed various tribal dances during an all-school assembly. The Bonners Ferry, Idaho, residents appeared through the Artist-in-Residence program co-sponsored by the school and Troy Fine Arts Council.

"In Indian country we have our own language," said Rex Aitken, who wore a bustle with 44 golden eagle feathers. "We have our own slang. And mostly, we have our own music."

They began with the grass dance from the Omaha tribe, which Aitken called "a very spiritual society."

Then Daniel Aitken performed a frenetic dance that required the stamina of a long distance runner, followed by a slower one by Desire that told the story of a woman looking for her lost lover.

There's a marked difference in style between men's and women's dances, Rex Aitken said.

"Theirs goes on a line of beauty," he said of women's dances.

The Aitken family often appears in schools and at various events to bring their heritage to other people. Rex and Daniel danced at a folk festival in Germany two years ago.

"It was interesting," Rex Aitken said. "We were the only Americans there. There were no other Indians. Europe is short of Indians."

Between performances, Aitken talked with students about everything from history to the children's own knowledge of Indian culture.

"Who's been to a powwow?" he asked. About 10 hands went up.

Aitken said powwows are generally held from Friday night to late Sunday, and are a time for feasting, music, renewing friendships and, of course, dancing.

Sometimes there are special dances for non-Indians, and Aitken said Indians often find them amusing.

"It's funny to watch their interpretation of how Indians dance," he said.

More serious, though, is the history of Native Americans' relationship with whites. Aitken didn't tiptoe around that painful subject, telling students that fighting among tribes made them vulnerable to an even bigger threat.

"The creator told us if we don't stop warring with each other - the Crow, the Nez Perce - that someone would come and take our land. The land you have today was taken from us.

"We can learn something from that. We have to stick together."