Camp To Focus On Native American Culture, Gulf Environment

DULAC, LA (AP) — As the south Louisiana coast erodes into the Gulf of Mexico, local Native Americans living along the coastal bayous hope to pass on their heritage to their children through an annual three-day culture camp in Dulac from July 28 through July 31.

         Kids between ages 6 to 18 will have the opportunity to learn about the Gulf environment, coastal erosion and land loss issues in a fun and interactive way, United Houma Nation camp coordinator Bette Billiot said. They will also partake in cultural activities including native dancing, drumming, regalia and bead-making and learn about healthy lifestyles and diet.

         "Last year, we focused on culture. But this year, we're opening it up more to environmental issues in the bayou region," Billiot said. "We know the adults are interested, but the kids don't really understand it."

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         To illustrate land loss, kids will ride a boat to the Gulf where they will observe certain GPS points where land is supposed to be but are now under water, Billiot said. They will then learn about the impact of coastal erosion on traditional native industries including crabbing, shrimping and fishing, as well as the culture of bartering.

         "Born and raised in Dulac, I grew up looking at these issues in one way," Billiot said. "Now I work with a lot of youth groups all over the Gulf Region. If we can get kids early, they have such ideas. So we want to make them aware of their surroundings and teach them how to slow down and prevent these issues."

         For instance, Billiot said gardening used to be common throughout the bayou regions, but the encroaching salt water in the soil has discouraged plant growth. However, kids will learn more creative ways to grow despite the changing ground, she added.

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         A typical day will feature an educational component in the morning, a cultural component in the afternoon and a leisure component in the evening, Billiot said. Kids will first learn a particular native skill before teachers discuss its importance.

         On the last day of camp, the children will travel to Lafitte to show off what they've learned in a mini-powwow with fellow campers at the United Houma Nation Camp2Bear.

         "Most of the kids have never been to a powwow. This is kind of a 101 class for them," Billiot said. "Last year, they were kind of scared at the beginning because they've never seen regalia or dancing before, but we talked about the reasoning behind them. My goal is for all the kids to be open-minded and to accept these things and understand them."

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         Second-year campers Elijah and Anthony Billiot, 12-year-olds from Dulac, said they enjoyed native drumming the most last year because they "liked to make music and learn about it."

         "I thought it was cool they were getting us together to do something during the summer to get our culture to survive," Elijah said. "The culture of Native Americans is a dying culture, and we need to do this to help it stay alive."

         While this is the camp's second year, this is the first time it will be open to non-Native Americans, Billiot said. While visiting schools, she came upon children who were surprised at the fact that she owned a cellphone.

         "They still have this perception that we live in teepees. But we're not in that era anymore," she added. "That's one of the reasons why we invite others to join and learn about our culture."

         At least 10 more spots are available for registration. It costs $40 for an 8-year-old or older, $60 for two children in the same household and $85 for three children in the same household. Costs will cover food, accommodations, field trips and basic supplies.

         – by AP/ Reporter Maki Somosot with The Courier

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