Samish Elders visit Salmonberry School

Two Samish elders, Rosie Cayou and Bill James spent the day with the first through fourth grade children at Salmonberry Elementary School on Nov. 19.

They taught lessons about Samish cultural traditions, songs, stories, rituals, language, clothing, and much more. With great sensitivity to the children’s young age, they helped the students to think about some of the difficult issues that can arise when two very different cultures encounter one another. They taught and embodied a spirit of forgiveness, healing, and mutual respect.

Cayou is a direct descendent of Louis Cayou, who is widely recognized as the first Anglo homesteader on Orcas. Louis settled in Deer Harbor is the1850s and married a Samish woman. Rosie is now the cultural coordinator for the Samish Nation and she is very involved in education and outreach within the Anacortes School District.

James is a master woodcarver in the Coast Salish tradition. He has carved traditional poles and canoes as well as smaller pieces.

Following a season-long study of the geology, ecology and natural history of the islands within the Salish Sea, the Salmonberry students are now embarking on a thematic unit of the First People’s cultures who inhabited these islands. This firsthand connection with the Samish elders served as a kick-off to these studies.

“As evidenced in this experience, Salmonberry strives to teach children to respect multiple sources of wisdom, and to look to build cultural bridges whenever possible,” Paul Freedman, Salmonberry School’s Program Director and elementary teacher, said. “This was a deeply moving presentation, and the presenters touched on many ideas that have been important parts of Salmonberry’s identity over the years. They talked about the integration of art and academics, of heart, head and hands. They spoke of multiple ways of knowing, of the importance of oral traditions, and maintaining a sense of reverence for nature and humanity. Actually, a lot has been written regarding the alignment between traditional indigenous education and holistic education and these consistencies were quite obvious on Thursday.”

Salmonberry students shared a lunch of soup, salad and bread with the presenters, which the students had carefully prepared in advance. Over lunch the students showed Rosie a very old photograph of the Cayou family, which, among a collection of artifacts, Salmonberry had on loan from the Orcas Island Historical Museum.

The Salmonberry class plans to continue to study with Rosie and Bill and hope that their next visit will be on Fidalgo Island later this winter.