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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 26, 2003 - Issue 92


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Indian Children Find Connections With Past in Annual Trip to Ocean


by Chet Barfield Union-Tribune Staff Writer

credits: Uma sanghvi/ Union-Tribune

Flute PlayerSAN ONOFRE STATE BEACH – Splashing in a pounding surf, scores of children from Indian reservations throughout the county learned yesterday that the ocean isn't just a fun place to play.

It's also a connection to their past.

"Our ocean tradition went back thousands of years," said youth leader Shonta Chaloux. "We want to get the kids and their parents thinking, and remembering."

Chaloux's intertribal education center on the North County's San Pasqual reservation coordinated this weekend's fourth annual Native Surf Gathering, which combines camping, cultural activities and aquatic endeavors.

The main aim is to show and teach Indian youth about the ocean's historic importance to the area's Kumeyaay, Cupeño and Luiseño tribes, who used to migrate seasonally from the beaches to the mountains to the desert.

The Pacific "was a big source of our food supply," Chaloux said. "Also, there's (ocean) ceremonies. We came out here to cleanse ourselves."

About 100 children, elementary age to teens, took part in yesterday's "family day" events. In rotating groups, they were taught how to surf and kayak – for many, a first-time experience. They learned water safety and CPR. They made ocean-related crafts, such as mussel-shell rattles, sea-shell necklaces and fish-painted beach rocks.

Near a 10-foot canoe of lashed tule reeds, the youths also handled and learned about maritime implements of their ancestors – nets strung with yucca fibers; hooks made from wood and bone – as well as traditional native hunting tools, adornments and musical instruments.

"To make all these things takes patience. It takes time. It takes quieting your mind," said instructor Ray Esquiero, a young man of Chumash and other California native ancestry.

"We're trying to teach the kids that four walls and a video game, that's not tradition," he said. "The things our ancestors did, that sustained us. If we forget that, we forget who we are."

Miguel Hernandez of Pauma grinned as he watched his 9-year-old daughter splashing in the 4-foot breakers.

"We've been looking forward to this all year," he said. "Getting my daughter out into the water, that's medicine."

At night around the campfires, the youths do traditional singing and dancing, and play a traditional Indian social game called peon.

The summer cultural program is funded by the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association. Pro surfer Israel "Izzy" Pascowick, who runs a surfing school in Pacific Beach, donates the kayaks, surfboards and services of eight instructors, all volunteering their time.

"It's beyond just a pleasure for us to do it. It's an honor," Pascowick said. "For these Native Americans, the beach, it was once theirs."

Pascowick taught 16-year-old Punky McElroy at the first surf gathering four years ago. She got a free week at his camp, and now she heads to the waves regularly from the Mesa Grande reservation northeast of Ramona.

"I love surfing," she said, a board under her arm and salt water dripping from her nose. "Me and my cousin go down to Oceanside."

Roselyn Spencer, a youth coordinator from Rincon, sat on the sand with two young grandchildren, watching her son and daughter, 15 and 12, frolicking in the surf.

"There's something about the water, the power that it has," she says. "It's an uplifting thing, a strengthening thing, and we don't even have to teach that to them. They just feel it."

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