Summit summons Native American kids to shred the Tetons

By on March 18, 2015
Jeremy Pague, Julie Zell and some of their ‘tribe’ collecting donations for the Intertribal Winter Sports Summit at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. (Photo credit: Julie Zell)

Jeremy Pague, Julie Zell and some of their ‘tribe’ collecting donations for the Intertribal Winter Sports Summit at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. (Photo credit: Julie Zell)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – A feather and a glass jar are the wing and a prayer that will bring 30 Native American kids from reservations to Jackson Hole for a modern-day vision quest in the Tetons. The Intertribal Winter Sports Summit, organized against all odds by pro-snowboarder Julie Zell and her tribe, is still raising money, $5 at a time in a glass jar. A racially-charged disturbance at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center emboldened Zell to get kids from the Wind River and Pine Ridge reservations to Jackson to teach them how to ski and snowboard.

During the summit this month, Zell hopes to repair some of the damage Native American kids suffered when they were subjected to racial slurs. Earlier this year, seventh and eighth graders from the American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota were harassed and doused with beer at a hockey game. The culprit was charged with disorderly conduct, according to Rapid City, S.D., newspapers, and chastised by Martin Luther King’s daughter Bernice King in an open letter to the Huffington Post.

“We hope this summit plants a seed in them that inspires them to spend more time in the mountains, maybe even on skis and snowboards, connecting to the outdoors and finding new paths to old traditions,” Zell said. “That is really the essence of this event: to share a little of the fun and freedom we have found as skiers and snowboarders with our neighbors, who in turn might share a little of their culture with us. … Our hope is that we might learn something from each other: to heal a troubled history, to practice tolerance and acceptance, to make new friends and to learn once again to respect and care for the earth as the beautiful home that it is.”

Last month, after learning the Intertribal event had yet to set a date, Jeremy Pague jumped in to help. Pague is a snowboarder who learned leadership skills through the program Tracking Project, based on teachings by Native elders.

In Native American folklore the coyote creates, teaches and helps humans. He is also a trickster, whose cleverness saves him when he gets into trouble. “If you look up the myth of the coyote, it’s very similar to how this event is coming about,” Pague said. “It has a lot of coyote energy to it.”

In no time, two free, donation-based events with song, dance and other native traditions appeared on local calendars: a spring Equinox fundraiser, 6 p.m. to midnight, Friday, at the Jackson Hole Playhouse, and a closing ceremony for the summit, 6 to 10 p.m., March 28, at the Center for the Arts.

The summit, March 26 to 28, will include a public opening ceremony, 9 a.m., Thursday at the top of the gondola, two days of skiing and snowboarding for the kids, and a roundtable with visiting local healers and medicine men.

While it may appear that a lot came together in the past month, the spark for the summit was lit several years ago. Zell’s friend and neighbor Patty Sabon introduced Zell’s brother Jimmy to Kenny Cane, a Lakota descendent of Crazy Horse, who dreamt of bringing kids from the reservation here.

The idea was reignited in a hot tub during a powwow that Sabon went to in October.

“Whenever there is someone sitting down talking about this event there is always this beautiful positive energy,” Sabon said. “Everything seems to flow.”

Zell along with Sabon, whose husband is a Native Alaskan, say it is the people who have come out to support the vision of these men who have really made a difference. People like Francine Bartlett, owner of Medicine Wheel Wellness, who donated the proceeds of her grand opening raffle. Legendary snowboarder Rob Kingwill donated through his nonprofit, Future Positive, which is the umbrella for the Intertribal summit. And Travis Rice donated an autographed Wyoming-themed snowboard, which has bids up to $1,900 on eBay.

“We are a tribe too,” Zell said. “We all have healing to do.”

Intertribal Winter Sports Summit fundraiser

When: 6 p.m, Friday

Where: Jackson Hole Playhouse

Wallet: Bring cash for auction


About Julie Fustanio Kling

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