An American Indian camp returns to SOU

Put on hold for a year because of the recession, a weeklong college prep camp for American Indian students returned to Southern Oregon University this summer with an array of classes in drama, speech, art and other subjects.

Konaway Nika Tillicum, which draws Indian middle- and high school students from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, wrapped up Friday with a show of song, dance and art on the bricks of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Pointing to persistent prejudice and poverty, art teacher James Florendo of Lane Community College stressed the message to students they have to drop the "I can't" habit and get out to learn about the world and open their thinking to creativity that will bring success to them and enrichment to their people.

"I keep hearing 'I can't draw,' but it's not about skill," said Florendo. "It's a way of life. It's your own creativity, merged with your native culture — and art is the one course in college where you're allowed to do whatever you want, with an open mind, thinking new things." After doing a vivid, colorful still life of plants, Tashina George of the Warm Springs Reservation, said, "I'm a better artist than I thought — and his (Florendo's) words are very strong; a big inspiration."

"It meant a lot to me, his talk. It's true," said art student Vincent Lowell of Brooks, Calif.

Florendo also urged students to leave the "safe comfort zone" of home, know the whole world but remember to "come back, be creative and help your people."

Across campus, his brother, Brent Florendo, academic program coordinator of SOU Native American Studies and co-director of the academy, taught kids the art of acting by exploring the motivations and personalities of self and in the actors around them — skills that will help them express themselves in public, do teamwork and express inner creativity.

"Native American students are at the bottom of the statistics for success in all categories," said Brent Florendo, in an interview. "Konaway is about working from the inside out, finding an identity that's balanced and wholesome, not from the stereotype of what happened to us in history. It makes them feel good about themselves."

Konaway — the name means "all my relations" in Chinook trade jargon — started 15 years ago at SOU with the goal of getting teens comfortable and confident about operating in a university environment.

Its season was cut in 2009 because of the economic crash but found new life this year with grants of $10,000 from the Cow Creek Umpqua Foundation and $25,000 from SOU, plus other grants, said university spokesman Jim Beaver.

This is the first year SOU has funded the academy, said James Florendo, because "they're finding it's a market. Many of these kids end up here. When I taught at the University of Oregon, they figured every 100 new students meant $1 million for the school."

After 15 years, the academy now can count many college graduates and two law school grads, says Brent Florendo, adding that it has raised its grade-point average requirement from 1.75 in the beginning to 2.5 now — and that academy grads, upon leaving, average a half to one full grade point higher.

In addition, he notes, Konoway has gone from a local-regional event to a "prestige academy" that creates "family" among more motivated young Indians — who stay in touch and encourage each other on Facebook and e-mail.

"I came with a friend who said it was a great experience," says Amanda Squiemrhen-Yazze of Warm Springs. "We learn the traditional ways and become used to being at a university."

She has her sights on Western Oregon University or others in the Northwest.

Other teachers at the Academy are Alissa Arp in science, D.L. Richardson in public speaking and Alma Rose Alvares in writing. David West also is co-director of the Academy.

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