- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

ELTON, La. (AP) - Coushatta Tribe youths are working to change the way people look at Native Americans, while learning more about their own past.

The efforts are part of a Camp Coushatta, a free one-day camp, held on the grounds of the Coushatta reservation, three miles north of Elton.

Camp Director Rayne Langley said the focus of the camp is to help the youths understand their culture and preserve their heritage while offering visitors a glimpse into the tribe’s customs and traditions.

“It’s very important to us because we get to tell other people about how our ancestors lived back then,” said Trevor Sylestine, 15, of Elton.

This is Sylestine’s third year at the camp.

First-year camp staff member Marisa Moreno, 13, of Elton said it is important to share the history of the tribe because many of the practices are dying out. “We need to keep them for future generations to learn,” she said.

Moreno, who worked the herb and medicine station, said many of the “herbs” used by Native Americans in the past are still used today to treat nausea, kidney problems and other ailments. She said early Native Americans used sage, sweet grass, spearmint and roots to make their own medicines.

Singers used osha root to help their throats before singing, she said.

Ty’Leah Grey Mountain, Allie Johnson and Rachael Robinson, all 11 and from Elton, see the camp as a way for them to preserve the Koasati language, which they fear is dying because of lack of use among youths.

“It’s something we need to keep so that we won’t be another lost tribe,” Robinson said.

“We need to keep it alive because not many people are speaking it and we don’t want it to be a forgotten language,” Johnson added.

Grey Mountain, who wrote a book in the Koasati language when she was 9 years old, said it’s a living language of the American South with a long history and rich traditions.

“Generations of elders have kept the language alive by speaking it at home, holding meetings in Koasati and actively encouraging children to use the language,” she said.

Koasati is spoken by about one-fourth of the 900 members of the Coushatta Tribe, she said. Another, smaller group of speakers are members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

“There are a few speakers in their 20s and some children are learning Koasati, but based on the total number of speakers and the decline in the percentage of speakers by age, Koasati is an endangered language,” she said.

The camp has been an eye-opener for Landon Battise, 12, of Kinder. Like many of the camp staffers, Battise is learning more about his ancestors - knowledge he hopes to share with future generations.

“I want to learn more about my ancestors and what they used to do,” Battise said.

Madelyn Brown, 11, of Elton hopes visitors to the camp leave with a better understanding of the Coushatta Tribe.

“It’s important to me because it shows the stuff the Indians did and we are able to show people what they did and how they did it,” Brown said. “I hope others learn our heritage and spread it. It’s important that they understand us.”

Brown has spent two summers working at the camp.

Eleven-year-old Jett Langley of Elton agrees that showing what Native Americans did in the past is important to both Coushatta youths and non-Native Americans.

“It’s important for us to show others so they can know all the Native Americans did,” Langley said. “Life was hard, and they made all their things they needed to survive.”

Leigh-Anne Thompson, 16, of Elton has attended the camp since she was 6 years old. Thompson, who has been making baskets since her grandmother taught her when she was 8, was in charge of the basketry station.

She said early Indians used river cane and longleaf pine needles to make baskets to store food and other items. Today most baskets are used for decoration and storage, she said.

In addition to basketry, campers can learn about cooking, drumming, weapons and tools, and medicines. Visitors can also enjoy hands-on activities, including games, tomahawk throwing, archery, spear throwing and jewelry making.

Each camp ends with a powwow-style dance session with youths dressed in full regalia.

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Information from: American Press, http://www.americanpress.com

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