Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tribes celebrate Camas Lily Days

Festival honors traditions of southern Idaho’s Native Americans

Express Staff Writer

Some 50 tribal members from the Fort Hall and Duck Valley Indian reservations participated in the annual Camas Lily Days celebration in Fairfield. Express photo by Jennifer Liebrum

About 150 people turned out over the weekend for the Camas Lily Days Festival in Fairfield, about 40 miles from Sun Valley on the Camas Prairie.

The arts and crafts and cultural celebration, now in its third year, involved about 50 tribal members from the Fort Hall and Duck Valley Indian reservations.

Many children played and laughed together, bringing reconciliation to an area of southern Idaho fraught with a violent past.

Fort Hall native Lionel Boyer, wearing long ponytails and a cowboy hat, emceed the event, which included tug-of-war, shoe-tossing and spear-throwing games, as well as several categories of pow-wow dancing.

Lionel's daughter, Carolyn Boyer Smith, joined a group of native women in a traditional dance of subtle beauty. Alexandria Alvarez, Miss Shoshone-Bannock 2011-12, gave a talk about representing her tribe and her plans to study law.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen fared well in the spear-throwing event, but not well enough to win the first prize of a honeydew melon. That went to Mountain School wilderness instructor John DeLorenzo. Ketchum resident Rod Tatsuno danced in traditional garb alongside several Fort Hall "fancy" dancers.

Tribes once ruled the prairie

Wes Fields was born on the Camas Prairie in 1926. His grandfather had filled two railroad box cars with the family's belongings and livestock in 1906, and headed east from Colfax, Wash., to homestead near Fairfield, disembarking first in Hailey.

Fields' father was only 13 when he drove a horse team from Hailey for three days to the vast Camas Prairie to homestead 160 acres of land given to his father by the federal government.

Yet the land had been in use for many generations by Shoshone, Bannock and other tribes for hunting, fishing and the annual gathering of Camas bulbs, a staple in native diets.

Fields said he had seen Indians gathering bulbs in a wagon when he was a kid, but never approached them. Six years ago, he saw some driving to the Centennial Marsh near his house and followed them to see what they were doing.

"There were about 30 Indians," Fields said. "We had fry bread and salmon, and an elderly woman sang a prayer song before we ate and then as I was leaving."

Fields met and befriended Carolyn Boyer-Smith and Lionel Boyer. The group eventually restarted Camas Lily Days with a native component.

"This used to be all theirs," said Fields, of the Camas Prairie surrounding Fairfield.

Boyer said the event was a small taste of what is in store for attendees of the Shoshone Bannock Indian Festival at Fort Hall on Aug. 10-12.

Hundreds of teepees will be set up and thousands of dancers will gather for bareback horse racing, indigenous children's games, a community buffalo and salmon feast, fun run rodeo, pow-wow dancing, golfing and other events.

Tony Evans:

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