In the late 1800s, the United States government opened several off-reservation
boarding schools, intending to assimilate Native American children into
"It was a very dark period," says Philip Klasky, a lecturer
in the American Indian studies department. "Indian children were
taken from their homes and sent to schools where they were forbidden
to speak their own language."
Among the children were members of the Southern Paiute Indian tribe
sent to the Sherman Indian High School in Riverside. "Sherman was
infamous for poor health conditions, and many children died there of
tuberculosis," Klasky says.
Although the Southern Paiute children were buried in the school's cemetery,
in their descendants' eyes they were never truly laid to rest. The family
members the children had left behind weren't present to administer the
tribal ceremony believed to set their spirits on their sacred journey
-- singing a cycle of 142 songs.
Last summer Klasky and American Indian studies Assistant Professor Melissa
Nelson gathered with tribe members at the Riverside cemetery to record
the long overdue ceremony. The resulting film, "The Salt Song Trail:
Bringing Creation Back Together," will stand as a record for future
generations of the Southern Paiute people.
The project is one of many that Klasky and Nelson are working on through
the The Cultural Conservancy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit with educational
programs focused on native land conservation, cultural and ecological
restoration, and traditional indigenous arts and spiritual values. This
summer Klasky and Nelson will lead workshops in audio recording techniques
at reservations in the South West so that American Indian culture won't
slip through the cracks of history.
"Some tribal elders have whole dictionaries stored in their head,
epic poetry, important traditions that might otherwise be lost forever,"
"The Salt Song Trail: Bringing Creation Back Together" will
premiere at The Cultural Conservancy's 20th anniversary celebration
-- Adrianne Bee