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Riham Feshir, Forum Communications Co., Published October 25 2010

Club aims to put youth on different path

WHITE EARTH, Minn. – Cece Chavez stood on a table at the Pine Point Boys and Girls Club, pointing at some pictures and identifying them.

The 3-year-old, however, had a hard time pronouncing “omakaakii,” “waawaashkeshi” and “manidoons.” The Ojibwe translations for frog, deer and bug were written right on the photos to remind Cece and her fellow Boys and Girls Club members of their native tongue.

The Pine Point Boys and Girls Club’s ultimate goal is to keep kids out of gang activity, teach them American Indian language and culture, and provide a hangout spot after school.

For nearly five years, the Boys and Girls Club, located in the heart of the village as a part of the community center, attracts an average of 35 kids on a typical afternoon.

Funded through the White Earth Tribal Council, the Boys and Girls Club is a result of the collaboration between a number of volunteers and government employees who provide transportation and organize various kids’ activities.

“We try to get active with the community, and the community tries to get active with us,” said Unit Lead Shane Bellanger.

In addition to providing crafts, games, field trips and homework help, the Boys and Girls Club tries to emphasize native culture.

About 99 percent of the kids are Native American, Bellanger said.

And because the Ojibwe language seems to be disappearing from the reservation, with only about 10 people left who speak it fluently, Bellanger said there needs to be more focus on teaching and retaining it.

“So the kids don’t lose their heritage and their background or where they come from,” Bellanger said.

Despite the continuous cultural programs and events taking place in one of the largest tribes in Minnesota, the next generation still needs more, he added.

Oftentimes, the Boys and Girls Club invites drumming, dance and native art teachers to visit the kids.

“They’re starting to get it now – where they do come from,” Bellanger said.

The large space is recovering from a break-in that happened this summer; electronics, movies and games were stolen.

It was the third burglary and exactly the type of troubled activity from which leaders are trying to keep kids away.

“Some of the kids said, ‘Why would they steal our stuff?’ ” Bellanger recalled from Boys and Girls Club members.

The Pine Point School, along with the Boys and Girls Clubs, has been enforcing stricter no-violence policies with successful outcomes, Bellanger said.

Even as young as 8, 10 or 11 years old, the children are at risk of being sucked into groups they may later realize they don’t want to be a part of.

Bellanger said providing a safe and fun environment has paid off. For example, a 12-year-old boy who admitted he was part of a gang is now a regular member of the club after realizing he didn’t want to throw his life away.

“We told him, if you go down a certain path, you would end up in jail, prison,” Bellanger said. “Make something out of your life instead of being in a gang.”

Riham Feshir is a writer for the Detroit Lakes News Tribune