Photo Gallery: A field trip to a reservation breaks through an invisible wall

FORT HALL — In the Blackfoot School District, which has a Native American population of about 650, too many students had never been to the nearby Fort Hall Reservation or the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum.

So Blackfoot High’s Indigenous Club decided to plan a field trip.

The teens hosted fourth graders, who study Idaho history and Native Americans, so they could pair their in-class learning with real-world experiences. After all, the headquarters of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes were only a short drive away.

Still, what’s been called an “invisible wall” seemed to separate the Fort Hall and Blackfoot communities. But after months of planning, and some help from Joy Mickelsen, the district’s American Indian Education Director, these high school students brought the two worlds together for a day.

Sandra Christensen, a fourth grade teacher at Blackfoot’s Ridge Crest Elementary, said about half of her students didn’t know that the tribes are their neighbors.

“This is an amazing opportunity, so we jumped on it and wanted to be a part of it,” she said about the field trip. “It means so much more than just hearing about it from a book.”

Nivea Oliva, the Shoshone-Bannock Festival Powwow Princess and one of the teens who helped with the February field trip, said the outing was a way to reclaim education.

“Our grandparents and sometimes parents went through the boarding schools, and that created generational trauma. They stopped us from using our language, they took away every part of us,” she said. “So now we are working to help heal ourselves and learn our culture.”

Here are some glimpses into the activities the fourth graders participated in, from spear throwing to crafts to traditional games.

Learning about culture: A visit to the museum

All fourth graders got to visit the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum, where Manager Rosemary Devinney shared some of her knowledge about treaties, tribal government, and the tribes in Idaho with students.

Students took notes so they later could participate in an essay contest sponsored by Blackfoot High’s Indigenous Club.

Students looked at displays showcasing traditional dress, food sources, beadwork, and customs.


Jessica First, an Indian Education para-educator for the Blackfoot School District, said all students benefited from the trip: “It’s extremely important for Indigenous kids to learn their history and for non-Indigenous kids to have more knowledge of their neighbors. It helps them have a better understanding of each other.”


Sharing a culture: Students learn spear-throwing, powwow dancing, traditional games, Shoshoni words and more

After the museum visit, students went on a tour of Fort Hall, then went to a local event center. They learned traditional activities like spear-throwing, which was historically a skill that Native American boys practiced. Below, students try to hit a target as an Indigenous Club member looks on and provides tips.


“A lot of these kids, even the ones who live on the reservation, don’t know about these games … This is a good chance to teach Idaho history from a Native American perspective.” — Michelle Hernandez, Indian Education Paraeducator, Blackfoot School District

Shinny stick game

Shinny is a traditional game for girls that’s similar to field hockey. Check out a short video of the game here.

Rock throwing

Rock throwing was another traditional girls’ game. In this short video, girls try to hit a target with their rocks. Bailey Dann, an Indian Education para-educator, helped show the students how to play and said the field trip was a “powerful way to engage students who might not have the opportunity to engage in place-based learning.”

“We get to hear from communities who don’t normally get to share their perspective,” she said.

Rock juggling

Michelle Hernandez, an Indian Education para-educator for the Blackfoot School District, teaches students about rock juggling, another game traditionally played by girls. “All we used to have to play with were sticks and rocks,” she said.

“We want to show our culture so they respect us more. The more they know, the better.” — Dacree Coby, Blackfoot High student.

Powwow dancing and Shoshoni words

Student members of the Indigenous Club taught kids a few words in Shoshoni and showed them some traditional powwow dances.

Dacree Coby, in the blue traditional dress, said playing games and being active helps students remember lessons better.

“We want to show our culture so they respect us more,” she said. “The more they know, the better.”

Traditional crafts: The God’s Eye

Students also learned how to make a God’s Eye, a traditional Shoshone-Bannock craft that can be given to loved ones to protect them.

Below are photos of a student’s finished God’s Eye.

Josie Raya, Miss Blackfoot High, was one of the teens who helped teach students about Shoshone-Bannock life and culture. “We want to share our culture, heritage, and traditions, and show how life is for Native Americans, and that we’re thriving,” she said.

This story is part of a series that was made possible with a generous grant from the Education Writers Association.

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday

Still Here | Tribes fight to be seen in Idaho classrooms

About this series

Reporter Carly Flandro set out to answer this question: What most helps Native American students succeed?

She logged more than a thousand miles to visit four of Idaho’s five reservations from the Kootenai Reservation (near the Canadian border) to the Fort Hall reservation (adjacent to her hometown of Pocatello). Carly talked with tribal officials, school leaders, teachers and students.

Two answers emerged:

  1. Students need more Native American teachers in the classroom ...
  2. And more Native American perspectives and voices in the curriculum.

This series takes a look at the people and organizations who are cultivating those two ingredients for student success. At stake: elevating students who are too often overlooked and ensuring they have equitable access to bright futures.

These stories were supported with a generous grant from the Education Writers Association.

Here’s the reporting by the numbers:

Miles traveled: 1,265
Reservations visited: Fort Hall, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai
Schools visited: 9
Classrooms visited: 11


Shoshone-Bannock (Newe)

Get to know the tribes: 

  • Their own bison herd: The tribes own a bison herd of about 500, keeping alive a connection to an animal with great cultural and historical significance.
  • Bareback horse racing: Every year, the tribes host an “Indian Relay racing” event to honor a sport that originated with the Shoshone-Bannock people; it involves a rider making three laps around a racetrack, jumping bareback onto a new horse each time. Three other team members keep horses calm, catch the incoming horse, and prepare the next horse for the rider.
  • Cultural event of the year: The relay races are just one part of the annual Shoshone Bannock Indian Festival, which also includes dancing, drumming, parades, traditional games, an art show, a rodeo, bull riding, and a buffalo and salmon feast.
  • Visit the Shoshone-Bannock tribes’ website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers:

  • Shoshone-Bannock Jr./Sr. High: About 150 Native American students attend this 6-12 grade school, which is one of two Idaho schools run by tribal governments. It is located on the Fort Hall Reservation.
  • Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy: 126 students (all of whom are Native American) attend this K-7 charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation. The school focuses on Shoshoni language and cultural immersion.
  • Blackfoot school district: According to the State Department of Education, 394 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 10% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 600-650 Native American students, comprising about 16% of the population. 
  • Pocatello-Chubbuck school district: According to the SDE, 420 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 3.5% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 846 Native American students, comprising about 7% of the population. 

Nez Perce

Nez Perce (Nimiipuu)

Get to know the tribe:

  • Chief Joseph: When the U.S. government forced the Nez Perce to move to the existing reservation, Chief Joseph led his tribe on a long trek to Canada to escape. However, they surrendered in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, just 40 miles from Canada. “I will fight no more forever,” he said. His people were sent to reservations in Oklahoma, then Washington. The tribe is now located in north Idaho.
  • Saving the Snake River: The tribe’s Salmon Orca Project is dedicated to restoring the Snake River by removing its lower dams. The goal: protecting salmon and other fish — and the orcas who depend on them.
  • Energy self-reliance: Nimiipuu Energy, a tribally-owned energy cooperative, is working on creating a cross-country, tribal network of alternative energy sources. Along with Project 5311, they aim to replace the energy “Bonneville Power claims the dams provide.”
  • Tribal hemp farms: The tribe supports hemp farmers growing within the reservation boundaries. They aim to “create a viable hemp system that promotes tribal sovereignty and provides business opportunity to tribal farmers and land owners.”
  • Visit the Nez Perce tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: .

  • Lapwai School District: According to the State Department of Education, 387 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 76% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 479 Native American students, comprising about 92% of the population.

Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene (Schitsu’umsh)

Get to know the tribe:

  • American heroes: Coeur d’Alene tribal members have served in every major U.S. conflict since WWII: “Brave men and women of our tribal families have landed on the shores of Normandy, and served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
  • Cleaning up the Coeur d’Alene watershed: In 1991, the tribe filed a lawsuit to force restoration of the Coeur d’Alene watershed, where the mining industry dumped 72 million tons of waste into the water over a hundred-year period. Today, the Silver Valley is “the nation’s second largest Superfund site.” The tribe is among the entities leading cleanup efforts: “We do it not just for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, but for everybody.”
  • A casino, farms, and wellness center: The tribe owns the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, which employs about 500 people and generates about $20 million in profits annually. The 6,000-acre tribal farm produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola. And the tribe’s wellness center includes a medical facility that “has evolved to be a national model for both Indian health care and rural health care.”
  • Visit the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: .

  • Coeur d’Alene Tribal School: All of the school’s approximately 100 K-8 students are Native American. This is one of two Idaho schools run by tribal governments. It is located in DeSmet, on the southern end of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.
  • Plummer-Worley School District: 159 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 46% of the district’s student population.


Kootenai (Ktunaxa) 

Get to know the tribe:

  • Montana/Canada connection: The U.S.-Canadian border “split the Kootenai people into seven communities — the Kootenai tribe of Idaho, as well as bands and tribes at several locations in British Columbia and Montana.”
  • Saving the sturgeon: The Kootenai River white sturgeon was listed as an endangered species in 1994. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, state and federal agencies, and the Bonneville Power Administration, have worked to recover this species. The tribe also has its own sturgeon hatchery.
  • A 1974 war for land and services: In 1974, the then 67 members of the tribe declared war on the United States, which had threatened to sell the tribe’s land even though it had not signed a treaty. The war was peaceful, non-violent, and lasted only a few days. The government allocated 12.5 acres to the tribe, provided roads, a sewer, and city water, and access to education, employment, and social development funding.
  • Visit the Kootenai tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: 

  • Boundary County School District: The district has 37 Native American students, making up about 2.6% of its population.


Shoshone-Paiute (Numu)

Get to know the tribe:

  • The 101 Ranch: The tribes own and operate a cattle and crops ranch, known as the Wilson/101 Ranch. The property totals 938 acres and includes a ranch house, outbuildings, corrals, a barn, feedlot, and holding corrals.
  • Wetlands and a reservoir: The nearly-290,000 acre Duck Valley Reservation includes more than 22,000 acres of wetlands and the Wildhorse Reservoir, built in 1936 for irrigation. Today, the tribes maintain several camping areas at the reservoir.
  • Rainbow trout fisheries: Anglers can try their luck at Lake Billy Shaw, Mountain View Reservoir, and Sheep Creek Reservoir. The Owyhee River is also open to fishing (fishing permits are required for all).
  • Visit the Shoshone-Paiute tribes’ website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: 

  • Owyhee Combined School: This K-12 school serves 277 Native American students, who comprise about 92% of its student population. The school is located on the Duck Valley Reservation and serves Idaho students and tribes.