Before he demonstrated how a gill net helps feed his people, David Gensaw Sr. conveyed a message he summed up in a single word — respect.
Gensaw, a long-time fisherman on the Klamath River, described harvesting sturgeon, eel, eulachon and salmon to youngsters at Margaret Keating Elementary School on Friday.
As a kid, he said, his family would catch eulachon by the tubful, thinking there would never be an end to the tiny smelt that's also known as candlefish because if caught, dried and strung on a wick it can burn like a candle.
"Those fish are gone now," Gensaw said of the eulachon. "We don't want that to happen to our salmon."
Gensaw's presentation about gill nets was one of seven on the Yurok culture for the school's annual Au Minot Day celebration.
David Severns showed students the components that make up the people's regalia including bald eagle and California condor feathers, otter, mink and fisher pelts as well as what they looked like when completed.
Yurok language teacher Robert R. Kinney led Elsie Wilder's kindergarten class through a performance of "Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See," the youngsters translating Eric Carle's words into Yurok and American Sign Language.
Sammy and Peter Gensaw, Flint Donahue and other members of the youth-led nonprofit organization, the Ancestral Guard, gave a presentation on basketry and drums.
Peter Gensaw noting that Donahue was playing a square drum while singing a traditional gambling song, said Yurok men use the square drum to sing about how they feel. This includes love songs and "cry songs," he said.
"It all depends how we feel inside," Peter Gensaw said. "We can project it out to our listeners."
Northern Californian tribes are the only tribes to have a square drum, Peter Gensaw said, the four sides representing the four sacred directions — up river, downriver, up the coast and down the coast. Having graduated from Margaret Keating School, he said he's happy to play a part in teaching the next generation the Yurok's traditional customs.
"It's an awesome sight to actually get to teach the youth," Peter Gensaw said.
Au Minot Day is a cultural celebration that Wilder and then-principal Jim McQuillen, now director of the Yurok Tribe's Education Department, started at Margaret Keating about 17 years ago. Loosely translated, Au Minot means "valley of the creeks," McQuillen said, noting there are six creeks that flow through the valley that houses the elementary school.
Though that Del Norte Unified School District partners with the Yurok Tribe to bring several cultural presentations to Margaret Keating, McQuillen said Au Minot Day is a largely a culmination of what students have learned over the year. It also helps students realize that one day they will be managing the natural and cultural resources their elders are speaking of, he said.
"We've been here thousands of years," McQuillen said. "We've been through a lot — historical trauma, invasion and cultural changes that people have gone through. Yurok Culture has endured. It's still alive and well."
McQuillen pointed to efforts from the tribe to enhance hunting and gathering grounds for its people as well as to reintroduce a California condor population to its ancestral land.
Meanwhile, in addition to making sure Margaret Keating students are connected with their culture, Sunset High School students have also participated in Au Minot Day.
According to Wilder, the alternative school's native students had wanted to learn more about their culture. Eventually, Sunset Principal Tony Fabricius decided to bring the whole school to Klamath, Wilder said.
She noted the presentation from Donahue was special because he is a Sunset High School student who graduated early this year.
"It's made those connections with some of those schools," she said. "We're an odd combination, Sunset and Margaret Keating, but it works."
McQuillen noted connecting the younger generation to their culture makes them more confident in who they are.
"It's OK to be successful in both worlds. (We) bring that confidence they have with the culture into the classroom," he said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .