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Indian tribe waiting to open new gym

Basketball in Hung-a-lel-ti is played without the luxury of uniforms or even a gym.

White t-shirts turned inside out – the numbers drawn on with permanent markers – substitute for uniforms.

A concrete half-court is their playing field.



Residents of Hung-a-lel-ti are searching for ways to outfit their children in new jerseys so they can look like other kids when they play inside their soon-to-be-built gymnasium.

“It’s been a dream of ours for years,” said Manda Vann, program assistant at the Woodfords Indian Education Center. “All of our kids love sports.”



According to Manda, the community council requested funds for a family wellness center because , as she said, “No one funds gyms anymore.” The project topped the council’s list of priorities. “Even the elders graciously allowed their projects to wait,” said Kate Macartney, program director at the Woodfords Indian Education Center.

The community has already received a $550,000 grant to build a gymnasium (wellness center), but discovered the amount only paid for a concrete playing floor without bathrooms. An additional $70,000 would replace concrete floors with vinyl and provide bathrooms. Manda said the community is contacting the Nike foundation to ask for help to complete the project.

Children represent the heart of Hung-a-lel-ti. Conversations with community members often turn toward the education center. The building houses both the Headstart program, which helps prepare children for kindergarten. It also provides a location for tutoring, various academic programs, and computer and library facilities for students.

“We wouldn’t be here without the education center,” Manda said.

“We’re really cut off, that’s why this program is really vital here,” said Bernie Combs, headstart teacher.

A large multi-purpose room filled with toys and three computer terminals are put to constant use by the Headstart children. Combs said the program works largely because it relies heavily on parent involvement.

“The ideal would be that I am an American Indian, but on the other hand I’m a Caucasian and I care about them,” said Combs, “We emphasize differences and similarities.”

“I hope they all make it through high school and go on to college,” Combs said.

Diamond Valley Elementary School is the next stop for Hung-a-lel-ti youngsters.

“They’re doing their job down (in Woodfords),” said Kelly Welykholowa, the kindergarten teacher at Diamond Valley.

Manda’s mom Katherine Walker, works with 7th, 8th, and 9th-graders on a portfolio project that helps parents and students track grades and areas of concern.

Manda and Kate Macartney, the program director, said that 10 years ago the high school graduation rate was 10 percent. The last three out of four years that rate has soared to 100 percent.

“When everything isn’t handed to you on a silver plate it’s hard,” Manda said.

Wanting to pursue her college career, Manda is researching online degree programs that others could access. Being far removed from institutions of higher education poses a problem to Hung-a-lel-ti residents who don’t have transportation.

“We want to provide choices,” Manda said.

Bev Jeans, principal at Douglas High School, said the Hung-a-lel-ti children offer diversity to what would otherwise be a mostly white school.

“They are great kids,” Jeans said, “I am happy they are here.”

To have an all-white school would be a disaster, according to Jeans.

“We are pleased to have a diverse makeup,” she said,”We teach tolerance and respect for differences.”

Jeans goes to the reservation every six weeks to interact with parents. She discusses proficiency tests and identifies areas of study their children should be concentrating on. Jeans wants to send the message, “I care enough about your kids to come to you.

“That way if there is a problem (the parents) will come here,” she added. “While I am there I learn about their culture. I am treated with nothing but respect.

“There is tremendous support from the tribe to help (the children) be successful.”

Every spring the whole Washoe tribe holds a special dinner to celebrate its students education.

“In interacting with them, they are a tribe, because of that they support each other,” Jeans observed. “We as white people don’t have that.”


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