We Dare Tell
Interview with Victor Charlo
What's your name?
What's your profession?
I'm a counselor, a teacher, a poet and a playwright
and I still do a lot of things. I was the third principal
at Two Eagle River School and as a matter of fact I
named the school. I want you guys to remember that.
What made you decide to name it Two Eagle
Well, at one point we were really looking for a
name. There were several groups trying to come up
with a name for the school and nothing stuck, one name that was proposed was U U. Anyway, one day our group got together and someone said that we had to name the school, and I'd been thinking about it for days and finally I said well how about Two Eagle River School, and my group said wow, that's really great let's take it down to the big group and see what they say and so we did and that's how it came to be.
What made you think of that name?
Well across the river from where the school was first located there's an Eagle Tree that's still there today. When we first started the school it was rare that you ever saw an eagle on that tree, but every now and again you'd see one, though we'd often have debates about whether it was an eagle or an Osprey, but when you saw the white head and tail you knew it was an eagle. When I was coming here today there were two eagles there, one on the tree and one that was flying. I'm always impressed anytime I see an eagle, well that's my name, I'm chet le ski e me and that means three eagles. Don't ask me how to spell that, my daughter April is the one who could spell that for you, she teaches Salish.
How long ago did you name the school?
Well the school just had a 30 year celebration of some kind not too long ago so it's been at least 30 years ago.
If you could change anything about the school now, what would you change?
It's been a long time since I've seen how the school operates? I like the intent, you guys still work on points right?
We started that, and we really liked that concept. As far as the points and the credits go, I like the way that works if it still works the way we intended it to and I think it does.
Do you know why the school got moved from its original location?
Well there were two locations in Dixon where the school was. The first one was by the river, that's all been destroyed now. And the second one was at the tribal offices, it was a pretty nice building but it was getting old and it had been used for a long time, so people were hoping that maybe someday we could get a new school. When this spot became available they decided this would be a good place to have the school because it's more centrally located than Dixon was.
How did you become a principal at Two Eagle River School?
Well they were looking for some innovative teachers in those days so I guess I was one of the innovative teachers. I was doing a lot of stuff in those days. So they had me come in and I interviewed and there were two people that they wanted and they couldn't pick between the two of us so they took both of us. At that point I was just one of the teachers, I was the English teacher I was the only English teacher we had in those days, we were lucky to have teachers, Clarice, your principal, was one of the first teachers here too. I really liked it, I really liked what we were doing. It was hard though because in those first couple of years we had to decide what we were going to teach and how we were going to teach it and that's how this whole system of points got started.
How long were you principal?
I think it was two or two and a half years.
Why did you leave?
Well at that point they were cutting positions and I was one of the ones that got cut. And so while I was waiting around for something to happen I got an offer to go to Gonzaga University in Spokane on a full ride scholarship, so I said why not and that's where I got my masters degree. I also started a doctorate there but I didn't finish it. The masters degree is in administration and curriculum.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Evaro. Just before you start down Evaro hill, we lived right on the edge of the reservation there. That's where I went to grade school and high school, that was home all my life.
What's your tribal affiliation?
I'm confederated Salish and Kootenai. I'm from this tribe, but I call myself a Bitterroot Salish.
Do you have any kids?
Yes, I have four children. Mary, Claire, April who teaches Salish here and Martin, my youngest. And I have grandchildren too. Iris and Haley are Mary's children. Sarah Joan is Claire's baby and Martin has a little baby named Lovely Rose. I thought that was a pretty clever name.
I have some books here that maybe you'd like to look at. This one, called Swift Current Time, is a collection of my poetry. Dancing on the Rim of The World, is an anthology of poems that I'm included in. This one is a limited edition with photographs of Tribal Dancers from this reservation which the author asked me to put a poem in. And I think you may have seen this one, this one the tribe put together and they asked me if I'd be in the book and I said heck yeah.
So this is what I do. I've got another book coming out sometime this summer, and then I'll have a definitive work coming of everything I've ever written we're trying to put that together because, and see I didn't know this but I guess I'm getting kind of famous, whatever that means and I'm kind of proud of that.
Victor A. Charlo, an elder of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a direct descendent of the chiefs who signed the historic Hellgate Treaty. Born and raised on the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, Vic writes poems about reservation life and people, his family, and his journeys with researcher Chuck Jonkel to visit the polar bears near the Arctic Circle. Vic earned degrees at the University of Montana and Gonzaga University. In addition to his poems, he has written and produced plays which examine Native American life and mythologies. The new theatre building at Salish Kootenai College was named in honor of Vic Charlo. Vic resides in Old Agency, near Dixon, Montana.
Victor Charlo is the proud father of four children and many grandchildren. His youngest daughter, April, has translated three of her father's poems into the native Salish language. She has written, in Put Sey (Good Enough), an introductory essay to her father's life and works. She tells the history of her family, how her grandparents thought it best that their children attend the white man's schools and learn English. Consequently, Victor Charlo and many other children in his generation were discouraged from learning their native tongue. As a child, April Charlo understood the sadness of her family's withering traditions. "In school I watched a movie about Indian boarding schools," April writes,"and the terrible fates the children encountered if they spoke their native tongue. I was horrified by the truth. And so, I pledged to learn Salish and do what I could to help the language survive."