The glue cooking in the rock, four sturgeons’ worth, may be an apt metaphor for the deep cultural connections shared by longtime campers. Mr. Severns refers to them as “my boys,” even though many are in their mid-20s and some have children of their own, whose tiny wet footprints crisscross the sand. (Mothers and wives are present, especially on weekends, but women are not allowed to touch men’s regalia and vice versa.)
Each spring, Mr. Severns and the young men erect the camp from logs that have washed downstream during winter rains. Soon, the stretch of river known as “Blake’s Ripple,” for his maternal great-grandfather, springs to frenetic life. It’s a place where finely-crafted cedar boxes holding eagle and condor feathers are hollowed out with an adze, and brothers braid each others’ hair.
The camp is subsidized with about $4,000 in annual disbursements that Ms. Severns receives as an Alaska Native, along with elk, deer and groceries donated by tribal well-wishers.
Mr. Severns comes from a family of regalia makers. His grandmother lived in a traditional plank house and would send him off for several days to do chores for elders, which taught him the value of kindness, he said. He draws out prospective campers: “The brother who looks after the little brother. The boy who catches fish and is happy to give them up.”
Mr. Severns’s sister, Lorraine Taggart, 50, spent hours with a paring knife scraping the pitch off pine nuts, a prized dress ornament.
“You wear your culture,” said Melissa Nelson, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa who is an associate professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and president of the Cultural Conservancy, a native-led indigenous rights organization. “Young people are hungry for meaning,” she added. “The opportunity to do hands-on work with…