If you ask around about the big Intertribal Elders Gathering, to which thousands of native and non-native people from all over the Pacific Northwest flock every year, you'll hear again and again, "You should talk to André."
Fifty-two-year-old André Cramblit has long waves of gray hair and an occasional sly smile. And he has had his hands in the gathering for 20 years. It's a natural fit, given that the packed day of traditional dances, music and art by a host of tribes is a chance to not only honor senior community members, but to share and perpetuate living culture.
Cramblit is a member of the Karuk Tribe and grew up with elders speaking the Karuk language. He is active in cultural dances and, as chairman of the Karuk Language Restoration Committee, works to ensure people continue to learn and use the language.
"André has given his adult life as a native educator," says Terry Supahan, executive director of True North Organization Network. "In the tradition of his mom, education and its pursuit is a solemn and sacred journey. ... She gave up a lot of her own life so that her boys could have a better life than she knew, and she wanted the kind of education for her children that expectations are built upon."
Though some people questioned why he would leave Humboldt County, that education took Cramblit to Dartmouth College, which was both a great opportunity and a culture shock. Cramblit wrote of his experience:
"Landing in the middle of the luxurious Ivy League was an eye opener coming from my modest upbringing. My roommate was the son of a president of a prestigious East Coast university. He was paying his own way through college with the dividends on stocks and bonds his grandparents bought him when he was born. Needless to say that this was quite different than the massive financial aid package I received from the college, $150 saved from my summer job and the handful of food stamps my mom thrust in my hands before I got on the bus."
After Dartmouth, he came back to Humboldt County to develop successful grant-related programs at the North Coast Indian Development Council, where he worked for two decades.
Over the years, Cramblit has worked as a disc-jockey and then a program director at a radio station in Hoopa, and written numerous articles about Native American issues. These include a tongue-in-cheek advice column called "Dr. Coyote," in which he advised against health food and offered a mail order kit to help wanna-be Native Americans become "indigenous lite." But education has remained a constant.
Cramblit earned a teaching degree from Humboldt State University and, in fact, much of his work has been with schools and within the education system. As retired educator Sally Biggin notes, "He has been a respected leader in the California Indian Education Association and encouraged our classroom teachers to do a better job in meeting the needs of our native students."
And now Cramblit is trying something new. His new job as health promotion education manager at United Indian Health Services will have him developing educational activities and writing and managing grants.
And, of course, he'll be at the annual Intertribal Elders Gathering on Nov. 12, setting up, tearing down and filling in wherever he's needed. The nine local tribes and dozens more from out of the area will be represented, and hundreds will sit down for a traditional turkey dinner (the current salmon shortage has taken it off the menu this year). The noon meal is free to those 55 and older (donations appreciated), children are $4 and other adults are $8.