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"Assembly" throbs with a message for local kids


Last updated 5/23/2018 at 9:20am

James Pakootas whips up enthusiasm at an LR assembly featuring rap, plus his story. - Scott Hunter photos

To call it a "school assembly" might give you the wrong impression.

It was a rap concert at the end, but the bulk of it before the bass throbbed was all about honesty, mistakes, permanent hurt, forgiveness, letting go, and choices.

James Pakootas was on a destructive path not too long ago, until he realized he was making the wrong choices.

He told students at Lake Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, plus a few from the elementary grades, that he had chosen the wrong way to deal with the hurt he experienced as a child, but they don't have to.

Pakootas, who attended Lake Roosevelt and prided himself on his jump shot back then, had been abused as a child - physically, emotionally and sexually, he said. Dealing with that, he had chosen behaviors that made it all worse, including drinking, taking drugs and rebelling in school.

His arm dangled at his side as he told his audience Friday that it's useless, paralyzed permanently, the result of driving drunk and hitting a guard rail at 90 miles and hour.

He was arrested by the feds in Montana and sent to prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, he said.

And in Spokane one night, he drank heavily, went to a neighborhood 7-11 store and beat the clerk who wouldn't sell him more alcohol, then robbed the store. He learned of that behavior when police showed him the security tape, he said, because he had blacked out again, as he often did when drinking.

Pakootas wants to start what on many reservations could be considered a revolution of sorts, or a revival perhaps.

"This is my message, as a 35-year-old man from your own community: You can rise above anything that comes your way," he says backstage as rappers boom out a positive vibe the kids are soaking up.

With funding from several departments of the Colville Tribes, Pakootas will take this show to Nespelem Elementary, Pascal Sherman Indian School, Omak Community Center, Keller and Inchelium. LR was the first.

The show begins with the opposite of rap: a native flute played by Darren Cawston, who must face away from the audience while playing to maintain his focus. Music is a great, healing alternative to substance abuse and negativity when dealing with bad things in your life, he tells the youth.

Pakootas comes on next with his story and a graphic slide show of the car wreck that took his arm. Mia Bearcub, a junior at LR, explains some of her life as someone who had been bullied, but chooses not to take the path of substance abuse that killed her parents.

"You don't have to stay in that cycle," Pakootas says in his message. "You can break it."

That's a message he hopes can be spread to other reservations as well, where decades of alcohol and drug abuse continue to haunt struggling populations. He said he's been awarded a grant for $15,000 to help take it to the Coeur d'Alene, Kalispel, Spokane and Yakama reservations next year.

James Pakootas

"This is the beginning of something special," he tells a reporter backstage as kids scream applause for the rappers on stage, where a student has been dancing joyously. Cell phone lights wave with hands held high in rhythm to the beat put out by TS the Solution and Lew Era.

"Our youth have a voice, and they need to speak up," Pakootas says. "Pain is necessary to grow, but we need to tell them that suffering is optional. You can reach out, talk to people around you; you can cope positively with the negative things that are happening in your life."

"We are teaching our youth how to cope," Pakootas says.

The event was "impactful," said Jess Utz, who as the Pathways coordinator at LR works and talks with students every day. Students have said they'd like more events like this one, which has many of them thinking hard about choices, he said.


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