Cayle Diefenbach, Preserver of Native American Heritage
By Kasey Dallman, AKOM Editor
Quote of the Month
“It is important to study our heritage and culture because it connects us with who we are.”
“It is better to know who you are and where you are going than let someone else tell you or lead you in the wrong direction.”
– Cayle Diefenbach, 16 year old preserver of Native American Heritage
Cayle Diefenbach has been preserving history for almost half of his life. At the age of 16, Cayle works with the Colville Tribal Language Program to interpret existing books into the native language and also does surveying work to record native artifacts. Cayle understands the importance of preserving history. If you have ever wanted to learn more about cultures and want to make a difference, then Cayle’s story is perfect for you!
Cayle has always been eager to learn. “There were many subjects that I was interested in and when I found something that I liked I read everything that I could get my hands on regarding the subject,” he explained. When he was 10 years old, Cayle started to become more interested in what was going on around him. In middle school and high school, Cayle started taking Salish classes to learn the native language. “Then one summer I got serious and started working for our Tribal Language Program in Omak through the Summer Youth Program,” Cayle explained. “In studying the language I am learning and preserving the words my ancestors spoke.”
Cayle preserves his history in multiple ways. One way he does this is by interpreting books such as Dick and Jane back into the native language. He also works with the Colville Tribal History and Archeology program to identify, log and document artifacts. “When I work for the archaeology department, I am recording our material history, finding things that the people before me made and used in everyday life,” said Cayle. “My favorite part about working with the artifacts is in the knowing that somebody some amount of years ago cared enough to sit down for a length of time and make the object.”
Learning about the past
While Cayle does a lot of hands on work to preserve history he also finds time to research his heritage in other ways. “My main resource is going and talking to elders about things like that. They know more about the history and language than could ever be recorded,” said Cayle.
He also reads a lot of books about his culture. “My favorite is a case study done in the mid 1900s. It was written by a man who went around and actually was able to talk to the old ones about what life was like, what occasions they remember, and major changes that shook the foundations of their lives.
In doing archaeological work on his own tribe, Cayle has learned a lot about his past. “We mainly used wood and reeds in our construction, as well as in baskets,” said Cayle. “What remain mostly are stone tools and family heirlooms that have been passed down through the generations.”
When Cayle worked at the Archaeology department he was a field specialist who would hike miles a day surveying the land for artifacts. “Sometimes we would go through where an old campsite would be; sometimes we would walk across mountain ridges looking for sites of spiritual importance,” said Cayle.
Cayle has come to recognize that everyone is made up of many different cultures. “We are all intertwined within so many different cultures that we don’t even notice,” he said. “Most of the time they are just small, little things, like the video gamer culture, a local geographical culture, or a sports culture, and they can be huge like the Native American, Hispanic, or White culture, but they are still very significant in our daily lives and affect what we do and how we see the world around us.”
By studying and tracing his past, Cayle has been able to take part in incredible experiences. He was a recent speaker at the TEDx conference in Redmond, Washington, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers present lectures and performances. Cayle’s speech was on the importance of learning and preserving your culture and heritage. “The most rewarding part was meeting all of the other (speakers) that were there, and also being able to talk to the many people that were watching was pretty cool,” said Cayle.
This summer Cayle will also be participating in an Earthwatch Fellowship “Southwestern Earth and Skies Through Time”, where he will study geology sites. He will also be a student intern at the Tribal History and Archaeology department.
In his free time, Cayle likes rodeo, wrestling, and playing video games!
Almost a senior in high school, Cayle is already taking college classes through his school’s Running Start program. “I want to major in Archaeology,” he said. Cayle has many options and paths he can take. For now he hopes to bring his culture into the spotlight. “I would like to see a Native American history class offered at the high school at some point,” said Cayle.
Cayle also hopes that other people know and study their culture. “It is important for young people to know more about their culture because it basically defines who they are.” One of the best ways to do this is to “Go talk to and get to know the elders in your family and community. They know more stories and historical knowledge than you can imagine,” said Cayle.