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The Last Link - The Next Link

By Jennifer Burden Special from the Buffalo Bulletin July, 2011 Tim Kahn set out to tell the story of Basque immigration, a dying culture and a journey to the roots of that culture. During his voyage, Kahn discovered his connection to the culture would take him and those that witnessed his journey further then he imagined possible. The Beginning Kahn’s journey began years ago when he discovered a connection to the Basque culture during a trip to France as a junior in college. “Studying in France gave me an appreciation for the sheepherding culture that existed in the Pyrenees,” said Kahn. “Later, when I got married, I persuaded my wife to go with me and continue studying the culture. We spent a summer at 8,000 feet with sheepherders.” As Kahn began his career teaching French, he integrated in his presentation to the students a sense of what was important to the shepherds. “One shepherd told me the most precious gifts we are given is the land, the water and the air,” said Kahn. “As I would talk about the shepherds each year with the students, I became more and more convinced that the shepherds understood in extremely basic, yet profound terms what we needed to work on with our own environment.” Feeling the need to communicate this message to a larger audience than just his students, Kahn contemplated writing a book. “Raising a family took a lot of time,” said Kahn. “I have two children, and I had a full time job.” As time passed, it appeared that writing a book wasn’t in the cards for Kahn, but it turns out telling a story was. “I had no idea our son would become a film producer and director,” said Kahn. “During one of my trips to France with students we were staying in a village where my wife and I had worked. One night I heard a young shepherd was singing. It was really moving.” It was so moving to Kahn that he called his son, Ben, and asked him if there was any way they could produce a film on the Basque culture and sheepherding community. “He said yes, and at that moment he gave me permission to think about a dream,” said Kahn. “From that point forward, I started doing research. What led me to Buffalo was really interesting.” A teacher at a university in France invited Kahn to help him trace the immigration from France to the United States of sheepherders in the early 1900s. Kahn discovered Basques in his hometown in California. “Then I wondered if anyone was still in sheepherding,” said Kahn. “In talking to a former shepherd, he said I would find a guy named Pete Camino in Buffalo, Wyo. who is Basque and who was still sheepherding.” Kahn tracked Camino down over the phone, got in his car and drove to Buffalo to meet him. Following their initial meeting, Kahn was invited to come back and film Camino bringing his sheep down from the mountains. It was October 2001, and it was the beginning of the dream. The Travels It was during that trail ride when Camino revealed to Kahn a dream of his. “He said he wanted to see France before he died,” said Kahn. “At that point, I believe he was 82. I looked at Ben and later that night, we said, ‘here’s our story.’” Camino was born in Johnson County. He’d never been to Europe, but his parents were born there and immigrated to the United States. “They got married here in Buffalo,” said Camino. “Both of them came from the old country. One was on the Spanish side one was on the French side. A little old creek separated them.” Camino’s parents married in the United States, bought a ranch northwest of Buffalo and raised two children. Though Camino grew up listening to stories of the old country, he had never traveled to France and Spain. “He had never seen the land of his roots,” said Kahn. “The story is taking Pete and his family members to France. For him, I guess the trip to France was kind of like the last link in a chain that began when his parents came to the United States and particularly Wyoming.” Kahn said the last link is also about the wonderful, vibrant people in Johnson County who have been there for years and represent an energy he felt in the Pyrenees as a young man at the age of 20. “I rediscovered in Buffalo that energy. That vitality,” said Khan. “It was kind of completing my quest that had begun when I said we have to do something with this material we gathered.” The Next Link “We really feel that when your community loses a Basque member, it’s like a library disappearing because of the oral history,” said Khan. “The knowledge, when that disappears, what replaces it?” Following the premier of the film, Kahn said he felt a responsibility to give students a sense of place and a sense of community. “A lot of students don’t feel like they belong,” said Kahn. “We need to strive to give them a sense of place and a sense of responsibility. Connection and responsibility, just like the sheepherders said to me.” The next link in the chain for Kahn was an educational initiative. “‘The Last Link’ was translated into an education initiative that didn’t make it the end,” said Kahn. “It is the next link so the lessons of the shepherds don’t die with the shepherds. They go on and on.” Kahn, with contributions from other educators, students, community leaders and people in agriculture chose to name the educational component “The Next Link: Building Sustainable Communities.” With this initiative, the film evolved beyond a documentary. It became an educational project that involved communities in the design. A manual was assembled that would become key to the project. It housed a list of activities educators could utilize with the youth in their community to fabricate connection and contribution. “I believe our young people are the source of our future, a rich future,” said Kahn. “The potential they possess to be involved and help shape society is enormous. They just need to realize they have that potential. They realize it by acting and by getting involved.” Because of the film, communities started implementing their version of a sustainable community. “A particular elementary school in Vermont had students work on cleaning up the forest next to the school, making it accessible to kids like themselves,” said Kahn. “The film motivated some teachers to connect kids to the land and connect the land to the schools.” At the high school level, Kahn has established a connection between the students and a group of senior citizens. “It’s that idea of connecting. It’s their place, and they develop that sense of community,” said Kahn. “The film fits this idea of connecting kids to community. I know certain teachers who saw it and worked on programs to connect kids to international communities.” The connection. Narrator Willie Nelson ends the film by posing a question to the audience. “What stand are we willing to take to preserve for the future the roots of our past?” “Teachers and community members who saw the film took that question and decided to see what they could do to preserve for their children and grand children the roots that we have been given from the past,” said Kahn. “We are saving communities for our children, saving the environment for our children and certainly saving our local farms.” These questions and actions stem from a story about somebody retracing their roots Pete Camino finding where his family came from in Europe, standing in the villages where his mother and father grew up. “He has completed that last link,” said Kahn.

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