Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 11, 2000 - Issue 05

New Dawn Dancers Also Learn About Nature
by Mary Pierpoint Indian Country Today correspondent

For more than six years Bruce and Lee Ann Martin have been teaching Indian children who live in an urban setting, heritage and tradition. They also teach them to be proud of who they are through pow wow dancing.

In their labor of love called New Dawn Native Dancers, youngsters learn the importance of proper etiquette in and out of the pow wow arena. But, the couple doesn't stop there. They try to open up new vistas to children who are far from reservations.

Tuesday, Feb. 22, the 50 or so children involved in the group got a lesson about wild animals they normally don't get to see up close. Wildcare, a wildlife rehabilitation group based in Lawrence, visited the dancers' weekly meeting at Haskell Indian Nations University.

The group rescues injured wild animals and returns them to their natural habitat. In a nation, seeing thousands of people moving out into the country, groups similar to WildCare work hard to diminish the effect of human impact on wild animals.

One of the best ways the group has found is to educate children about their wild neighbors.

"I wanted to teach the children about more than just dancing, " Bruce Martin said. "This teaches them how to take care of wildlife and respect for nature. You don't learn this stuff in school and this ties into their culture."

Native American children often hear traditional stories about animals and the lessons they teach, but as the population of Native Americans becomes more urbanized, the connection is lost. They see the feathers on their traditional dress when they dance or attend pow wows, but they don't know why their elders revere the eagle and the hawk because they are so far removed from them, Martin said.

On this night, the children scarcely moved as they learned about the hawk and how to protect it and other wild neighbors. WildCare's Nancy Schwarting held a red-tailed hawk on her arm as she fielded questions from children, who spoke in quiet, reverent awe of the bird of prey.

"They asked great questions. I love it when kids ask 'What if' questions. It means they are really thinking and learning." Schwarting said.

She had explained that because of the bird's keen sense of hearing, it needed quiet. If the bird becomes upset it attempts to fly, a signal to its handlers that it must be put away before it has a chance to injure itself. Though eager to observe the bird, the children were quiet enough for the bird to stay out during the whole presentation, something Schwarting says doesn't always happen.

Birds and animals used for educational purposes by WildCare are animals the group has rescued, but are unfit to return their natural habitats. Humans, for example had imprinted the hawk and returning it to the wild would have meant sure death for the bird. The humans also fed an opossum incorrectly and the result was an animal, which couldn't run away because the bones in its legs had fused. It also was shown to the youngsters.

The students questioned when it was proper to interfere with an animal or bird which appears in distress. There were so many questions, an hour-long session stretched out much longer than planned.

"One question I kept waiting for was, 'What do we do with the eagle feathers?'"

Schwarting said. "I was sure that since the kids are dancers they would want to know what we did with them."

WildCare has permits to rehabilitate and rescue eagles. That is how Bruce Martin, became involved with the people at WildCare.

"I originally met Nancy through Parks and Recreation here in Lawrence. She was getting ready to release an eagle near the river and a group of us had aceremony and danced, then she released it." Martin said.

What does WildCare do with those eagle feathers?

"We have to burn them or bury them." Schwarting answered. "I don't understand why Native American groups haven't lobbied to have that changed. We have so many but we can't turn them over. We have to follow federal regulations. Rehabilitators and rescuers would be such a great source for Native Americans to get eagle feathers."

For anyone who has had to go through red tape to get eagle feathers, it sounds like a great solution.

"I had to get a federal permit and then I got put on a waiting list for almost a year." Bruce Martin said.

Native Americans who find themselves living far from the animals which are such a rich part of their heritage can find groups like WildCare all over the country.

Schwarting suggests they contact a U.S. Fish and Wildlife or state conservation offices in their area. That is also a good place to start for those interested in working in rehabilitation of wild animals. Groups like WildCare always need volunteers. No formal education in wildlife management is necessary, just a desire to work hard to preserve the animals, which are so close to Native American traditions, she said.

For many of the New Dawn Native Dancers, a spark was ignited. They rushed to Schwarting after the presentation wanting to volunteer and to learn more about rehabilitating wildlife. Although they will have to wait until they turn 18 to work with WildCare, they are armed with information to begin helping animals and birds they find in their own backyards.

©2000 Indian Country Today


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