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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 6, 2001 - Issue 46


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 Inland Pupils Meet, Learn from Indians
More than 1,000 children help celebrate California Native American Day.


 by Darrell R. Santschi The Press Enterprise-September 29, 2001


Two-year-old Noo-Me-Koy James of the Yurok tribe in Northern California was among the performers at the California Native American Day at Cal State San Bernardino.
(Peter Phun/The Press-Enterprise)

SAN BERNARDINO - A field trip Friday to Cal State San Bernardino was an awakening for 25 third-graders from Mariposa Elementary School in Ontario.

"They were very surprised to learn that Indians really exist," said Gloria Rennison, a fourth-grade teacher who chaperoned them. "They expected to see Indians the way they used to see them before; the way they see them in pictures."

What they saw were Indians from tribes throughout the Inland Empire in T-shirts, business clothes and sports shirts, some of them with cell phones and pagers and all of them talking about their history, culture and customs.

The Mariposa third-graders were among 1,200 students from 14 elementary and middle schools across the Inland Empire and from as far as Los Angeles who went to the state university on California Native American Day.

It was the end of a weeklong American Indian cultural awareness conference at the university that culminated with outdoor classes for the youngsters under tent-like coverings on the campus lawn.

A dozen Indians from tribes in the area lectured on everything from how to make baskets to their systems of tribal government. Later in the evening, demonstrations of Indian bird songs, along with other music, performers and food, were offered to the public on the university campus.

The event was sponsored by the university and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, whose reservation is near Highland.

At one point during the day program for school students, they assembled on the grass in front of one of the campus buildings.

As organizers prepared to sing traditional songs, a speaker invited the kids to come forward and dance. The invitation brought a chorus of groans from teachers who had carefully organized the youngsters into groups school-by-school. In a moment, they were mingling as they jiggled and gyrated to the music of hand-made gourd rattles and traditional chants.

It turned into a welcome exercise in the diversity of schoolchildren and cultures. The teachers, who were rewarded afterward when the youngsters dutifully returned to their places, proclaimed the event a success.

"I don't think they realized when they came here that Indians exist among them," said Rennison, the Ontario teacher. Now they realize that Indians are people like the rest of us."

Abigail Norman, a 9-year-old third-grader at the school, said her biggest surprise of the day was learning that California has 109 recognized tribes.

"I thought there was a few," she said. "But there are a lot."

"The fact that California is home to the most recognized tribes (of any state) in the country is really shocking for people to hear," said Joely De La Torre, a member of the Pechanga Indian band near Temecula who teaches political science at San Francisco State University.

"People are also surprised to learn that they (California Indians) are everywhere," she said. "People are shocked to learn that California Indians still exist. They thought we were wiped out."

Gina Schelin, a teacher at Valley Preparatory School in Redlands, said she hopes the 85 students she took to the program Friday "will learn an appreciation of the native people of this area and realize that it's important to recognize their culture."

"Generally, it will help them be well-rounded and appreciate other people's cultures," she said.

For Erick Otiniano of Rialto, an 8-year-old third-grader at Our Lady of the Assumption school in San Bernardino, it was all about learning exciting ways to occupy his time.

"I learned that you can make baskets just out of weeds and stuff," he said, "like when you're bored. That's very fine."

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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