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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 17, 2001 - Issue 49


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Natural History Lessons Bring Giant Teepee to School


By Kym Soper, Journal Inquirer November 05, 2001


Photo of frame of a Northeast Dwelling


VERNON, CT- As a rule, kindergarten students fidget by nature, but standing in the shadow of a giant teepee on Thursday, the students at Skinner Road School were hushed.

Kneeling at the door of the Native American lodge, her hair braided and dressed in beaded buckskin, Barbara Giammarino beat on a drum and sang a welcome to the warm sun, the birds above and the "two-legged" creatures standing before her.

A member of the Penobscot tribe in Maine, Giammarino led the class into the cavernous tent where they settled on blankets in a circle, whispering and pointing to the Indian artifacts strewn about.

Looking up through the smoke hole a good 20 feet above, Giammarino explained that this was not the type of home used by woodland Indians that lived in this area.

The tall, slender trees that act as a skeleton for the lodge are found out west, she said, and the skin is from buffalo.

"We made our lives out of the trees and the woodlands and forests and everything inside is from this area," she said waving her hand over a pile of furry skins, reed baskets, wooden tools, and musical instruments. "The earth is our mother, and she gives us everything we need to survive."

Nearby on the school's grassy playing field, Chris Kenyon vigorously rubbed a mullein stem between his palms, working the end into a pitted wood board.

After a few quick turns, the fourth-grade students watching him work began to sniff the air.

"Oh, I can smell it," three boys shouted simultaneously as smoky tendrils curled around the base of the branch.

Meanwhile, behind the teepee, students took turns playing Native American games of skill: a dart-type game tossing feathered corncobs through a ring, a ring-toss using braided reed rings, or dropping a blunt tipped arrow down from nose-level through a quarter-sized hole at their feet.

Native American studies is part of the curriculum at Skinner Road School, and PTO members brought the two-day event to the school to expand on that teaching, Principal Fran Bilodeau said last week.

Presented by the Somers Mountain Indian Museum, the program centered on lessons in Natural History and Primitive Technology.

It also expanded the student's awareness of cultural, racial, economic, and ethnic diversity, Bilodeau said, which because of the school's varied population is a constant theme.

This past summer, five teachers were trained in the state sponsored "Don't Laugh At Me" program that focuses on modeling and teaching respect for others, Bilodeau said. And the school has offered other celebrations outside the classroom, including an International Dinner Dance where families brought ethnic foods and danced to music from around the globe.

The emphasis on diversity was made a major part of the school's recently completed mission statement, a yearlong project that focused on identifying beliefs and developing goals of the school community.

The two-day Native American showcase was only one cultural activity offered to further that end and help broaden the horizons of Skinner Road students, Bilodeau said.

Besides showing the students how American natives made fire, Kenyon also taught how they used the soft Mullein leaves from the same plant as insoles for their moccasins. Nothing was ever wasted, he noted. Even the sinew, or tendons, from a deer could be tightly braided together to fashion a fishing line.

Within the teepee circle, Giammarino spoke of the culture and lifestyle of Indians in this area. When Native Americans lived in the forests many years ago, there were no supermarkets or streets, so men had to hunt for their food and the rivers were their highways, she told the group of awestruck youngsters.

But it was the games that truly made a connection between today's children and Native American youngsters.

Dropping the arrow into that tiny hole was the hardest challenge of all, everyone agreed. Lofton Woods, 5, trained his eagle eye on the ring and sent his arrow home three times. After each attempt, Lofton sidestepped a bopping little modern-day jig.

That's what the Indians did to celebrate victory, he said stoically, with a shrug of the shoulders.


     Maps by Travel
We, the Penobscot Indian Nation, traditionally known as the penawahpskewi, together with the Passamaqouddy, Maliseet, and Mik Maq are collectively known as the Wabanaki Confederacy.

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