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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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Indian Culture Focus of New Campus


story and photo by Ellen Porter-Hesperia Star


credits: Staff photo by Ellen Porter - J.D. McKee, 10, looks up at the ceiling of the original dome in what wil be an American Indian-themed nature center and campus for Four Directions Institute. J.D. and his father spent some time at Hesperia Lake on Thursday.


J.D. McKee, 10, looks up at the ceiling of the original dome in what wil be an American Indian-themed nature center and campus for Four Directions Institute. J.D. and his father spent some time at Hesperia Lake on Thursday.Behind Hesperia Lake 11 earthen domes in varying stages of construction catch the eyes of many who visit.

One of the domes is finished and adorned with brightly colored tiles. The others show promise of being equally attractive when completed.

For almost a decade, it has been the dream of Hesperia Recreation and Parks District to build an American Indian-themed nature center and museum at this location. Since June, a Native American group known as the Four Directions Institute has shared in that dream, and worked to bring it and more to fruition.

Four Directions Institute came about 12 years ago from a partnership forged by Julie LaMay, a professor of English and American Indian literature, and Larry Sunderland, an artisan who seeks to preserve traditional Indian arts and history.

LaMay’s plan is to offer classes in American Indian culture, both to students from third grade to college and to their teachers. The teachers’ classes will allow them to better impart authentic Indian history to their students, LaMay said, and they will obtain either continuing education or college credit for these.

Sunderland’s plan is to have skilled Indian artisans teach their crafts. Both teachers and students may come from Indian reservations all over the country, but these classes will be open to anyone with an interest in Indian crafts.

Over the last 12 years, Four Directions Institute has held these classes in other places all over California, mostly on university campuses.

Sunderland recalled a positive outcome of a previous crafts class held in San Bernardino.

“Lacy Lewis was 85 years old, and she was an Acama potter,” she said. “She was the last one, and so when she died, the art would have died with her.”

But, before her death, Four Directions Institute brought Lewis and four other Native Americans from their reservation in New Mexico to southern California. There Lewis taught the Acama method of pottery to her four neighbors (including her niece) and to others interested in the craft.

Now that the two are partners with the Parks District, it brings them the opportunity to hold their classes in one place. The domes are Phase One of a campus Four Directions Institute, plans to build at the lake. Sunderland is the architect and contractor for this project.

“He’s out here every day,” La May said. “He not only designed this, he put in all the nails, so to speak.”

There aren’t any nails in these domes, because they are built a traditional American Indian way. Instead of wood-frame construction, Sunderland is building the domes by stacking circles of reinforced adobe. The nearly-finished domes resemble beehives.

The parks district broke ground on the nature museum in 1996. Although directors had always wanted an Indian theme, the original builder was Nadir Khalili, an Iranian immigrant who moved to Hesperia in 1991.

Khalili’s business, Cal-Earth, specializes in building domes from earthen materials. Khalili built the completed dome, but sometime before 2002 ended his agreement with the Parks District.

The completed dome has some Persian influence, Sunderland said. The rest of the domes will not, as he intends for them to look like the pueblos of the Southwest.

One of the domes, he said, will be an exact reproduction of the “Great Kiva,” a dome in Pueblo Bonita in Chaco Canyon, N.M. Another will look like a wickiup, the type of dome most popular with California Indian tribes.

“The whole place will be a modern version of the Indian pueblos,” he said.

Sunderland expects to finish the domes in October.

The main building in the rest of the campus, which Sunderland expects to finish in 2007, is a three-story building with dormitories for 120 students, a cafeteria that seats 200, meetings rooms and an Indian museum. There will also be four classrooms, an amphitheater and pottery and metal shop buildings.

All of these facilities will be available for the Parks District and other community groups to use, the two said.

The Parks District once estimated the project to cost $1 million. No one from the Parks District was available to give an up-to-date estimate, and Sunderland and LaMay refused to do so. However, both say the money they need for the campus has been raised, mostly through grants obtained by the district.

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