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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 9, 2003 - Issue 93


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WHC Creates Tribal History Program

credits: Larry Mayer/Gazette Staff

When Francine Bear Don't Walk was an elementary school student in Lame Deer, she looked forward to learning more about the history of her Northern Cheyenne tribe in social-studies class.

She was disappointed to find only a few paragraphs about American Indians in her textbook.

Fortunately, she had traditional grandparents, Jennie Limber Hand Spang and Wilfred Spang, to tell her about her heritage.

Bear Don't Walk now has a chance to help others learn about Indian history and culture.

In August, she will become director of the American Indian Tribal Histories Project at the Western Heritage Center. The project is funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior.

Preserving history
Bear Don't Walk and two field directors, one Crow and one Northern Cheyenne, will train tribal college students and graduates in how to record and preserve oral histories, do historical research, build exhibits and collect artifacts and photos.

They will talk to people of all ages to capture not just past, but present-day life on reservations.

Bear Don't Walk expects to gather information about tribal origins, chiefs, traditional societies, art, music, dance, entertainment, athletics, food, tepee construction, healing practices, family relations, government, education, language and religion.

The information will be archived at the Western Heritage Center with copies given to each tribe. It will be used to produce publications, exhibits and programs to teach others, both on and off the reservations, about Indian culture.

At least three major projects will be created:

  • A book of photos and essays written by a diverse group of tribal members describing what it means to be Crow or Northern Cheyenne.
  • An interactive DVD encyclopedia of each tribe's history and culture, which includes photos, oral histories and video. The DVD will be designed for teachers to use in their classrooms.
  • Exhibits at the Western Heritage Center on each tribe.

Many histories of American Indians have been written before, but few have been done by tribal members themselves, which makes this project unusual.

The project is important not only for tribal members.

Learning about local tribes
Bear Don't Walk hopes that it helps non-Indians learn about local tribes and encourages understanding among people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Bear Don't Walk is a graduate of Colstrip High School and Rocky Mountain College, from which she received a bachelor's degree in business management in 1999. She has worked at Rocky as an admissions representative and, more recently, as an adviser for students in the distance-learning, information-technology program.

She has served on the Western Heritage Center's Board of Directors and on its Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee.

Last year, she told retired RMC President Arthur DeRosier Jr., a WHC director, that she would like to step down from the Lewis and Clark committee because it was not a topic in which that she was interested.

"I didn't have a passion for it," she said.

When DeRosier asked her what she did have a passion for, she told him it was to learn more about her own culture and Northern Cheyenne leaders.

Bear Don't Walk is a direct descendent of Chief Dull Knife, who along with Chief Little Wolf led their people back to their Montana homeland from Oklahoma during a harrowing journey in 1878-79.

DeRosier sought grant money for the Indian history project, which was approved in February.

The project fits in well with the center's mission to preserve the history and culture of the Yellowstone Valley.

"There's nothing more special than native people who were here long before white people came," he said.

It is also appropriate to have the project going during the Lewis and Clark bicentennial because it will present a more complete picture by telling the stories of Indians who were living here when the explorers passed through.

Bear Don't Walk eventually would like to expand the project to other tribes in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming if more funding can be secured.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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