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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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American Indian Heritage Day Instructs Students


by Shawn White Wolf Helena Independent Record


Little OneHELENA – While an Indian education specialist discussed integrating American Indian history into classrooms Friday, hundreds of area elementary school students watched local Indian children at the Civic Center perform traditional and competitive styles of pow wow dancing.

"Most of my grandchildren were demonstrating," said Sharon Two Teeth, a local Chippewa Cree and Kootenai Elder. "It's good for the children to learn our heritage; maybe there won't be so much discrimination in schools."

The fourth Friday in September was designated by the 1997 Montana Legislature as "American Indian Heritage Day."

This is the sixth consecutive year that Montana schools have been asked to focus Friday's school-day activities in September on the role of American Indians in Montana's past and present.

"If you agree that all children deserve an education, then make sure that your classroom addresses the heritage, background and experiences of all your students and their neighbors with whom they will continue to learn, work and reside with or near," said Linda McCulloch, superintendent of public instruction, in a prepared statement.

The education of Indian history and education of Indian children is not a new or recently driven hot issue in Montana. However, American Indian Heritage Day is as important as Columbus day, Flag Day, and Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays, said McCulloch.

More than 30 years ago, Montana became the first state to adopt a specific title in its Constitution that both recognized and preserves the distinct and unique cultural American Indian heritage and its cultural integrity.

While both adult Indians and non-Indian continuously debate whether or not there has been any progress in teaching Indian education, students unabashedly quizzed local Indian elders and danced freely alongside the young Indian boys and girls Friday morning and early afternoon.

"Other kids should learn about (Indian) kids that do dance because some (non-Indian) kids don't understand our children; maybe now the (non-Indian) kids will have a better understanding," said Two Teeth.

Throughout the day, Cary Youpee, drum leader and key organizer of the 5th Annual Last Chance Community Pow wow, answered as many questions from as many students as time permitted.

For example, students asked if they could drum with the drum group and how long did it take to prepare the pow wow? Other students wanted to know how a person's regalia was made; why did they need a drum; how did they get the designs for the regalias?

Learning how to drum with the drum group is acceptable in most cases, he said, and organizing a pow wow takes several months. Several pieces of a person's regalia are handed down from generation to generation, while some individuals create their own unique designs. A drum is the heartbeat of the community – without the drum, the way of life of Indian people would cease. Lastly, the designs found on regalias usually represent what tribe a person comes from, or the accomplishments of individuals.

A third-grade student from Hawthorne Elementary, who said he had been learning about Indians throughout the week, asked if his class could dance with the other dancers.

"Yes, when the time comes then you can dance too," replied Youpee.

Across town, educators, like students, were firing off questions and searching for answers.

In a board room at the Office of Public Instruction, Linda Falcon, specialist in Indian education, explained to various educators that not a lot of information was available to help contribute to classroom lesson plans.

"The purpose of education is about my kids, family, and community," she said. Falcon, a former teacher herself, said that instruction should be in a culturally responsive manner.

Yet, one educator asked if Indian people knew their own cultural values, while another asked what a culturally responsive manner was supposed to be.

Other educators questioned their level of confidence in their ability to be culturally sensitive when they don't have an understanding of Indian culture.

Falcon said that if a teacher's lesson plan is well written, with Indian history already integrated, then all a teacher would have to do is just walk right through it.

"It's OK to ask questions about how the history of American Indians has evolved and to want to be more knowledgeable about Indian spirituality if you're searching to find similarities between religions," said Falcon.

Superficial questions, she said, can be inappropriate and offensive.

Falcon said that when she was teaching in Arizona, she would ask the students to research their own heritage regardless of their background.

Still, when a first-grade student at Friday's demonstration day at the Civic Center was asked over a loud speaker if he had learned about Indians in school this week, he quickly said no.

His teacher, sitting two seats down, replied that there wasn't enough time in class this week.

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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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