Kaska of the Havasupai tribe spoke to students about traditions
and storytelling, Feb. 11. (photo by Loretta Yerian - Grand
Grand Canyon, AZ - Colleen Kaska is a native
of Grand Canyon in every sense possible, as a member of the Havasupai
tribe and having been born and raised in the Canyon. On Feb. 11.
Kaska was one of three Native American speakers asked to address
students at Grand Canyon School.
The speakers were invited to speak at the school
by high school English teacher Carol Frischmann, who is teaching
her students the value of ancient traditions and cultures through
the art of storytelling and oral history.
"We live in an area where there are many traditional
stories that are instructive to young people about how they'll live.
These stories accompany ceremonies that are the basis of that tribe's
cultural life," Frischmann said. "To me it seemed really important
for those of us who haven't heard these cultural stories to learn
about them and that the kids who come from these cultures are able
to see that they can do something that puts them on an even plane
with the great stories of literature that did the same thing."
Ever since coming to the Canyon, Frischmann's
dream has been to recognize and introduce local cultures to her
students. Frischmann was able to achieve that goal through a $500
community grant she received last fall from the Grand Canyon Rotary
on the Rim.
"The Rotary club grant allows me to invite people
here and to pay their travel expenses and provide a small honorarium,"
Through her high school English class, Frischmann
has dedicated her life to educating students about these traditional
stories and wants to impart the importance of storytelling. Recently,
Frischmann discovered most classroom textbooks focus mainly on European
and Asian cultures, something she would like to change by having
people from local cultures speak to students.
"Students are familiar with epics such as the
Odyssey and we are studying these epics from other cultures that
are traditionally orally transmitted, but what has really struck
me since I came to the Canyon was that we have three cultures -
two underrepresented cultures, those are Hispanic cultures and the
tribes that live right here and these are those kids," Frischmann
Frischmann explained that for many students identifying
with one another's cultural heritage could be limited.
"They go to school with each other but they don't
really know each other's traditional stories," she said. "The purpose
of these epics and traditional stories, besides entertainment, was
to help people understand what the culture expected of them."
Inviting Kaska to speak to her students is one
way Frischmann is helping to imparting cultural history to students.
Kaska said investing time in young people's lives
and teaching them about her culture is important to keeping traditions
and storytelling alive.
"I think it's very important because now days
there are some families that are very traditional and some families
that let it go by the wayside," Kaska said. "If it (history) comes
from a different person than somebody else than their family it
hits home. If they're listening to someone else of their own culture
it's like, 'wow, I never knew that."
Kaska was raised in a very traditional home and
spoke to students about her upbringing. She wore traditional Havasupai
clothing for her presentation and talked to students about the beauty
of coming of age in her tribe and the expectations of parenting,
childbirth, childcare and the role of different members within the
"When I was growing up I didn't think (we) were
traditional, it was just a way of being brought up by the parents,"
she said. "But now looking back, they were very traditional."
Kaska told students about growing up with dirt
for floors and no running water or electricity and explained the
respect children were expected to have for their elders. She encouraged
them to learn from their elders, listen to their stories and never
forget where their cultural identities lie.
"When you go out into the world, be open-minded,"
Kaska also told students a traditional story
passed down to her from her grandfather.
According to Kaska she wants to raise her children
with an appreciation and knowledge of their heritage. Kaska's son,
Neegoh is a ninth grade student in Frischmann's English class and
attended his mother's presentation. Kaska grew up in and around
the Grand Canyon and currently works as a tribal ranger for the
Frischmann said this is her first year to invite
cultural speakers to the school and hopes to make it a tradition
for future students.
"I hope I can build on this. What I would like
to do is to continue this and have a festival of these stories every
year," she said. "So I can make the point that these stories are
every bit as elegant and as instructive and as literary and important
as the things we read in our textbook."
The Rotary grant allowed enough monetary compensation
to invite four speakers to visit the school year. Earlier this month,
representatives from the Hopi and Navajo tribes addressed students.
Frischmann hopes to have a person of Hispanic nationality speak
to students before the end of the school year.
Frischmann asked students to write reflection
papers on what was significant to them and how it related to their
The emphasis Mrs. Kaska put on the
importance the Supai place on respecting their bodies - made an
impression on students-especially the young women.
Her use of music in her presentation -the lullabies
that she sang to the students also helped those who relate to music.
The cradleboard Ms. Kaska brought made sense
to many students, especially the construction of the semicircular
band around the top which, when draped with a scarf, provides protection
for the baby from the sun, as well as providing a place to hang
toys to keep the baby amused. Students recognized the ability of
the cradleboard to be used as a carrier, a car seat, and in earlier
times a way to transport a child on horseback.
One student noticed that both the Hopi and the
Supai storytellers emphasized that elders want to teach children
about the culture so traditions will be passed to their descendants.
Another student said because of the speakers,
she hoped to be invited on a field trip to see traditional sites
rather than simply hearing about the traditions.
Students identified with the idea that for the
Havasupai, water is sacred.
Ms. Kaska's presentation reminded one student
that her Catholic traditions gave her a strong sense of morality
and a clear direction, a tradition she plans to pass to her own