Ancient Native arts and technology are bringing
a cultural revolution to 13 tribal colleges and universities that
received a grant from the American Indian College Fund. The three-year
"Restoration and Preservation of Traditional Native Art Forms and
Knowledge Grant" allows tribal colleges and universities (or TCUs)
to develop curriculum on lost or rare art forms that have fallen
out of usage.
LaChapelle, an instructor in the Black Ash Basket Making Workshop
at the College of Menominee Nation, demonstrates the hard
work involved in creating strips for baskets. Courtesy College
of Menominee Nation
"It's art now, but back then, they were items for everyday living
and use. Birch bark and porcupine quills; we are treasuring the
gifts the land gives," Ronald Turney, Ojibwe, Leech Lake Tribal
College multimedia specialist, said about collecting materials for
the projects. "Everyone had a canoe, everyone always had baskets,
there was always someone tanning hides. The rarity (of creating
these traditional objects) has transformed into art now, and we
are planning on bringing these things back."
Lake Tribal College students carry rolls of birch bark to
make a canoe. The bark can only be taken from the trees at
a certain time of year when the deer flies have come back
and the sap is running freely in the tree. (Courtesy Leech
Lake Tribal College)
Four TCUsLeech Lake Tribal College (Cass Lake, MN), Oglala
Lakota College (Kyle, SD), Sinte Gleska University (Mission, SD)
and Turtle Mountain Community College (Belcourt, ND)will be
able to expand their existing arts programs by including traditional
arts into the curriculum. Bridget Skenadore, Native Arts and Culture
Project Coordinator at the American Indian College Fund, said each
college will determine which arts to pursue. "What is endangered
in Minnesota could be thriving in North Dakota, so it is up to them
to decide which are their endangered or lost art forms," she said.
Nine other TCUs have already received a quarterly grant, now
issued every four months, for the development of new academic classes
and community extension activities in the Traditional Native Arts,
and other colleges can still apply.
Through the grant, experts, often elders, will teach classes
and train apprentices so the college can continue to offer the class
after the grant expires. Skenadore said another component of the
program is to support the livelihood of the artists.
"Sisseton Wahpeton College in South Dakota has a master artisan
who gives feedback about how and what has been taught, and sharing
knowledge before setting up the curriculum," Skenadore said. "We
want to focus on the intergenerational learning that is going on
between the master artists and the community members and students.
In the snowshoe class at the College of the Menominee Nation, the
youngest participant was 7 years old and the oldest was 60 years
old. All of the participants were sitting together at the table
and teaching each other."
When Dakota Studies Instructor Erin Griffin, Dakota, Sisseton
Wahpeton College, first started teaching, she asked her students
if Dakota people made pottery and they all said no. "So I showed
pictures of pottery the people made long ago, and none of them knew
about that. When we started doing the workshops, people were asking
us where we ordered the clay from and we didn't," Griffin laughed.
"We dug it from behind the building here."
Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan, who taught the
workshop, prepares student pottery for the Traditional Dakota
Pottery Firing Methods Workshop at Sisseton Wahpeton College.
(Courtesy Sisseton Wahpeton College)
Sisseton Wahpeton College is also developing a class for bow
making and tanning hides, and according to Griffin, students and
community members jumped at the chance to take the classes. This
has been true with all the tribal colleges. "I have had people call
me up in a panic thinking they aren't going to get in. I was surprised
at how fast the pottery class filled up, and then the quillwork
class filled even faster, and then the bow making class filled in
two hours. I think that really speaks to the desire in the community,"
Turney, at Leech Lake Tribal College, believes the classes fill
so quickly because of the rarity of the art forms. "Not many people
around here know how to do quillwork," he said. "Basically it was
one older guy, Melvin Losh, whose pieces are in the Minnesota Historical
Society Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. He has been
doing it for about 50 years now." Before the classes, only one or
two canoes were made each year and there were only two people who
made them, Turney said.
gathered for a quillwork class with Melvin Losh. (Courtesy
Leech Lake Tribal College)
These art classes at Leech Lake are part of the development
of a two-year associate's degree program or an accredited certificate
in Language, History and the Arts. "We are also in talks with Bemidji
State University so people can go to school here for two years and
then go on there for a four-year degree," Turney said.
At the College of Menominee Nation, the projects revolved around
the arts, but Jennifer Gauthier, Menominee, who is the community
natural resource economic development educator, University of Wisconsin
office, Menominee College campus, said there were side benefits.
"We ended up developing community groups and leadership. We also
introduced the language tied to every art, which provided an educational
component. Instead of just teaching basket making we tied it to
the study of traditional Menominee materials, cultureshowing
how it is rooted in history and showing contemporary applications
as welland focusing on language, too."
Flute, Loren Thompson, Darrell Quinn Jr., and Evelyn Tsinijinnie
learned how to brain tan hides at the Sisseton Wahpeton College
Hide Tanning and Smoking Workshop. (Courtesy Sisseton Wahpeton
the College of the Menominee Nation, elder Debbie Long gets
help with her quillwork from her grandson Dante, who is also
the youth apprentice, and instructor Eric Hawpetoss, while
Lynette Wychesit and Mona Webster watch the process. (Courtesy
College of Menominee Nation)
The first project the Menominee college tackled was making birch
bark baskets. "We wanted to develop an appreciation for the hard
work that our relatives put into that. We went into tree identification,
time of year to process those trees, what size tree to harvest and
how to make their own strips, how to clean them, how to dye them,
everything you can imagine; how to make a basket from beginning
to end. From that first project and every project since then we
have tried to tie in the same kind of process," Gauthier said. "We
are doing more active use of the language rather than standing in
front of the class and teaching them words. This is active, intentional
Like the other schools, the Menominee classes fill up almost
immediately. "Within the workshops, we had a lot of intergenerational
activities, and every workshop has incorporated a family working
together and learning," Renee Okimosh, the project coordinator for
the Menominee College workshops, said.
"The class fills up almost immediately. They are really into
it. There is a hunger to learn more within the community. To see
the kids working with the elders, it's a way for these groups to
get together and laugh, share stories, that sort of thing. That's
really important stuff," Brian Kowalkowski, dean of Continuing Education
at Menominee College, said.