Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
December 25, 1999

Taking Pride in Heritage
adapted by Garnet1654 from an article by Scott Sexton-Kalamazoo Gazette

By taking her teen-aged sons to a school-sponsored Indian education program, Geri Meyle hopes to help them take pride in their Native American ancestry instead of denying it.

"My grandmother was so ashamed of her heritage, she wouldn't even tell my dad," said Meyle, fingering the bracelet and ring she inherited from her Cherokee grandmother. "She was taught to be a white person. If I hadn't pressured her, I wouldn't have heard about half of who I am."

So when she learned about the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency's weekly classes in the Indian Education Program, Meyle, who also had a Lakota grandfather, figured she could give it a try. Between what she learned from her grandmother and what she picked up on her own, Meyle figured she still could do more to help her sons know their ancestry.

"I'd like for (sons Spencer and Mitch) to learn something about their culture before its all gone," Meyle said.

She and her boys showed up at the KRESA office recently to take part in an Ojibway language class and hear a lecture on sweat lodges by Lakota Lee Black Bear.
They settled in front row seats and sounded out the words for different animals, welcome (binndagen) and points on the compass.

"You all know the casino in Sault Ste. Marie, Kewadin?" asked Ojibway instructor Teresa Magnuson. "It means 'north.'

Though the Indian Education program has been around for more than 20 years, it only recently was opened up to students throughout the county's nine school systems when it was transferred to KRESA from the Kalamazoo Public Schools, said program director Val Kettlehut.

In addition to the weekly culture classes, students of Native American ancestry are eligible for tutoring assistance and help in KRESA's computer labs.

And unlike some Native American programs in other areas, the school-sponsored Indian Education effort does not require a child to be from a specific tribe or have a certain percentage of Indian ancestry. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade can take part.

"We have identified 267 students in Kalamazoo County so far who can participate," said Kettlehut. "There is no minimum blood quotient or requirement, either. Nobody has to prove anything to participate."

Though students can be descended from any tribe in any part of the country, most of the instruction centers on the Three Fires Tribes of Michigan - the Potawatomi, the Odawa (historically known as Ottawa) and the Ojibway (Chippewa).

Having that focus on Native Americans indigenous to Michigan drew Michigan State University student Angie Shinos to attend a recent culture class.

An Ojibway who grew up on a reservation near Traverse City, Shinos said she's pleased to see children taking pride in their heritage rather than shunning it - something that still goes on today.

"When I went to school there were still kids who would tease you about (being Native American)," Shinos said. "As far as I know, this is the only off-reservation program like it around."

Instilling a sense of pride and belonging is part of the reason Black Bear drove to Kalamazoo from his Ann Arbor home to speak to the 50 or so people about the sweat lodge and his experience growing up on a South Dakota reservation.

"I hated being Lakota and I wished I was a white guy," said Black Bear. "Now I enjoy knowing that I have had 1,000-year-old knowledge passed on to me. Through my own ignorance, I negated a lot of what was taught to me."

Native Americans of Michigan

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