Global Learning: Navajo Studies at Grammar School This Month

brent chase navajo dineh grammar school putney

Earlier this month at The Grammar School , students learned about Navajo code-breaking, dreamcatchers, cradleboards and much more. It’s part of “Indigenous Ways of Knowing,” the school’s global education theme for this school year. Throughout the year, teachers are incorporating the concept into their curriculums, from Wampanoag history to indigenous number systems.

Eve McDermott, the Putney, Vt., school’s 2nd-grade teacher, said the staff picked the theme for this year because of its focus on learning from the natural world. The school emphasizes outdoor education, she said, which made the theme seem like a perfect fit.

 From Nov. 6 to 10, members of the Navajo Nation of Arizona visited the school to give workshops on Navajo culture. Throughout the week, the visitors worked with different grade levels on various subjects. For example, 8th-graders learned about Navajo rites of passage, while the 3rd- and 4th-graders learned Navajo weaving techniques.
McDermott said the workshops helped the students practice understanding the world through nature. “It’s really important for our kids in this day and age of the screen and of being really removed from many experiences, experiencing things firsthand. This is a real balance to that tendency in our society,” she said. “It kind of brings us back to where our focus should be.”

The week culminated with “In Beauty May I Walk,” a performance by Brent Chase, one of the visitors from the Navajo Nation, melding Navajo music, storytelling and dance. McDermott said the Navajo hoop dance was especially powerful, moving one 2nd-grader to happy tears. “It was just a feeling that you could really relate to, because the energy and the spirit of the hoop dance is really, really powerful in a room to watch it,” she said.

Teachers will continue to incorporate the theme for the remainder of the year, and the students will put on a fundraiser to buy school supplies for The Little Singer School, a K-8 school on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. The Grammar School also hopes to invite Abenaki and Iroquois representatives to give similar presentations to the students.

“We’re still glowing a week later with the spirit of the whole thing. We just can’t wait to have Abenaki and Iroquois come and just learn about their cultures. It’s so important,” McDermott said. “We have a lot to learn from them.”

See the original article by Meg McIntyre in the Keene (NH) Sentinel.

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Greenfield Recorder: Native American Heritage Day Observed

cheryll-toney-holley-below-great-falls

Indigenous tribes called Franklin County home long before European colonizers landed in North America. Native American Heritage Day, observed since 2008 on the day after Thanksgiving, is an opportunity to recognize and discuss that history.

“We have this single day, Friday, Native American Heritage Day, which was designated by an act of Congress in 2008 — relatively recently,” said Rich Holschuh, who is from the Elnu Abenaki tribe. Abenaki homeland ran north to the St. Lawrence River in Canada, and south to Deerfield, with Turners Falls being “the nexus for all tribes in that area,” according to Holschuh. [note: I (Rich) am not a citizen of Elnu, but I do work extensively with them and others in the contemporary community.]

Holschuh also serves on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.

The resolution for Native American Heritage Day, signed by President George W. Bush, acknowledges Native people “for their contributions to the United States as local and national leaders, artists, athletes, and scholars.” Local advocates focus on a darker side of American history.

“It is with great sadness that we look back, just on the last 340 years, since this peaceful area of shared resources was witness to a terrible massacre of refugees from the regional war that was going on over who would control the land,” said David Detmold, representing the Nolumbeka Project, a non-tribal organization advocating for New England’s Native American tribes.

Detmold referred to The Battle of Great Falls, a decisive fight of King Philip’s War that took place on the banks of the Connecticut River between present-day Gill and Montague. He noted the Nolumbeka Project is part of a group studying the battle through a National Parks Service grant.

Read the full article by Andy Castillo in The (Greenfield) Recorder here.

The Indian’s Great Chair

wantastegok wajo south kwenitekw fort dummer

The view downstream (SSW) from a southerly ridge of Wantastegok Wajo – one can clearly see the site of Fort Dummer, now submerged. Old accounts state that the mountain was the “Indian’s Great Chair, ” from which the comings and goings could be closely watched at a great distance.

google map distance from fort dummer to south ridge prospect

Daniel Paul Still Has a Message to Deliver

daniel paul mikmaq activist author

With the release of two new books, Daniel Paul is adding new material to his decades-long crusade to educate people about Mi’kmaq history.

The Mi’kmaw elder, who is best-known for his seminal history book We Were Not the Savages, recently published his first, and likely his last, novel Chief Lightning Bolt. Paul wrote the novel 20 years ago and then put it aside. He returned to it with a fresh set of eyes, had others read and edit it, and decided it was time to release the book publicly. “I wanted to see it published before I die,” he said in a recent interview.

Paul, who was born on the Indian Brook Reserve (now Sipekne’katik First Nation), turns 79 next month. He had a brush with mortality when he underwent treatment for prostate cancer. Doctors gave him the okay after he completed treatment in November 2016, but the ordeal took its toll on his health.

In his novel, published by Fernwood Publishing, Paul brings to life a contemporary Mi’kmaq legend of a man, who becomes chief and a renowned warrior and peacemaker. In the process he comes to embody Mi’kmaq values of humility, courage, honour, and service to others.

While Paul’s previous non-fiction book told the story of the Mi’kmaq and their fate after the arrival of the Europeans, in his novel he tells the story of the Mi’kmaq prior to the arrival of European colonizers.

“The best way to do it (tell the story) was a fictional novel,” he said.

“Some people accused me of writing fiction when I wrote We Were Not the Savages,” he added with a laugh.

Read the full article by Allison Lawlor in the Chronicle-Herald.

Bringing Together Two Sides of Vermont

don stevens drum flynn center vaaa

A preview of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming in FlynnSpace on November 14 at 7:30 pm. By KieraHufford, contributor to @flynncenter Tumblr.

The Abenaki people, like many Native Americans, have been living in America since before European settlers arrived. However, the tribes only received state recognition five years ago, in 2012. The Flynn welcomes the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), giving them a space to share parts of their culture with the public—a performance that would have felt entirely different had it taken place in 2010.

When Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki spoke with Vermont Public Radio (VPR) back in 2016, he talked about the importance of state recognition. “Before we had state recognition, whenever we made something—a pipe, a wampum bracelet, whatever—and we sold it, we had to say that we were of ‘Abenaki descent.’ We couldn’t say that we were Abenaki from such-and-such a tribe. That’s a federal law. You could get hit with a $250,000 fine per item.”

It made it difficult for Abenaki people to share their heritage. They couldn’t label their creations as being made by members of the Abenaki tribes, even though that’s who they are. And even now, they have to carry a native card proving that they’re members of the tribes; however, who they are, their culture, and where they come from is in their blood. It’s their identity, and a card shouldn’t be needed to prove that.

One of the biggest problems, according to the Abenaki, is that the Vermont Agency of Education doesn’t have a mandated curriculum surround the Abenaki people and their culture, so many students go through school and never really learn about their history or existence. The Abenaki are hoping to change that in the coming years.

“If we were going to sum up the state of where things are with the Abenaki right now, I would say change,” Eugene Rich, co-chair of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, told VPR. “I think we’re trying to change our public persona.”

According to their website, the VAAA “embodies the history, culture, and art of the Abenaki people. While most of our artists and performers preserve and pass on the traditional art of our ancestors, others create contemporary artistic expressions that are informed by tradition.” Their mission is to promote Vermont’s Indigenous arts/artists while providing a place to share ideas and develop professionally as entrepreneurs.

The VAAA wants the Vermont public to be able to find and engage artists like Chief Don Stevens, of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki; Nulhegan Abenaki Drum, who combine traditional Northeastern music with the sound of the big powwow drumming; and Bryan Blanchette, who began singing at powwows 20 years ago and is currently writing/performing new Abenaki language songs, who will be performing at the Flynn.

The Abenaki have a place of belonging in Vermont, a place that should be recognized and unquestioned by the state’s residents. Not every Native American appears the same, but that doesn’t mean they have to prove their culture. The best way to combat this thinking is by learning, by understanding the Abenaki culture and how it, too, has adapted as the years have gone by.