December 09, 2008

Teaching the "Grey Eagle" way

Now that I've criticized the educational approach of Joe Wright (Grey Eagle), I should offer a positive alternative. Given an hour to teach a class of Indiana third-graders, how would I proceed?

It wouldn't take long to search the Net for enough information on the Potawatomi culture to satisfy this audience. In fact, the Pokagon tribe's PDF already has more than enough info.

Using this research, I'd do a presentation with three components, each 20 minutes long:

1) A PowerPoint presentation similar to the Pokagon's. It would have maybe two dozen slides split between the pre-contact and post-contact periods. Although I'd soft-pedal the broken treaties and forced relocations (e.g., "the white people took the Potawatomi land because they wanted it for themselves"), I'd mention these things. I'd conclude on a positive note by saying the Potawatomi have come back strong since the '60s and '70s are are now reclaiming their culture and language.

2) A show-and-tell with physical objects the kids could handle and pass around. Ideally I'd use genuine Potawatomi artifacts, but they could be from other tribes in the area. They wouldn't have to be old; they could be newly made replicas.

These would include both traditional and modern items. The traditional items could be pieces of buffalo or deer hide, pots or baskets, hooks or needles made from bone, gourds and bowls, stone knives and scrapers, etc. As long as they didn't include anything too stereotypical like a flute or a drum.

The modern items could be books, CDs, jewelry, food items, poker chips from the casino, etc. In other words, anything that would tell the kids that the Potawatomi are still alive and kicking. That their history didn't end with Columbus, the Trail of Death, or the termination era.

3) Some sort of do-it-yourself activity--but not the usual lame "make a headdress and vest out of paper bags." Give the kids rough pieces of hide to scrape smooth. Or hunks of clay to mold into pottery. Go outside and show them how the Potawatomi planted crops. Or how they started a fire. If nothing else, give them black-and-white drawings to color. Anything but having them sit around in a circle singing phony Indian songs in their phony Indian costumes.

I'd say this lesson plan is better than most of the ones I've read about. It would be even better if a Potawatomi could present it. Educators, take note.

Below:  Potawatomi moccasins.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nationo of Oklahomaa and having a bachelor degree in education. I like your approach. Often times well meaning educators will find someone in their community who claims to be Indian and have them talk about Indians. It is quite obvious this would have been much better with just a little research as you said and using a Potawatomi if not for the presentation just call one of the seven bands of Potawatomi in the US and ask for some information about the tribe or as you did look at their website. I think every band has a website. Also try your local library James Clifton and David Edmunds have both written excellent books on the Potawatomi. A couple of other authors are Ruth Landes and Alanson Skinner much more about the culture but they may be harder to find.