June 21, 2009

Phony tribes, headdresses, totem poles

Ploeger:  Kids' classes are true gemsOn June 12, I had the distinct pleasure of observing the Native American Crafts & Lore Class while we were taping it for viewing on Channel 8 TV in July. One could deem it challenging to keep a classroom full of kids in first through six grades actively engaged and occupied for 1½ hours, but those instructors did, and they accomplished it in great style. I found myself fascinated as I observed the activities and listened to the instruction. The class began with kids deciding which imaginary Native American tribe they belonged to--the Crows or the Ravens. Then they made a headdress to correspond with the bird of their tribe. Wearing their completed headdresses, kids went to the "long cabin" (actually a quilt spread out on the floor), where they enjoyed a wide range of instruction about crows, ravens and Indian tribes and their cultures, including totem poles and their meanings. The "visit" concluded with a story, complete with visual aids taken from a "story bag" (an ancient Native American tradition). The spellbound children listened intently to the story, and studied each visual aid as it was taken from the bag and passed around.

Just when I thought the kids couldn't possibly stay on track for another activity, the instructors surprised them with the opportunity to build personal totem poles from toilet paper rolls and photographs of totem poles in Alaska. The kids were proud of their projects, and delighted with their totem poles, as were the parents who whipped out cell phones and cameras to snap pictures of the finished products.
Comment:  This Colorado school seems to be teaching Pacific Northwest Indian lore rather than Plains Indian lore. That's almost unheard of, and a welcome change.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be doing it well. Here are some potential problems:

  • Joining the imaginary Crows or Ravens: as if a tribe is the same as a sports team.

  • Making phony headdresses: I don't know if these are Plains headdresses or some sort of Pacific Northwest headdresses, but they're likely to be wrong.

  • What is it with classrooms and Indian headdresses? Can't anyone think of a more original activity?

  • Making phony totem poles: Even with some instruction about the poles' meaning, I doubt the kids are doing anything authentic.

  • For more on the subject, see Kids in Headdresses Learn Creek Lore and "Grey Eagle" Teaches Stereotypes.

    Below:  A typical lesson about Indians from another school.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Well, at least someone tried! Granted, the history of these tribes are as different as black and white. There are natives that do teach children from all the tribes. I was lucky enough to learn a great deal in grade school in CA. Didn't learn much in schools in the other 12 states I lived in, including SW schools. I learned from Natives in the SW, NW Montana Nev. They are all quite different and yet, the same. I wish someone would consult tribes when they want to have a class on natives. There are tribes all over the US and some near your home. My son is Plains and my daughter in law is NW. My family is flathead and my dad was cherokee. I am all for teaching properly. But, I won't condemn this as these are very young children and perhaps it will open up their spirit to learn more later in their life. It is a baby step and as you know, babysteps are shaky and unsteady but eventually, you get where you are going.