February 22, 2008

Modern-day totem poles

A different kind of totem

Students break Indian tradition, design modern totem pole itemsCombining history and art, Kilday talked to her students about American Indian culture, and then she challenged them to create individual totems out of household materials such as cardboard boxes they coated in papier mache, and then decorated and colorfully painted.

But instead of limiting students to animals that would have been familiar to American Indians, such as bears, coyotes and deer, she gave them permission to be as creative as they wished. Working in teams, her students came up with a stunning array of totems, including SpongeBob. His left arm is outstretched and in his hand is a delicious Krabby Patty.

"My team created a rainbow monkey," said Haley DeRoche, 11. "We wanted to make it colorful, so we gave it a rainbow nose."

Taylor Chechowitz and her team couldn't decide between creating a tiger or a panda bear, so they settled on a hybrid creation they wound up calling a half-tiger, half-panda.
Comment:  I don't get the impression that any Northwest Indians participated in or approved this project. I wonder what they'd think of it.

Here's what I think. The project seems to trivialize the thought and effort that goes into carving a totem pole. A real pole tells an ancient legend such as a creation story. The figures on the pole have a spiritual or cultural significance; they aren't chosen on a whim. Yet this project implies that they are--that they're no more meaningful than cartoon characters.

To give an analogy, suppose the teacher assigned the students to draw Bible stories. Pay no attention to what really happened in the Bible and make up your own events, the teacher might say. Suppose the kids came up with Adam kicking God out of Eden, or Jesus kissing Satan, and said this was their version of the Bible. True believers might very well find that offensive.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

I drive by a totem pole every day, and it is many hundreds of miles from the Northwest. I doubt it has any authentic connection either.