5th graders learn about their own Native American culture

Ironically, the 5th graders are assigned a unit about People of the Plains as a part of their curriculum.  This always leaves me scratching my head because my class, Native American Studies, is pretty much all about the People of the Plains.  From the time the kids begin in first grade and go on up to eighth grade, they will have learned many concepts about our beautiful Lakota (Sioux) culture.

Native American children learning about their culture.
The kids were so interested in their Lakota (Sioux) culture.

To begin, I asked the students to make a KWL chart.  This is a chart that lists what you know (K), what you want to know (W) and lastly, what you learned (L).  Thanks to this process, I was able to tailor the lessons so I didn’t teach something they already knew about. I was able to directly show and discuss actual artifacts from our classroom and the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center on campus.

Some questions they had were about tools, weapons, clothes, food, games, tasks, horses, dogs, child rearing, medicine men, moons and medicines.  We learned from the internet, class discussions and by viewing and touching many items at the museum.  Visiting the museum was their favorite activity.  They touched bones that were used for painting, cutting, sewing, scraping and working.  They also learned how paint was made, how items were decorated with porcupine quills, eagle feathers and buffalo parts that were used for practical uses. For example, the buffalo bladder was used as a water carrier, the skin became blankets and the tail was used as a fly swatter.

After the unit was finished, I reflected on how I am really thankful to have this unit.  It gives the kids a chance to ask questions about what they want to know and it gives me an opportunity to teach and talk about some different, awesome avenues of our Lakota culture.

Building relationships

Hi everyone! LaRayne here, St. Joseph’s Native American Studies teacher.

I recently teamed up with Sherry, one of our counselors, to oversee St. Joseph’s eight week inter-city basketball program.

Sherry and I were blessed with being able to watch some relationships being built between our St. Joseph’s Indian School girls and the girls from the Chamberlain community. We had 31 total girls take part in the fun and 16 of those were St. Joseph’s girls.  We had four teams which were named after four WNBA teams:  Charlotte Sting, Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics and the Minnesota Lynx.  The Lynx have a connection to St. Joseph’s through a church in Minnesota.

Not only did the girls get to build relationships as a team on the basketball court, but also in other areas.  During the second week of the program, Sherry and I created a fun night of team building skills, games and activities along with a fun meal and a swim in the pool on our campus.  The girls continued to build relationships while playing a game they really love – basketball.  The community and campus come together for a great cause.  Our referees and coaches were all from the community as well as St. Joseph’s employees and family members.

The last week of inter-city encompassed two all star games (one for the younger and one for the older girls) and another hour in the pool to finish the program.

Sherry and I look forward to building this program in the years ahead so that when our students from St. Joseph’s attend the public high school, they will see familiar faces at high school and will have built some relationships that will last for years to come.

The Sacred Cannupa

Kara is carving her soap into a Native American pipe.
Kara did a great job creating her pipe from a bar of soap!

The 4th grade classes are learning about the rituals and beliefs of our Lakota Culture.  Within this unit is the center of who we are as a people.  The cannupa or pipe is a part of many ceremonies and everyday life.  The pipe can be used for special ceremonies and for prayer when it is needed.

The class embraces the hands-on time of learning about the parts of a real pipe as well as singing the song that accompanies the filling of a pipe.  We do not smoke the actual pipe because this is something that is for special use and I believe that many of our children should have this experience with their families.

Three Native American students carving pipes
The students did such a good job carving!

We cannot travel out of state for class trips, so we learn about how pipestone is harvested and shaped into a sacred, beautiful object which holds deep meaning.  The students are told the story of the Pte San Win, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the pipe to our people centuries ago.  The pipestone quarry in Pipestone, Minnesota holds historical meaning to the creation stories of our people as well.   It is believed that the area where the quarry is today is the place where the last of our people drowned in the great flood.  Their blood is the red-colored rock that we use for pipe-making today.

The Native American students are then able to do a little creating of their own.  I demonstrate how to carve a piece of soft soap into what might be the bowl of a pipe.  As you can see from the pictures, they are proud of their creations.

This unit of learning ties their American Indian culture to their hands, hearts and minds.

Loom beadwork of our Native American youth

Native American loom beading.
Native American loom beading.

Every year, I get to teach an area of Lakota (Sioux) culture that is close to my hands and heart-loom beading.

The 7th grade class has begun the task of learning what it takes to make those beautifully created drops for regalia, barrettes, hair ties, name plates, bracelets and whatever other ideas the kids come up with in their minds and hearts.

We begin with looking at some old and new pieces of beadwork so that the kids can see examples of what they can make.  Some of these items are decades old and some are as new as last year. I also encourage our Native American youth to take a deeper look at any piece of beadwork they come in contact with in their world.

My objectives are many.  I want the kids to connect culture to their hearts, of course; but also to see the difference between designs from tribe to tribe.  Our Lakota (Sioux) designs are very geometric and math is a big part of loom beading.  Counting, centering, dividing, designing, measuring and creating are all a part of this project.  I also encourage understanding the colors and what they may mean to different tribes, individuals and cultures.  The final product is very rewarding for me and the students.  The loom pieces are given as gifts, worn or used for themselves and some are sold to staff for a little extra spending money.  This is also a part of the objectives.  This is an art our culture has done for generations and it can be a money-making venture for someone who is motivated and educated to embrace that challenge and talent.

From here, the students create or find a design they draw out on graph paper.  Next is learning to string the loom appropriately and accurately. I tell the students that the hardest part is threading their needle and putting the first row of beads on their loom (which were made by our very own maintenance department elves in the workshop here on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus).  From here, the possibilities are endless.  It is an art you love or don’t.  Many of our students love it.

Today, I am waiting for a response from Fr. Steve who is attending the Lakota Nation Invitation conference in our beautiful Paha Sapa/Black Hills.  I submitted two pieces of loom beadwork from our school and I am hoping for a ribbon to hang by their stocking upon returning from Christmas Break.

Wanikiye taampetu!=Jesus’s birthday/Christmas

LaRayne, Native American Studies Teacher 1st -8th  grades

Here's a beautiful piece from one of our students!
Here's a beautiful piece from one of our students!