Sunday, November 29, 2015

Native American Cultural Awareness

Call it a unit study or maybe better, just interest based learning because that is how it works for us. We follow our interests and one thing leads to another. Connecting the dots and finding more dots to connect, homeschooling offers us the excitement of discovery.

My daughter's crafting interests led her to the discovery of dream catchers. 

Beautiful examples inspired my daughter, Adah, to learn to make them herself and she began creating her own. In her research to learn the techniques to make dream catchers she encountered more Native American crafts, stories and history. A couple of good reads added to the interest and we had the beginnings of a history lesson. With bits and pieces of what she was discovering connecting to our own lives, by local events and personal history, including my own personal experiences tutoring in Winnebago, Nebraska, we were led right back to our current lives in Illinois.

Visiting a local Pow Wow.

We have the good fortune of living in an area where we have access to an annual fall Pow Wow. It is one of several Pow Wows organized and promoted by the Midwest Soaring Foundation and takes place at the Naper Settlement in Napeville, IL. The Pow Wow includes traditional music and dance, craft vendors, food vendors (some serving traditional fry bread), and exhibits and presentations by SOAR - Illinois (Save Our American Raptors), an organization dedicated to the welfare of native birds of prey. At the Pow Wow we had the opportunity to watch and join in a traditional native dance circle, visit craft vendors and talk with rescuers and trainers of birds of prey.

Pow Wows are a community event and there are opportunities for everyone to participate. The MC calls the dancers into the circle to showcase different groups of dancers. The birthday celebrants dance gave us a special opportunity to join the circle.

A visit inside a tipi included listening to story telling.

Vendors had educational materials available about bison and the successful restoration of a herd in Illinois. The possibility of visiting the herd is yet another opportunity for a "field trip" and first hand experience.

In the mean time, for a close up view, we visited the American Bison housed at a local zoo. We were able to get very close to the bison and to take some wonderful photos. This year there are young ones there, too.

Resources for further study:

Following our experience at the Pow Wow, we have continued learning by reading history, novels and even poetry. We have viewed videos and visited websites for more information. Our knowledge will continue to expand as we find more resources to relate to what we've learned and experienced so far. Our experience at the Pow Wow was a wonderful real life learning opportunity that will continue to inform our ongoing exploration and serve as a touch stone to the fact that we are learning about a vibrant community and culture.

Published resources we've used include books, stories and poetry by Joseph Bruchac. His work and contact info can be found at:

I love his poem Buffalo. You can hear it on his website:

Some of Joseph Bruchac's book titles we have found interesting and informative are:

  • The Code Talkers, This historical fiction tells the life story of a Navaho boy who grows into a man and becomes a marine who contributes to the WWII effort as a code talker.
  • Arrow Over the Door Historical fiction based on the historical meeting of Quakers and Native Americans in 1777.
  • The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales Wonderful stories divided into sections geographically, which makes it a convenient resource for relating to other studies. Beautiful illustrations are the icing on the cake in this book.
Other titles to add to the list for discussion
  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla  My daughter enjoyed this one but said it wouldn't be her first choice for recreational reading.

Even more resources:

A few more excellent published written resources for advanced readers and those who really want to dig deeper include:
  • Touch The Earth A Self Portrait of Indian Existence Compiled by T.C. McLuhan             This one is a classic. Published in 1971, it includes the words of Native Americans from the 1800s and is filled with the amazingly beautiful photography of Edward Curtiss. (I've owned a copy of this beautiful book since I was a teen, the photos are magnificent and the collected words of wisdom of the first Americans are deeply moving.)
  • Bead On an Anthill A Lakota Childhood by Delphine Red Shirt The author is an accomplished contemporary writer. She shares her unique and very personal view through her work.
  • Black Elk Speaks Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Souix by John G. Neihardt Another classic.
  • Time of the Buffalo by Tom McHugh This one may be more than most want in terms of information about bison, I love it, but then I love anything prairie, plains or buffalo. 
All of the above titles are available on amazon.

Other resources we have found valuable include websites and a few videos on you tube.
There are beautiful photos in these slide show videos including photos taken by Edward Curtiss.

We've looked at the website of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council whose mission is; "To restore Bison to Indian nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual beliefs and practices." Their site includes current and historical information regarding bison, recipes and a few coloring pages for young ones.

A little curiosity goes a long way.

These are a few of the places and resources learning about dream catchers has led us to. It has been an Native American and crafting adventure that is also leading my daughter to the idea of her own Etsy store for her creations. As a homeschooling mom, I never quite know where our learning will take us but that is the welcomed adventure of learning together!

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