Students get hands-on experience with American Indian culture

May 05, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Kelly Tavenner looked every bit a Native American princess as she solemnly modeled a full-length deerskin dress adorned with beads, painted stones and fur.

She lifted her heavy dress slightly to show her fifth-grade classmates the matching, soft, butter-colored moccasins that she had laced to her knees.

Kelly and the other fifth-grade students at Carrolltowne Elementary had lessons in Native American lore yesterday from Steve E. Heacock, a teacher at the county Outdoor School and collector of primitive artifacts.

He promised tales to take the children back nearly 500 years to the time when the Eastern Woodland Indians lived in Maryland.

Kneeling on a deerskin rug, Mr. Heacock began with a greeting in Indian sign language and a blessing from Kishalamekong, a Native American deity.

"Most Native Americans have no written language and most of their artifacts have not survived," he said. "They shared their culture through stories, which often died with the storyteller. Much of what we know is guesswork."

Kelly fidgeted just a little.

"The dress would be OK outside, but inside it's heavy and hot," she said. "I don't think I would have wanted to live back then. It was too hard."

The costume was both warm and practical, said Mr. Heacock. The long fringes at the sleeves carried moisture from the shoulders and kept the wearer dry.

Justin Waagbo had a little trouble ridding himself of his Native American look. He had streaked his face with ocher, a brownish color derived from rocks.

"The teacher said it would wash off," said Justin, as he sported his facial lines for the class.

"Maybe by the time you go to your senior prom," said Mr. Heacock with a laugh.

Native Americans made the paint last by adding grease. Justin's streaks would probably fade by the end of the school day, said the teacher. Even with natural additives, the paints did not endure, he said.

The tribes hunted white-tail deer and Mr. Heacock showed how they made use of every part of the animal.

The teacher demonstrated how to make acorn flour by crushing the nuts with stones. He showed the class a traditional pipe and played various musical instruments.

"If they had a lot of instruments, they probably could have made pretty music with these things," said Lauren Eichelman, who rattled a terrapin shell filled with deer hoofs.

Mr. Heacock showed the group several rattles and a wooden flute, which he carries in the pelt of a weasel.

"Close your eyes and listen," he suggested as he shook a rain stick made from a hollowed cactus plant. The plant, filled with needles and beads, made a sound like softly falling rain.

"During droughts, the Indians prayed for rain with these," he said.

Nancy James, the class teacher, said, "The items look simple, but they took a skill that the people handed down to their children."

The Carrolltowne children seemed most interested in the Native American weapons. Justin Fahey said he had hunted squirrels with a bow and arrow.

"The Indians had it much harder than we do," he said. "Our arrows have metal tips. They had stone."

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