Historic heritage

Students get a lesson in American Indian culture

November 30, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Paul Lindsay introduced himself to an audience of students and staff at Roye-Williams Elementary School in Havre de Grace. But only his own son, Skylar understood the unfamiliar syllables.

So Lindsay translated his name from the Mohawk language into English. Among American Indians, Lindsay is known as Eagle Owl Warrior. Skylar is He Who Flies with Hawks.

Lindsay, 47, organized the school assembly, complete with some knowledgeable friends and lots of show-and-tell, in celebration of Native American Month. He shared his heritage, his culture and the numerous artifacts he has accumulated through years of dedication to the American Indian way of life.

"I am very much into the culture, and I travel the powwow circuit," he told the children.

Powwow travel, he explained, involves "gatherings that exhibit the culture and help keep the public informed about what we are and what we stand for."

Sharon Krown, teacher and publicity coordinator, said she was delighted to find such expertise among the members of her own PTA.

"There are not many schools that have such an amazing resource," she said. "We have a parent with so much knowledge. It's wonderful to listen to him and his son talk about his family and his heritage."

Lindsay began his program with a plug for environmental awareness.

"Everyone is into the environment now, but as native peoples, we have been environmentally friendly all along," he said. "We use everything from the Earth. Everything has a spirit to it and gives its life for us."

Then he showed the children colorful fans made from bird feathers, rattles fashioned from deer antlers, bones carved into whistles and jewelry, including the ornate cover over the face of his wristwatch, a basket woven from pine needles and hides stitched into clothing. He plopped a hat, made from a raccoon pelt, onto Skylar's head.

"We use what we have from the Earth," he said. "All parts and every form of the Earth."

The display included several sun-bleached skulls from a vulture, a bear, a coyote and a beaver.

"They are not scary," said Matthew Krueger, Skylar's classmate. "But you do know they are real."

Jack Davis, a member of Northern Chesapeake Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Maryland, gave a cooking demonstration with containers made from turtle shells and a knife handle that came from an animal's jawbone. His canteen was a gourd.

"We try to decide what materials artifacts were made out of and how they were used," he said.

Davis' promise to demonstrate fire-building hushed the children and drew their attention. He assured teachers that he would only go so far as producing smoke, not flame. Using the stick-rubbing method, he did quickly get a bit of smoke and a spark, which he immediately doused.

Second-grader Savannah Briggs said, "I like seeing the things they used a long time ago. And I liked him trying to make smoke."

Classmate Oge Obiajulu said many of the items in the display reminded him of his Nigerian culture.

"Nigerians are a lot like the Indians, but a little different," he said.

Cynthia Vice, who traces her family lineage to Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee nations, sang in three dialects for the children, crooning lullabies and intoning stirring anthems. She taught them to say "I love you" in Iroquois.

"Music is not just about the words, but also about how it makes you feel," she said.

Then she led them in a friendship dance that began with participants holding hands and moving in short side steps around a broad circle. The children instinctively began tapping their feet to the beat of the rousing music. But Vice urged quiet so they could all hear the melodic notes.

Several times during the dance, she tightened the circle moving the dancers as close together as space allowed and then led them in a loud, cheerful yell.

"Music is used the same way in every culture," said music teacher Cindy Bartlebaugh. "It pulls us all together."

Sydney Hash, a second-grader, said she enjoyed the program - especially the dance.

"I just know that I have a bit of Indian in me," she said.

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