Native American culture popped out of the books Sunset Avenue fifth graders have been studying for the past six weeks and visited their school Wednesday, with students taking in a mini-Pow Wow showcasing the various aspects of a culture that has a rich history in Sampson County and across the United States.
The event, which ran throughout the morning at the school, was spearheaded by the Sunset fifth grade Social Studies teachers and let the students experience and interact with much of what they have learned as part of the core curriculum.
There were numerous stations that each brought a different aspect of Native American culture to the young students, including dancing, storytelling, games, a museum that displayed and let students touch artifacts and a cooking station where students tasted fry bread.
While there have been similar programs in the past, they have often been held for the collective fourth and fifth grade classes and held in the auditorium, where the students sit as a show is put on for them. Wednesday’s event went a step further, as students became a part of the show.
“We’ve been studying early settlers and Native Americans and this was a really good way to incorporate that,” said Christina Brewington, fifth-grade Social Studies teacher. “It’s important for them to be aware of Native Americans as a culture and be able to see it.”
Assistant principal Lakecshia Phillips said the mini-Pow Wow was a “wonderful way to celebrate Native American culture.” A larger Pow Wow is held each year at the Coharie Tribal Center grounds, hosting tribes from Sampson and surrounding counties, as well as others across the state. Phillips said the event puts a face to that culture, with some of the dancers Wednesday actually being Sunset students themselves.
“Even though we have the culture around, some may not be exposed to it and this brings it to them,” Phillips said. “I’m so glad we were able to offer this at school. They seem to be enjoying everything and they’ve been very attentive everywhere they go. They’re interested in every station.”
Sharon Williams, Indian education coordinator for Clinton City Schools, said it is nice to broaden the minds and world view of children through educational activities such as the mini-Pow Wow. She said similar Native American celebrations are put on at Butler Avenue School, as well as the middle school and high school. Traditionally held in November, the event at Sunset Avenue School was bumped up to October.
Williams said Wednesday’s event acted to spread awareness among the children of a culture that was much more than just dancing. “Some think it’s just dancing,” she said. “We let them know there’s much more to it than just dancing.”
The storytelling let kids hear about the culture through narrative, while the museum gave students the opportunity to touch large authentic pieces of Native American culture they may have only seen pictures of before — from breastplates and dream catchers, to talking sticks and stone hatchets to clothes, beads and other regalia, the youngsters interacted with each item, learned about them and then discussed the purpose and significance of each.
Fourth-graders study Native American culture that focuses on North Carolina, while fifth-graders’ Native American learning experience spans six weeks and covers the entire United States. Teacher Stormi Moore said that includes how Native Americans lived and worked and how different tribes in various regions have been affected over the years.
“Even though we’ve been reading about it, it’s important for them to be able to experience it,” said Moore. “They’re loving it. They’re really enjoying it. They learned the significance of the dancers and that what they wear corresponds to the type of dance they are doing, and they learned about the different regalia.”
She said, when most students were first introduced to a different culture through their studies, they believed Native Americans were people who wore headdresses and regalia everywhere they went.
“We told them that they wear normal clothes like we do,” said Moore, “but they stay true to their culture.”
Teacher Chris Senger said the event served as a “culminating activity” to what the children have been learning since the beginning of the school year. Senger led perhaps the most discussed station at the mini-Pow Wow, in which students were taught a Native American variation on rock-paper-scissors called “Tilikum,” which means “friend” in Chinook. In the variation, the signs have changed but the idea is basically the same, with earth, water and fire taking the place of the old standbys.
In the game, earth drinks water, water puts out fire and fire scorches earth. Whether they were in the museum or at the outside station enjoying fry bread while taking in dancing and drumming, they were still going through the motions of their new game with each other.
Students Rahzel Richardson and Wilmer Palacios pointed to the game and dancing as their favorite part of the festivities. Fifth grader Katie Bauman pointed to the whole day as the highlight —and, of course, the new game.
“It’s great because you get to so to class and not have to work,” Bauman said simply. “It’s so fun to see everything here. We got to see history, history I tell you. We learned how to play a new rock, paper, scissors. We’ve been studying all different kinds of Native Americans. Before I thought they just had feathers and everything, but they are just regular people and it’s cool to learn about them.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.