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Native Teachings: Keeping our Traditions Alive

// Native youth learn traditional culture through art

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The Puyallup Tribal Youth Center was buzzing with activity on Jan. 14, as 4th- and 5th-graders from six area school districts gathered for “Native Teachings: Keeping our Traditions Alive.” The event attracted nearly 60 Native American students from each districts’ Indian Education Program: Puyallup, Chief Leschi, Eatonville, Federal Way, Fife and White River school districts. The youth learned beading, weaving, drumming and more from these districts’ Indian Education Program coordinators and Native American teachers from the community.

Denise Reed, culture teacher at Chief Leschi, was there with her mom Sharron Nelson, who is a master weaver. Together, they showed the children how to make miniature woven cedar mats.

“It’s good because for some of these kids it’s their first time ever weaving,” Denise said.

Sharron Nelson said she enjoyed seeing how pleased the students were with their cedar works of art. “To see the looks on those little boys’ faces when they finished, they just sat there looking at it and smiling and it just warms your heart.”

The whole idea for “Native Teachings: Keeping our Traditions Alive” came from Chief Leschi language and culture teacher Teresa Harvey after she attended Evergreen State College’s “Generations Rising,” which also teaches Native youth about their culture. She ran into Fife Schools Indian Education Coordinator Martha Sherman while there and the two began to immediately brainstorm.

“I saw her in the crowd and said, ‘We can do this, Martha,’ and this is what we came up with,” Teresa Harvey said.

This first time out, everything was paid for out of pocket, but hopes are that a grant will come through next year to bring more to the event.

“We’ve been meeting over a number of months to plan this activity,” said Puyallup Culture Director Connie McCloud. “Each one of the school districts, and my Culture Department, has contributed toward the activity. Each of the students was asked to bring their own lunch so there wasn’t a big out of pocket expense. We’re hoping to next year maybe ask for some money for supplies to help invite in facilitators or speakers that we could offer a small honorarium.”

Stations were set up for the young students to visit and make corn husk dolls, beaded necklaces, woven mats, little folded buffalos and their own bone games set. They learned about the Puyallup River, the mountain and to remember to say thank-you for the gifts Mother Earth gives us, said Connie McCloud.

“By doing this with other school districts, we have some students that don’t have the opportunity to learn these kinds of things in their school programs.