RONAN — The Ronan Indian Education Committee (IEC) discussed how tribal youth can feel more comfortable with their culture and not as though they are living two lives when they are in and out of school. To that end IEC created Native Heritage Month where the students can feel more involved with culture and education.
“This is our culture. We wanted to find a way for our culture to be educational and fun for students to be proud of who they are,” says Linda Ferris of the IEC.
Every week of November is a new theme. The first week of November was door decoration. Students and teachers chose an event or an elder to highlight on the classroom door. The following week is Teachers challenge, where teachers are challenged to learn and discover new lessons for their class. They use resources from local community members and Salish Kootenai College to provide information and literacy, Native games, and dances. Community members of Native descent come to classes to teach about their jobs. Some of the community members are poets,writers and artists, and they work with students and talk to them about their culture and work. The third week was Native Strong Week. Students and teachers were encouraged to dress in their moccasins, ribbon skirts, and beaded jewelry. The last week of Native Heritage month is called Teachers Choice. It is a fun and healthy challenge for teachers to include Tribal educators and a community guest speaker, literary supplies, and activities that focus on the Salish and Pend O’reille people into the education of students and teachers.
Theme ideas come from the IEC, students and teachers themselves. The teachers are in charge of putting the events together and getting students involved.
Pablo Elementary student demographic includes 79 percent who identify as Native American. “We work very hard to make sure the Native culture is a part of our curriculum and lessons throughout the school year, but give special consideration to November (Native Amerian Heritage Month) and specifically Native strong Week,” says Ryan Fisher, Principal of Pablo Elementary via email.
“Our teachers tend to be very good throughout the year to truly embed Indian Education the whole school year, not just noticing it through the one month,” says Jessica Johnson of the CSKT Indian Education Department. The Ronan School District focuses on Indian Education as one whole effort they are involved throughout the year. The schools are giving more options such as Involving Native language; so far they have a Salish language class teaching language, regalia, songs, and dance. The classes are focusing on the younger students and include older students who are interested. Ronan High School has started a drumming group as well as a garden with native plants such as sweet grass, apples, plums, elderberries, and sage. The family consumer classes have been working on drying out the sweet grass and making traditional dishes with the items grown in the schools’ garden. The goals for the Ronan School District is to immerse the district with culture.
Students are encouraged to interview Elders, family members, and community members to learn new things about their own culture as well as other cultures.
SKC students in Kootenai language program are working on apprenticeships to learn and teach the language in hopes to preserve and revitalize the language.
The goal for students is to feel more comfortable with their culture and education. Native Heritage Month has been a work in progress for the past four years and has become a popular subject over that time. However, since its creation, it’s become not just a focused issue during one month, but a year round topic for the school and students to embrace.