Vancouver students learn about Native American cultures at drumming assembly

Slowly, then louder and louder, the rumble of animal skin drums began to reverberate through the halls of Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday.

Pastor Joseph Scheeler, an leader of All Saints Episcopal Church and the Traveling Day Society, led a group of Native percussionists as they sang in the school’s music room. The performance was shown via Zoom to students in Lincoln classrooms and was followed by a virtual storytelling session hosted by Ed Edmo, a Shoshone-Bannock poet who shared stories about Indigenous groups in the River Basin. Columbia.

The Traveling Day Society is an intertribal group that plays flutes and drums in schools, hospitals, and other community venues to spread knowledge of generations-old tribal tales through song. Performers at Tuesday’s event represented the Cherokee, Anishinaabe, Shawnee and many other tribes.

For weeks, students in Lincoln and a handful of other schools in Vancouver’s public schools learned about the cultural history of many Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest. As the Thanksgiving holidays apprteachers, teachers felt there was an even greater need to focus on Indigenous history and values.

In recent years, Lincoln music and visual art teacher Erik Smith has felt the history teaching around Thanksgiving is incomplete.

“As a teacher, I have been working on teaching this holiday for years, but never as authentically as I wanted to,” Smith said. “This year, all the stars aligned when (Scheeler) wanted to donate authentic drums.”

Smith used drums, made from dried elk or deer hide and antlers, in his music lessons to showcase the role music plays in Indigenous culture and how it connects people to the Earth. The name of the one-month unit is called Indigenous Cultural Music.

Scheeler said it was a special honor for these songs to be taught to young students.

“These songs and these drums are so old that they are passed down orally from drum to drum,” Scheeler said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach these things, like what it means to have respect for the drum and what it means. Because the first NPeople believe he is alive.

Scholarships for the arts

Wendy Thompson, dance and movement instructor at nearby Lake Shore Elementary School, helped write a grant that funds programs in Lincoln and other elementary schools in the district. She and a group of teachers held similar assemblies at each of the participating schools in the days leading up to the holidays.

“I started teaching in Vancouver public schools in 1992,” said Thompson. “When I first arrived, education about Native Americans was pretty stereotypical, even scary. Textbooks talk about the first Thanksgiving, but that’s not necessarily the story.

“The entire grant is aimed at building cultural connections.”

The grant was $ 25,000 from ArtsWA, which funds community art projects in Washington with a focus on those that promote cultural equity and diversity.

An introduction to Indigenous culture and history for young children through music opens the door to appreciation of Indigenous culture as it becomes a more complex subject for older students. According to teachers, it is also a more balanced and accurate way for students to learn about Thanksgiving, compared to previous generations. As these students grow up, they will do so with a greater awareness of the connection they share with a community that had previously been eclipsed in American education.

Music is also proving to be an often more engaging method than classroom learning, teachers said, especially as COVID-19 has forced educators to be more creative in how they engage students. young students.

“A lot of students have nothing to do with traditional learning methods. If they don’t understand it through lectures or readings, if they can experience it through their body in a physical way through dance or play, they will remember it better ”, Thompson said.

“The arts are more than ever essential to self-expression, to relay certain key concepts, often children make connections in the arts that they could not do in class. “

Smith loved the level of engagement he saw from the students on this unit this year, and recalls a specific moment when one student explained how the drums made him feel.

“A third grade student said that by closing his eyes he felt a spiritual connection with the beating of the Earth. I’m sitting here saying, “This is more than I could ever imagine! “Smith said.” That’s exactly what we’re learning here.

Scheeler said he looks forward to continuing these assemblies in the future and hopes these shared messages in their performance and the program as a whole can help bridge the gap between previously distant cultures.

“Whatever the story, I think the meaning we can get from it is this: yes, it is good that people from different cultures can sit together, but it is only with this interaction that understanding comes, ”Scheeler said. “If we sit in our own circles, we can never really understand each other.

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