Archived Story

Niles students get taste of local culture

Published 3:40pm Thursday, September 20, 2012

Niles students from Howard Elementary and Eastside Connections schools got a taste of Potawatomi culture Thursday during the first annual Heritage and Education Day in Dowagiac.

Nearly 180 Niles children were bused to the Rodger’s Lake campus of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to take part in a cultural learning day presented by tribal members and staff. In an effort to educate younger generations, tribal citizens decided to present a day of activities and traditional food that local students, teachers and parents could attend. Beyond Howard and Eastside students, the Band also welcomed Dowagiac Middle School students and Goshen, Ind., students.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” Conrad Church,  youth cultural coordinator for the Band, said. “In the past, we would set something up in individual schools, but it became difficult to schedule sometimes.”

Church said that instead of trying to find tribal citizens and volunteers to go to the classroom, they decided to bring the classroom to them.

“We originally capped it at 200 students, but we opened it up to bring in Dowagiac kids, too,” Church said. “We want them to be able to understand our culture and our people.”

Tents set up around the campgrounds of the tribal land included Potawatomi history, storytelling, crafts and dancing in the pow wow arena. After all visitors rotated through the tents, they were served a traditional Potawatomi lunch of Indian tacos, corn soup and fried bread. Many adults who accompanied the students said they had never attended anything presented by the Band or knew that the Rodger’s Lake campus existed.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” special education teacher Meg Bartlett said. “It’s so close and it’s nice to see them (students) experience different cultures.”

Fourth-grade teacher Chris Lace agreed, stating the timing and experience fell in line with the school’s focus.

“It’s our focus as a school to bring culture into the school and learn about it,” Lace said. “This allows us to get that knowledge of a local culture.”

Ainsley Martin, of Eastside, said her favorite portion of Gene Tagaban’s storytelling tent was the music.

“It was fun to listen to him,” Martin said. “I want to learn the language they speak.”

Lizzie Lahti agreed, saying she enjoyed the music and hoped the history lesson, taught by Mike Zimmerman Jr., would touch on some of the Potawatomi language.

Church said he was happy to see students joining in dancing and crafts, taking interest in the Potawatomi culture.

“There’s a balance with the presentations to give them an idea of everything,” Church said. “Each part is important.”

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