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Learning native culture from native people

  • Nick Kershner throws darts made from corn cobs at a hoop.
    Nick Kershner throws darts made from corn cobs at a hoop.
Published June 21. 2013 05:03PM

It was the third year that excited students from Willow Lane School, Macungie, came to Ontelaunee Park, Lynn Township, to learn about Indian culture on the day before the annual powwow, May 17.

Teachers accompanying the kids were Lisa Van Ormer, Lori Merrill, Matt Weimann and Joe Bigley.

The cultural displays were set up in the old pavilion and every 10 minutes students changed stations.

"Who likes candy?" asked Becky "Little Horse" Harrison. She was talking about the making of maple sugar as a sweetener used by the Indians. A shell held some sugar. She showed small spoons and forks made out of bone. A ladle was made from a horn. This was to demonstrate how every part of an animal was used.

Students sampled apricots and apples dipped in maple sugar.

Schuyler Williamson was teaching Indian games. One was to throw darts, made from a corn cob with the husks still attached, at a hoop. The hoop may have been made of a stick twisted into a circle, but the one they were using was made of small branches much like grapevine wreaths.

A second game had playing pieces weighted on each end. Children had a stick to catch the game piece in the middle and throw it to the next player.

Donna Kershner, one of the parents accompanying the students, thought the park and program were really nice.

"What do I have here," asked Too Many Feathers. The item was a set of antlers. He went over other items on his table in the same manner. There were turtle shells and turkey feathers. The feathers served as a fan in dancing. A shell could be made into a purse.

"The word 'yuck' is not in our vocabulary," he said as he showed some jewelry made of bone. If a buffalo was killed the meat was eaten. The hide was used for clothing and teeth could be used in necklaces.

Too Many Feathers showed the difference between the skull of a female deer and that of a young male. Saying you might need this if you chase a deer, he showed them a hunting arrow.

Ecology is the first commandment. "Thou shalt not litter because we have to take care of the earth," he finished.

In a weaving demonstration, Diane Hummingbird Woman, who would be the head woman dancer at the powwow, said she is making a sash because early Indians did not have belts. The white man introduced yarn. She was using plastic sticks to wrap the wool around but said bones had been used at an earlier time.

She told the stories behind some of the jewelry that was exhibited. A thunderbird ring was given to her by a Cherokee. It started with an irregular stone and the setting was made to fit around it.

Hummingbird said a Cherokee tear dress is made of strips torn from a piece of cloth.

A pot of stew bubbles over an open campfire. No one could guess what kind of meat was being used but when Duke Thorson said it was venison, many knew that was deer meat. Thorson was a track and field coach for 20 years and coached archery for 17 years.

He said venison and buffalo meat have little fat and are healthier meats to eat than beef. Before iron kettles were hung over a cooking fire, the meat would be hung directly on a stick over the fire. Some of the tribes had dried jerky so the meat would not spoil.

What was a flute good for? HorseFeather said a man would stand outside a girl's teepee and play a flute to attract her.

"Drums can actually talk. The large drums, which had bundles of tobacco and sweet grass tied to the outside, can be heard over a long distance," said HorseFeather.

A drum has good vibes. No one should sit down at a drum if they have bad feelings.

Mother Hen, a Narragansett Indian, said this was an education day. They hold it every year in conjunction with the powwow and though school kids come, they would like to see adults attend also.

Every year it gets bigger. We are all volunteers who teach our heritage - how we would have lived. You don't read about it in history books.

She said there are nine on the committee and they work all year getting ready for the next education day.

She gives the signal when it is time to move on to the next demonstration. Some of the tribes who are participating are Shoshoni, Apache, Cherokee, Lenape and Lakota.

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