Program Brings Native-American Culture to Schools

Article excerpt

Ask children for their views of native-American culture, and they're likely to bring up dusty battles and bows and arrows. But mention that native-American culture thrives today, and many kids stare in amazement.

The Cradleboard Teaching Project is out to change that.

The project - whose name harks from the traditional frame used by North American Indians to carry their children - began a two-year pilot project this year including five Indian and five non-Indian schools in the United States. The aim is to improve self-identity and self-esteem in both Indian and non-Indian children, and to increase contact between the two. The curriculum focuses on specific tribal groups and history from the perspective of native Americans, rather than that of European settlers. This includes precolonial history, relationships with the federal government, contact between Indians and non-Indians, contributions to contemporary culture, and even the origin of the word Indian itself. Harold Tarbell, a consultant on the project, sees a need for a teaching curriculum that focuses on both native-American history and contemporary culture. "Even in those schools with a lot of native content, they are still operating under a whole lot of stereotypes and misconceptions," says the former Mohawk chief of the Akwesasne Reserve, which lies in both the US and Canada. "Our objective is to put natives in a modern context and make it possible for them to develop personal relationships, student to student." The creator of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, Buffy Sainte-Marie, is a diminutive Canadian singer and composer who has worked throughout her career to advance the cause of native Americans. She spent several years developing the multimedia teaching program. "The one truly heartbreaking thing about being a native person," she says, "is the lack of self identity. Native people, indigenous people in general, are not genetically a part of the colonial heritage and are still struggling for self identity." She was born on a Canadian reserve but raised in a non-Indian community in Massachusetts. …