Suquamish Basket Marsh: Creating a Living Library

Suquamish Basket Marsh: Creating a Living Library

Traditional Ecological Knowledge

cattailwritingCROPThe Suquamish Basket Marsh: Creating a Living Library


An Outdoor Environmental Learning Classroom for the students of Suquamish Elementary School

By Melinda West

There is a Salish legend passed down by the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest that explains the origin of the cedar tree and why it has been referred to as: “Long-Life Maker”.  For over four-thousand years this slow-growing, shade-and- water-loving evergreen has resided amongst the fir, yew and hemlock trees, in forests along the edges of Puget Sound. The legend explains that the cedar trees were once generous people who looked to the welfare of others in their community and responded to their needs.  I’d like to tell you a story that makes me believe the spirit of this legend is alive and flourishing today.

My relationship with Suquamish Elementary school was rekindled in the spring of 2000.  This was the public school my own two, now adult sons had attended.  For over a decade, I had spent many hours volunteering in each of their classrooms.  On this occasion I was invited as a consultant because of my work as a natural fiber weaving specialist.  This visit was to hear about an innovative idea for a project that would combine science, social studies and art education.  The proposed project would involve converting a barren, fenced-off drainage catchment area on school grounds into a pond and native plant garden.

Pulling into the auxiliary parking lot, I glanced straight ahead at this desolate space, off limits to students, yet taking away up to one third of the play area.  These depressions in the landscape surrounded by locked chain-link fences are commonly seen throughout the Kitsap Peninsula, in Washington State, where I’ve resided for over a quarter century.  They are required for surface water purification.  I tend to look away from these sites and search for alternative focuses which hold some beauty — the chirping sounds of children at play, verdant leaves unfurling, even the bright yellow of dandelion weeds.

Six years later, as I drive into that same parking lot at Suquamish Elementary, my eyes are drawn to cattail leaves dancing over a shimmering pond.  I see delicate, green stalks of the Northwest sweetgrass sedge growing in the bog.  Both plants have been used for centuries as weaving materials by the First People of this place.  There is a boardwalk and gravel trail that follows the perimeter of the pond.  A rain shelter built of yellow cedar is reminiscent of the long houses that once stood nearby.  A small cedar tool shed, and wooden benches are nestled in between adolescent hazelnut, vine maple, and western red cedar trees.  Shrubs, ferns and ground covers mingle below the wild roses, red currants, and willows.

There is a class of third graders using this space when I arrive.  Little faces peak out from behind a bird blind woven with grapevines from a local vineyard. Other students are sitting on boulders perched near the pond, glacial remnants generously donated by a local landscape company.  At this moment the students are quietly engaged, making observations and entries in their pond journals.  They are smelling and touching plants, writing, measuring, and sketching.  In a little while, I will be accompanying a class of fourth graders the fifty odd yards away from the building, through the woven arbor gate and under the twig sign that says: “Welcome”.

“In traditional Native American cultures, art was not a separate pursuit.  Beauty and utility came together in objects of everyday use to reflect a way of life and an aesthetic that respected the relationship people had with their environment.”…Shaun Peterson, Salish Artist, 2004 SAM exhibit” Song, Story, Speech”.

 

As a plant fiber artist, teachers invite me to present ethnobotanical knowledge about Pacific Northwest plants to their students.  This provides content for social studies and science requirements, while the techniques for using the plant fibers provide physical activity, math and art skills.  The Basket Marsh and outdoor classrooms of its kind are living libraries and laboratories.  They contain unlimited resources for teaching every subject students need to learn.

What I have to offer as a teaching artist is most effective in an environment where students can see, touch, smell, hear, and sometimes even taste, the subject-matter.  Again and again, I have witnessed that this first-hand experiential learning of natural science and culture gives lasting memory and meaning to students.  The virtues of the western red cedar can easily be appreciated by children, when they are given pieces of the leather-like inner bark to experiment with as they sit next to young growing cedar trees.  Non-conventional learning environments like the Suquamish Basket Marsh give opportunities for students and classroom teachers to meet and interact directly with artists and other specialists from the community.

Today I will model my craft, and students will get to experience weaving with cattails that they have helped to grow and harvest from their Basket Marsh.  We will share stories, sing a weaving song, and then weave a mat or make some rope in order to experience first hand the ingenious ways that cattails and other native plants have been used by the First People of this place.

 

Connecting the Project to the Place

Suquamish1Every part of this country is sacred to my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or sad experience of my tribe.”…..Chief Seattle, speech at the Pt. Elliot Treaty signing, paraphrased by Dr Henry Smith, 1854.

Twelve thousand years ago, a thick layer of ice covered the Pacific Northwest.  As the ice melted, glaciers formed and slowly carved out deep channels that the water filled.  Forests grew, and the land that was left became covered with plants.  In some origin stories, native North American storytellers have told that the First People were once plants and animals who later took human form.  Those people began to live in villages along the shorelines, and since then their descendants have been living here too.  Long before contact with explorers, trappers, and settlers, the place near the present day town of Suquamish was highly populated.  Everything needed to sustain a rich community and cultural life was present in the forests, meadows, rivers, at the water’s edge, and in the sea.

“Children learned from an early age not to pluck too much or ruthlessly destroy the valuables of the earth.  They learned responsible, caring behavior both through stories, metaphors and focused instruction at opportune moments and through observation, emulation and experience.”…Nancy Turner, from THE EARTH’S BLANKET, 2005.

 

Prehistoric survival was dependant upon the knowledge of place accumulated over time: geography, seasons, cycles, weather patterns, plants, and animals.  In recent times, this knowledge, reflected in the First Peoples’ relationship with the flora and fauna, is being referred to as Sacred Ecology or Traditional Ecological Knowledge.  This body of information has been passed down through the oral tradition from one generation to the next, through stories, songs, ceremonies, and through the practice of traditional technologies, skills, and arts derived from the environment.

In Lushootseed, a language spoken by many of the First People of the Puget Sound area, the word for Suquamish is d’suq’wub which means “place of clear salt water”.  The city of Seattle was named in honor of Chief Seattle, the Duwamish and Suquamish leader, who in the mid 1800’s protected his community from the raiding parties of other tribes. Later, in hopes of further protecting his people from the influx of settlers and a new government hungry for land and resources, he signed a treaty with the United States government which resulted in the city of Seattle being built upon traditional Duwamish Tribal land.  Chief Seattle’s burial site is only a few blocks away from Suquamish Elementary school.  Every August, the Suquamish Tribe sponsors a huge gathering of Intertribal-Nation festivities and canoe races known as Chief Seattle Days, honoring this important leader.

Nearly one quarter of the students at Suquamish Elementary school, are descendants of First Peoples indigenous to North America.  After many years of misunderstanding by impinging dominant cultures, the perspectives and approaches to education espoused by some of the traditional First Peoples’ teachings are starting to be better understood and valued.  The holistic ways of thinking about the Earth, organizing information, and connecting knowledge to daily life are as important today as ever.

“In our culture all things are living….everything has life.”…Dr. Martina Whelshula, Colville Tribes, Benchmarks Panel, WAEYC Conference, 10-27-06.

Traditional teachings are imbued with lessons for sustainable living and are intrinsically linked to place.  Relationships — with people, plants, animals, and all the elements, are emphatically important. Now the Suquamish Basket Marsh is providing opportunities everyday for these types of lessons to touch children of all cultural backgrounds within the school and community.  The Lushooteed name for this outdoor classroom is:  gelk’ali. It means “place of weaving”.

Weaving has always been part of the community in the First People’s traditional culture here in this place.  Now it is part of the healing for our people.  We are stitching and mending the culture back together.”….Darlene Peters,PHD, counselor, teacher, Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam, gelk’ali dedication speech, May 2002.

 

Planting the Seed

The idea for the gelk’ali came from Ron Hirschi, a fisheries biologist who worked for many years with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.  He is author of over fifty books for children, many that combine real life pictures of animals with accurate scientific information.  While appearing as a guest for the school’s May 2000 Young Authors Day, Mr. Hirschi shared with students, projects from other schools including the restoration of a wetland at Pickerington Elementary in Ohio.  He suggested creating a pond out of the storm water retention area at Suquamish Elementary.  His idea was that by planting it with native plants traditionally used by the local First People, especially plants used for traditional basket weaving, there would be an opportunity for tribal families to become more involved at the school. Tribal members living in the community could be invited into classrooms to share cultural experiences and knowledge with all the students.  Mr. Hirschi also shared how students, at nearby Seabeck Elementary, formed an after school group called the “Salmon Team”.  He helped this team partner with parents, the S’Klallam Tribe, and Trust for Public Lands, to acquire an entire estuary after research by the Salmon Team showed the presence of endangered salmon in its waters.

 

Recognizing a Problem

“As teachers we should be striving to give kids moments of greatness.  How can we help students have these moments?”…Jan Jackson, personal interview, 9-13-06

After 18 years of teaching, Jan Jackson, a librarian at Suquamish Elementary school, was considering retirement.  She felt she was losing an important connection with her students.  Like many classroom teachers today, Ms. Jackson recognized the challenge of engaging students with a broad spectrum of learning styles from various cultural and economic backgrounds.  She noticed that many students were spending more and more time in front of video and television screens.  She also saw the pressures put upon teachers to spend more time teaching to a system of standardized tests, leaving less time to develop relationships with students for building life and learning skills.  At the same time, children were having fewer opportunities to be outside, fewer chances to be observing nature, less time to be exploring and responding to the natural environment through the arts and sciences.

Suquamish2“Direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development – physical, emotional, and spiritual….it is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and ADD…it improves standardized test scores…it develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, decision making…and creativity”… Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods, 2005.

When a need is recognized and a community cares, a good idea can be set into motion as long as there is someone like Ms. Jackson to see it through.  She first approached Principal Joe Davalos with the concept of the outdoor classroom.  “It helps to have a principal that lets people follow their heart,” she says of Davalos.  Other teachers became interested, and a committee was formed which met through the summer to plan a Basket Marsh curriculum.  Relating the curriculum to career education helped the school apply for funds from their school district’s vocational department to get them started.

 

Gathering a Team

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead, anthropologist 1901-1978

With the principal, teachers, students, parents, and the Suquamish Tribe on board, it was time to see if there was community support for the Basket Marsh.  For the next two years Ms. Jackson spent many hours in outreach, bringing students with her to attend school board and other community meetings. Individuals, families, corporate and business sponsors, all stepped forward to provide funds, services, equipment, materials, and the invaluable hours of labor and expertise required.  Approval from the school board, consulting with the water district, permits from the county, all needed to be researched and secured.

The Suquamish Tribe partnered with the school, providing ongoing funding for programs and projects at the gelk’ali.  They helped develop the plan for the marsh, provided soil testing, water flow analysis, ground surveys, plant recommendations, and consultations by hydrology and fisheries professionals. The county departments of Waste Water Management and Solid Waste, as well as the local public utility district’s Education Department, have given continual support.

Institutions of higher learning have been important resources for the gelk’ali.  Each year, many students from Suquamish Elementary spend four days at IslandWood’s School Overnight Program, receiving an intensive environmental education experience.  An ongoing partnership has formed with this nationally acclaimed environmental learning center, and inspiration for many of the class service projects have come from this relationship.  Members of IslandWood’s staff and some of their graduate students have helped with improvements at the gelk’ali, and have been involved in follow-up teaching.  The National Wildlife Foundation and Cornell University’s department of Ornithology’s “Classroom Feeder Watch Program” have also enhanced environmental education and science curriculum.

As director of the pond project, Ms. Jackson credits the whole community with building the gelk’ali. Students, teachers and staff, PTA, school district personnel, county employees, the Suquamish Tribe, biologists, carpenters, scientists, authors, specialists, garden clubs, the local Rotary, civil engineers, architects, landscapers, artists, area businesses, parents and volunteers — all saw the need and understood the benefits.

 

Involving the Students

“I want kids to get their hands dirty, and not be afraid to make a mess.” …Jan Jackson 9-15-06

Known as the “Pond kids”, these 4th-6th graders fill out applications at the beginning of each year in hopes of gaining a position on the Student Advisory Board.  This extracurricular group of 25-30 students meets weekly with Ms. Jackson and the volunteer docents.  The Pond Kids have been involved in all aspects of the development of the gelk’ali, from research, to fund-raising, to planning and coordinating Earth Day assemblies.  Early on, the students helped design and plan the pond.  After meeting with a parent who showed them how to take topographical measurements of the site, they built a 3-dimensional scale model to help with their presentations to the School Board, sponsors, and to other community groups. They cleared out the blackberries and Scotch broom, and helped rake, dig and plant.   Now the Pond Kids continue the ongoing physical labor at the gelk’ali, restoring habitat and maintaining the plants.

“Before the pond was built the grass was brown and now it’s green.  I enjoy knowing I’m making a difference in the school.” …Winona, 5th grader, 2002

 

All the students at Suquamish Elementary utilize the gelk’ali for learning.  Each student has a pond journal they use for documenting their observations at the gelk’ali throughout the year.  Along with each class, every year a new group of Pond Kids implement one or more service projects that connect the gelk’ali with the whole school.  One project inspired after a visit to IslandWood has been recycling lunchroom waste. The Pond Kids researched vermaculture, and agreed upon the size needed for the worm boxes based upon their measurements of daily school lunch food waste. The boxes were built by a parent volunteer. The students made instructional posters, gave presentations to classes, and volunteered to stay in from recess to help collect the food waste.  Now the school saves district money since there is less trash.  At the same time, the worms decompose all that food waste into useful compost for the plants at the gelk’ali.

As well as learning important aspects of being responsible stewards of the land, the Pond Kids are encouraged to be active citizens and communicators. They have written letters to sponsors, articles for school newsletters, and corresponded with foundations and public officials. In the course of these activities they have won local, regional and national recognition for their environmental leadership.  Each week the Pond Kids report back to their classrooms what they are leaning at the gelk’ali.  To help build relationships between grade levels they also report weekly to their “buddy classrooms” in the primary grades.  Each year all the students at Suquamish Elementary are learning about environmental stewardship first hand.

“The marsh is like a puzzle that fits into the big picture.  The plants protect the pond from harm.  The trees grow, give shade, and hold together the pond with their strong immense roots.  The dirt absorbs nutrients and, sometimes, the pollution.  The animals in the pond make it a happier place for us.” …Tyler, 4th grader, 2002

 

 

Imagining the Future

 

Teachings of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller from NWIN on Vimeo.

“An intimate participation leaves a memory as long as you are on the earth.”…Bruce Miller, the late Skokomish Spiritual Leader and Cultural Teacher, from Teachings of the Tree People, 2005 video produced by Katie Jennings and IslandWood

 

How can teachers find the support they need to step outside of the metaphoric boundaries of classrooms today?  In conjunction with standardized learning and testing, is it within the realm of possibility that community-born projects for learning could be used by more teachers and children, on a daily basis?

Imagine every elementary school in the United States being able to tell a story like this.  Not identical, of course, but a story of how their schools, students, parents, and communities could find authentic ways to meet the educational needs of their children.  The native plant garden and outdoor classroom is just one possibility for providing an atmosphere for student-driven, inquiry-based learning.  At the gelk’ali, as teachers become more comfortable embracing this resource, the natural history of Suquamish can come to life for their students.  Differing cultural perspectives can be explored giving all students the opportunity to examine their own cultural roots and traditions.  The scientific and artist processes can be taught –honing observation skills, exploring and asking questions, experimenting, designing solutions, researching, making measurements, learning techniques and skills, documenting results, reflecting upon them, and finding new questions!

Throughout the development of the gelk’ali, the school, tribe, and community have proven to be devoted advocates for promoting diverse cultural perspectives and approaches to education. They have diligently created a place of learning that enhances the educational opportunities for students with various learning strengths, and engages them through methods that mainstream classrooms cannot offer.

“Working with the Suquamish Tribe…planting the grasses the indigenous peoples worked with for their basket making, takes teaching to the highest level:  Every time we educate our children on the rich diversity that exists in this country, we educate ourselves.” …Jay Inslee, US House of Representatives, Washington State Congressional District # 1, Letter for the Dedication of the Galk’ali 4-02

 

Outdoor classrooms, such as the Suquamish Basket Marsh, broaden educational opportunities for a diverse group of students. They give non-conventional teaching specialists the opportunity to use their respective art forms as vehicles for teaching science, math, social studies, language, history, and the arts.  Concepts difficult to learn from books alone or while sitting inside at desks, become illuminated, when students are given opportunities to relate them to natural living systems on a daily basis.

Many caring individuals have built this special place of learning.  Around the pond, the cedar trees are growing taller.  As in the ancient legend of the cedar tree, each sword fern, camas bulb, huckleberry and Oregon grape plant – reflect a piece of a story of someone’s generosity.  When people care about their children’s education, even a small puddle on the school grounds can become a lesson about the transformative power of a community working together.

 

Additional Information:

History/Stages of Pond Development

Stage I – 2000 – Planning

Stage II – 2001 – Construction

Stage III – 2002 – Maintenance, Improvements, Service Projects

Stage IV – 2003 to Present – Maintenance, Ongoing Service Projects

Partnerships

Suquamish PTA

Suquamish Garden Club

Kitsap County Solid Waste Department

Kitsap County Storm Water Management Department

Public Utilities Education Department

IslandWood

Cornell University

National Wildlife Federation

Awards

President’s Environmental Youth Award, 2003

Kitsap County Commissioners’ Earth Day Award, 2002, 2006

Grand Prize, Ivy Sculpture Contest, Bainbridge Gardens, 2004

Grants

Suquamish Tribe Appendix X, 2000-present

Lowe’s Toolbox For Education Grant, 2006

Gifts from many assorted local business and individuals

 

Artists

Traditional Native American Tribal Weavers

Botanical Illustrator

Natural Fiber Weaver

Cedar Weaver

Cartoonist

Soft-metal sculpturist

Book illustrator

Visual artist

Authors

Ceramic artist

Mosaic artist

 

List of Service Projects by Classes and Pond Kids

Science Fair Projects

Water testing

Building a copper water gauge for measuring water level at pond related to rainfall

Stepping Stones

Weaving a branch and vine bird blind

Earth Day Celebration assemblies

Native plant tiles with imprint and scientific, common and Lushootseed names

Native plant studies, drawings over the seasons

Cattail weaving projects

Ivy animal sculptures

Classroom Bird Feeder Watch, Cornell University

Participate in making film, Teachings of the Tree People, sponsored by IslandWood

Recycled material baskets

Contribute drawings for IslandWood field Guide:  ALL MY RELATIONS.

Cedar gathering bark with Suquamish Tribal Elder

Cedar basket weaving

Cordage making

Dream catchers

Mason Bee house

Bird feeders and houses

Bat houses

Programs with Tribal Elders

Worm bins

Field testing a weaving project for a book by Bruce Miller and Nan McNutt

Participation in a Nature Conservancy Education Video

Bird Observation Garden

For More Information Contact:

 

Ron Hirschi www.ronhirschi.com

Watch for the new book: We all Live Downstream. These are the words of Holly Cocoili, Environmental Biologist for the S’Klallam Tribe.  Her words and the concept inspired a new book by that title written by Ron Hirschi, and including the Suquamish Basket Marsh, Pickerington Pond in Ohio, and Seabeck Salmon Team projects on Hood Canal, WA.

Suquamish Environmental Education Boosters, (501(c)(3) www.seeboosters.org

Jan Jackson, librarian, Gelk’ali Director           :                       jjackson@nksd.wednet.edu

Melinda West, fiber artist, article author                      :           melwest@centurytel.net

IslandWood Environmental Learning Center www.islandwood.org

Author’s Note:

Much of the credit for this article comes from the inspiration I’ve received from reading the works of Distinguished Professor Nancy J. Turner, author of the recent books:  THE EARTH’S BLANKET – TRADITIONAL TEACHINGS FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVING, and KEEP IT LIVING – TRADITIONS OF PLANT USE AND CULTIVATION ON THE NORTHWEST COAST OF NORTH AMERICA; along with Richard Louv’s book:  THE LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS – SAVING OUR CHILDREN FROM NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER.

Author’s Bio:

Melinda West, of Indianola Washington has been practicing the art of natural fiber weaving since 1985.  She has studied with many native and non-native weavers and artists, the foremost being Ed Carriere of the Suquamish Tribe. Melinda enjoys sharing her love of natural history, environmental stewardship, and indigenous cultures through the teachings and the practices of traditional fiber arts.

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend

tlingit

Abstract: This article provides the reader with a general background of Alaska Native education and resource conservation, focusing on southeast Alaska cultures. European contact severed these education models by creating government schools. Since then Alaska Natives have worked to balance Native culture with western education. A synopsis of several legends which speak to natural resource conservation is presented with the conservation ethic discussed. The use of these types of legends in the classroom is encouraged as a means of bringing Native values and lessons into the classroom as one means of making education relevant to Native students. The lesson from this discussion can be applied to other indigenous groups.

by Dolly Garza

 

To address environmental stewardship and education among Alaska Natives it is necessary to start with a brief review of Native cultures and educational systems.

Alaska Natives have lived along this northern coast for thousands of years. Groups developed cultures that revolved around local resources. The Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Eyak, Supiak, Alutiiq, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Inupiat, and the Athabascan learned how to use surrounding resources for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, regalia, and the arts.

Careful observation of animals, plants and weather over the seasons provided the knowledge base to know when to gather, or when to move. This accumulation of knowledge was necessary to the survival of the community; therefore, it was necessary to pass the knowledge from generation to generation. Knowledge was transferred through oration, observation, and action. Written instructions were generally unknown.

In southeast Alaska, among the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian, children did not learn from their parents. It was generally understood that parents loved the children too much and would spoil them. It was the job of the aunties and uncles of the clan to teach the children important knowledge and skills.

Southeast Culture and Stewardship
Much of Southeast Alaska where I come from was owned or occupied by the Tlingit and Haida. Tlingit historians will tell you that many areas and the associated resources were part of a clan’s property. Their territory included permanent village sites. However a clan’s use,
territorial rights, and stewardship extended beyond these typical areas to seaweed picking areas, berry picking areas, and into the rivers and ocean with herring egg gathering sites, salmon streams, seal hunting rookeries, and halibut fishing grounds.

Anthropologist and early explorers documented many types of conservation techniques and practices. Legends such as Moldy Salmon or Herring Rock were lessons which Elders told to teach youngsters to respect and properly use salmon, herring, and other resources. Clan leaders would decide when fishing would begin and end, and determine other resource harvesting methods. Clan members understood their obligation to follow these rules and rituals. European Contact
In 1876 Alaska were purchased by the United States from Russian, an action which was protested by the Tlingit Nation in Sheetka or Sitka, Alaska. The Russian had a stronghold to very limited sites in the Sitka, Kodiak, and Aleutians areas.

The early traders brought beads, bullets, alcohol, and diseased blankets. In addition, early traders were sick from months on ships with poor water and nutrition. They passed along their sicknesses which were new, and tragic, to Native populations.

The ravages of diseases in the 1800’s have had one of the largest impacts on Alaska Native cultures. Indigenous populations were reduced to less then 1⁄2 the estimated pre-contact populations. In some areas entire villages died from small pox or influenza. Much knowledge was lost with the death of each Elder, hunter, or mother.

Gold miners, fishing companies, and pioneers followed. The military, preachers, and teachers accompanied these early arrivers. The military came to protect the white people, the Christians to convert, and the teachers to civilize the Native.

The Native peoples generally were moved from their traditional sites to designated communities where religion and education could be taught. In many areas the traditional clan structure of government was abandoned. The new education and religion systems were embraced in fear of the ravages of disease. Natives believed they would better survive under this new system, since their old plant medicines and ceremonies did not save them from new diseases.

Early Education Systems
After being taken away and educated at government schools, many Natives made it back home and were expected to live a new life. They tried to be religious and teach their children English and new cultural ways. This assimilation process was only partially successful. Many such as my grandmother Elizabeth were forced to stop speaking Haida to her children. She was devoted to her church. Her children were sent to boarding school and came home years later.

When children were sent off to school parents had no control over what they did, what they wore, what they were taught, or what they were led to believe. This generation, my mothers, came home and began their own lives. They sent their children to school and believed that this is what should be done. “Send your children to school and expect the system to do everything”. Many in my mother’s age believed they had no right to interfere with their children’s education; and for the most part this was true at the time.

Many of the “educated” from my mother’s generation came home and believed that their parents lived backward lives; or if they tried to live this new life they found their were no jobs, and no money to buy all these new commodities. Many put this education aside and went back to living the old way: hunting, fishing, putting up food, living in old ramshackle houses, some with no running water, or sewer.

Current Educational Efforts
In some senses Native people have come full circle. Part out of necessity, and a great part out of love for our culture and land, we continue to live simple lifestyles. Alaska Natives are working to balance Native culture and mainstream education.

However there is still the early education mantra that prevails among the conscious or subconscious of our Elders and thus our community: “Native people must be civilized and cleansed of their former ways”, “Western education is better”.

Today many Alaska Natives still believe that the western education is better. They see education as severed from their daily life and do not feel that they can add to this educational process. Children come to school still thinking their home life, and cultural dance or stories, are archaic and not important. This leads to poor self-esteem and often, an aversion to Native ways. It is important to help Native students understand the value of cultures.

Recent efforts such as those of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, funded by the NSF, promotes incorporating Native science, knowledge, and education skills into the classroom as a means of making the science relevant to local areas and helping students understand the value of parental knowledge and their culture. One part of this broad educational effort focused on Native stories or legends that were taught to children. While these stories are entertaining their main purpose has been to teach respect.

Native Legends as Teaching Tools
As an example of ritual, in some areas salmon would be harvested only after the first salmon went upstream and were properly honored through dance and ceremony. It was told that this was done so that the spirit of the salmon would return to its brothers and sisters and report that these were good people and that the salmon should give themselves to these people.

Someone would notice the first salmon coming up stream and alert the community. Eagle down was gathered, regalia donned, and people commenced to the river. Songs were sung, and words were spoken to the salmon. Respect was shown. After this, fishing could take place at the chief’s orders. In the time it took to set up these ceremonies, hoards of salmon went up the river. Today we refer to this as escapement; the necessary brood-stock to ensure continued survival of the salmon. Without the eagle down, this is a standard fishery management practice.

In the Moldy Salmon story a young boy is taken to live with the salmon people after he disrespects salmon. Upon his return to his people he educates them on how important it is to eat all of the salmon and to respect salmon.

In the herring rock story a man is turned into a stone after he disobeys the clan leaders rule to not fish for herring after nightfall. The rest of the community understands the consequences of fishing after nightfall as they pass by this rock everyday. The rock was known to recent time in the Sitka area until it was covered during a construction project. Herring biologists know that herring school up and rise to the surface at night. During this time they are very susceptible to over harvest. A “legend” as it is now called served as a regulation.

Summary
As we teach environmental ethics to our young it is well worth using Native or other indigenous folklore to highlight traditional means of conservation. It is important to keep Native children in the folds of education and help non-Natives to understand that Natives were not savages, but lived in balance with their environment.

But as we use legends we must remember to respect tribal and clan property rights. I have not written any legend in full nor do we have permission to commercialize these legends for
profit. However the use of these legends as an educational tool is welcomed by most Elders and tribes.

 

Dolores “Dolly” Garza is a full-time Professor for the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program. She has worked in Kotzebue and Sitka and now works in Ketchikan as a Marine Advisory agent, interfacing European science with Alaska’s marine resource users in the areas of subsistence management, marine mammal management and marine safety. This article reprinted from proceedings of the 2006 North American Association for Environmental Education annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska.

The Urban-Rural Exchange Bridges Oregon’s Greatest Divide

The Urban-Rural Exchange Bridges Oregon’s Greatest Divide

The Urban-Rural Exchange Bridges Oregon’s Greatest Divide

By Judy Scott
From Oregon’s Agricultural Progress

UrbanRural_11

Wallowa County in northeast Oregon was the destination for one of this year’s four exchanges. The young guests from the city arrived in the thick of calving season, a dynamic leap into ranch life. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Six lanes of Portland traffic filled the rear-view mirror as the van headed east on I-84. On the left, the Columbia flowed through its gorge below giant windmills scattered like toys, turning with the breezes. After a few hours, sagebrush took the place of Douglas-fir and fern.

The riders from Portland’s Sunnyside Environmental School had reason to be nervous as they watched the familiar give way to the unknown. And it wasn’t just the landscape that would change.

The 15 middle-school students were already immersed in a life-broadening experience: the 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange program, sponsored by Oregon State University Extension Service. For five years, host families from Grant, Klamath, and Wallowa counties have opened their homes and lives (sometimes nervously) to city kids. In turn, Multnomah County families introduce rural students to life in Portland.

Wallowa County in northeast Oregon was the destination for one of this year’s four exchanges. The young guests from the city arrived in the thick of calving season, a dynamic leap into ranch life.

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The Portland students (above) weren’t sure what to expect when they arrived in Wallowa County to stay with rancher Charley Phillips and his wife Ramona. Soon, the students were pitching in to help with all the chores, including branding calves at the Birkmaier ranch (below). Photos by Lynn Ketchum.

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Deep in the Wallowa Mountains, hosts Tom and Kelly Birkmaier and a crew of friends rounded up 65 calves for branding. While unhappy mother cows bawled in the distance, the job was to brand, inoculate, and ear-tag the calves as quickly as possible while muscling them securely into a metal chute.

This was no spectator sport for Portland middle-schoolers Zoe O’Toole and Birch Clark. Although reticent at first (“I’m not really sure how I feel about branding,” Zoe had confided earlier), the girls gamely took turns with both the branding iron and the syringe.

Down in the valley at another host home, a cow notched up her tail, and three other city students learned what that meant: the cow was ready to give birth. Lanie Novick and her middle-school colleagues watched in awe as the calf dropped from its mother’s womb while Lanie documented the event on her cell phone. Ramona and Charley Phillips, who hosted the girls at their ranch near Joseph, were impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and unending questions as they collected eggs each morning and tossed baled hay from the back of a truck to a “sea of cows.”

Calving season knows no time clock. After midnight, the girls bumped along with the Phillipses in their pickup truck, scanning the range with spotlights in search of cows with newborns. The girls learned that if they spotted cows bawling and bunched up around their calves, there might be predators such as cougars or wolves stalking nearby.

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Seventh grader Lanie Novick (above) displays a memorable snapshot of her Sunnyside classmate Julia Glancy holding a newborn lamb. The learning experience includes classroom time at the Imnaha School (below), where five local students make up the total K-8 enrollment. Photos by Lynn Ketchum.

Part of each exchange includes spending a day at the host school. Portland students Morgaen Schall and Joseph Unfred swelled enrollment of the one-room schoolhouse in Imnaha by 40 percent on the day they went to class with the school’s five local students.

Morgaen and Joseph both love working with horses in Portland but prefer being “in the middle of nowhere.” Their stay was not romantic—mending fences seldom is—but they enjoyed the outdoor work, and to show their appreciation, the two boys made a special Sunday breakfast for their hosts, Cynthia and Dan Warnock and their three sons.

More than half of the urban-rural exchange students have kept in touch with their host families. Sometimes during the summer they cross back over the cultural divide to reunite with their hosts and to share the experience with their parents. The exchange expands when parents get involved. Thirty families in Portland now buy beef directly from a host rancher as part of a new beef cooperative, an idea that grew from the young people’s exchange.

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Back on the ranch (above), feeding time is fun for students and cows. In Portland, students used mass transit to navigate the city (below). Photos by Lynn Ketchum.

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“The basic mission of 4-H is education for youth,” said Jed Smith, a 4-H faculty member at the Extension office in Klamath Falls. “But 4-H also involves parents in Extension education. When you get young people in the conversation, you’ve got a good start towards better understanding between remote rural Oregon and the rest of the state.” Smith wants his urban visitors to experience first-hand the life of rural ranchers and farmers. “They see that ranch families are good with animal husbandry, they’re responsible stewards of the land, but they face different challenges than urban families,” he said.

One of those challenges is the reintroduction of wolves, which sparked the creation of the urban-rural exchange. In 2005, after Sunnyside students completed a class project on how westward U.S. settlement affected wildlife, the students gave testimony at a state Fish and Wildlife Commission hearing in favor of reintroducing wolves. The urban students didn’t expect that their opinions would spark controversy in rural Oregon, where ranchers bemoaned that city dwellers didn’t understand rural life. To foster better understanding across the state, OSU 4-H and Sunnyside joined forces to create the first Urban-Rural Exchange in 2006.

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Students from Klamath County get a tram’s-eye-view of Portland (above) while Hot Lips pizza shows off their spin cycle (below). Photos by Lynn Ketchum.

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Everyone involved that first year, from both sides of the Cascades, ventured into unfamiliar territory. At least one rancher would have pulled out at the last minute if the city kids were not already on their way. However, at the end of five days of sharing chores and meals together, both students and families described the exchange as one of the best experiences of their lives.

Each year, some of the city students come home thinking that farming and ranching would be professions they’d like to pursue. “We want them to learn about the care of natural resources from a rural perspective,” said Maureen Hosty, the OSU 4-H Extension faculty member who coordinates the exchange. “Sometimes they take it to a personal level. They want to live there.”

Fewer rural students visiting Portland express a strong desire to relocate to the city. Perhaps city living is an acquired taste. Dylan Denton and Trevor Wentz, both from Wallowa County, enjoyed their day exploring mass transit and gliding over the skyline by tram. But considering that a square mile in Portland is home to 3,939 people, and in Wallowa County, it’s home to 2, they had to conclude, “There are too many people!” Nevertheless, according to their host family mom, Dylan and Trevor readily took to “a crash course” in riding bicycles in city traffic, even while pedaling in cowboy boots.

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The bustle of city life contrasts with the quiet of dinner time after a long day’s work on the ranch. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Portland hosts helped their rural visitors understand sustainable urban living. They climbed to the top of city buildings to see rooftop landscapes that temper winter stormwater and summer heat. They visited the city’s massive recycling system. And they walked through one of Portland’s 20 farmers markets, where they ran into a potato vendor from faraway Wallowa County.

More city kids have made the exchange than their rural counterparts, and Hosty encourages more students from rural Oregon to visit Portland. “We want to build a strong bridge of understanding that goes both ways,” she said. The bustle of city life contrasts with the quiet of dinner time after a long day’s work on the ranch.

“We have a lot more in common than we realize,” Hosty said. “But if we don’t spend some time walking in each other’s shoes, then misunderstandings will continue to divide our state.” The 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange can make a difference. “Kids are leading the way and are willing to spend some time to learn. And the real learning happens in family homes at the dinner table.”

Crossing the Urban/Rural Divide

If you walk a mile in another person’s shoes…
This video from Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Oregon Field Guide” series provides a powerful example of true “place-based” education. Students from Portland’s Sunnyside Environmental School spent 3 days with ranching families in eastern Oregon to find out what life on a ranch is really all about. I suspect that by watching this video, you too will come away with a deeper appreciation of this way of life that is slowly dying out.

Watch Season 21, Episode 1: Crossing the Urban-Rural Divide on PBS. See more from Oregon Field Guide.

From Screens to Streams: Using Technology as a “Bridge” to the Outdoors

From Screens to Streams: Using Technology as a “Bridge” to the Outdoors

EricBeck
Rather than viewing technology as an enemy of environmental literacy, technology-based learning can help cultivate an environmental sensibility by serving as a “bridge” to the outdoors.

By Ryan Johnson

When I was ten years old, I was absolutely obsessed with the original Nintendo Entertainment System. My cousins had one, my best friend had one, it seemed like everyone I knew had a Nintendo. I would have done just about anything to have one as well, but my parents refused, despite my continuous complaints and numerous solicitations.

I thought I was the most neglected ten-year-old child in the world, while my parents, patiently suffering my pleas, would remind me that the Beartooth, Big Horn, and Pryor Mountains, the McCullough Peaks, and Shoshone River were just beyond my doorstep. These natural features were, in fact, truly magnificent and unavoidable constituents of the landscape, dominating every view with snow-capped peaks, granite cliff faces, rainbow-colored bluffs, and crystal clear riffles, containing everything from wild horses to Grizzly Bears to rattlesnakes. Now, perhaps needless to say, I prize every single second I am able to gaze upon the mountains and deserts of northern Wyoming, and I cherish every memory of running through alpine forests and mountain biking through tumbling sage brush. But a conscious acknowledgement of my privilege of being born into such natural wonder eluded me, and as a result I still found modern, escapist forms of entertainment media seductive. Even in a place completely dominated by mountains, peaks, rivers, valleys, prairie, and high desert, I still found a way to explore MTV far more often than Heart Mountain. (more…)

Engaging Students in their Community: Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project

Engaging Students in their Community: Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project


arboretum 2Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project

The Outdoor Classroom Project is a work in progress where students are the researchers, engineers, designers, architects, builders, and users of a multidisciplinary, multi-sensory learning experience.

What you see when you approach the schoolgrounds at Hood River Middle School is nothing short of remarkable. From solar panels on the roof to a working greenhouse in the back, Hood River Middle School exhibits the markings of a unique and visionary school of the future.

As more and more schools around the country are beginning to organize their curriculum to include concepts of ecology, community, and sustainability, some programs, through innovation, vision and determination, move forward in meshing those concepts into a cohesive, integrated and successful program and serve as a model for others to follow. The Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project has become an exemplary program that began small and grew to encompass an ecological framework that gives students a unique blend of science, technology and permaculture that connects them to real world issues within their community.

Since 1998, science teacher Michael Becker has guided a program that offers students a higher level of connectivity between school and community. Using a hands-on approach to solving real-life problems, students at HRMS accelerate through the basic skills and concepts outlined in the Oregon Academic Benchmarks. The Outdoor Classroom Project is a work in progress where students are the researchers, engineers, designers, architects, builders, and users of a multidisciplinary, multi-sensory learning experience. The Outdoor Classroom Project connects students to key concepts in sustainability through a field based, experience-driven curriculum. Key themes of the project include Diversity, Water, Food, Energy, and Waste.

The Outdoor Classroom Project is divided into three separate strands. (more…)