The Montana Historical Society Museum came alive Tuesday as Native Americans, surrounded by their cultural artifacts, explained the world from their perspective to hundreds of Helena-area high school seniors.
As the sound of drums filled the museum’s halls, students gathered at one of 10 stations to learn more about issues such as American Indian symbology, tribal sovereignty, mascot controversy, traditional place names and games.
“Just about all of the sporting games played now, like hockey, football and basketball, came from native games,” said Jeremy Red Eagle, a member of the Sioux nation. “I hope they get a better understanding of our culture and way of life. It also seems to open them up when we play games together; it breaks down barriers between cultures.”
He explained to the students gathered around him how natives needed to remain aware of everything from other tribes to grizzly bears, and how many of their games promoted that. Red Eagle then stretched out his hands, which were holding bone fragments. One fragment had an etching on it, the other was plain. The game was to guess which hand held the unmarked fragment.
“This game is going to train somebody to pay attention and learn observation,” Red Eagle said.
Janice Jamruszka-Wilson is an Indian education coach with the Helena school system’s Indian Education for All program. She said the visit to the museum is part of the Medicine Wheel Project, which explains Native American culture to students and how for many non-natives, the perspective of the tribes is based on interaction with the American government’s policy.
“We want to expose them to Native American culture from (a Native American) perspective, and blend traditional information with the issues they’re dealing with today,” Jamruszka-Wilson said.
In a room tucked away in a corner of the museum, Joe Anderson with the Blackfeet nation was doing just that by explaining the dichotomy within governmental handling of the tribes.
“We became wards of the state under the treaties, given handouts and subsidies. Our land was held in trust by the government,” Anderson said. “Or are we to be treated as sovereign people, able to make our own decisions? It affects everything, right down to law enforcement. Do we pick up not only Indians, but also white people on the reservation, who are breaking the law?”
In another area of the museum, Joe LaFountaine, a member of the Ojibwe nation, used historical beaded pouches and clothing to explain how colors and symbols woven into the items had specific meanings.
“I can’t read the different languages, but I can read so much from the colors of the environment,” LaFountaine said.
Students listened with rapt attention at the presentations, and laughed as they tried their skills at the Native American games.
“This is neat; it was something different,” said Tayler Young, a senior at Capital High School. “The stick game was fun.”
Jordan Glosser, also a Capital High senior, said she enjoyed the discussion about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
“We talked about how archaeologists have to get traditional skeletons and things that were harvested back to the tribal members,” Glosser said. “It was pretty interesting.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com