Cultural understanding

2011-02-02T00:02:00Z 2011-02-02T00:38:59Z Cultural understandingBy EVE BYRON Independent Record Helena Independent Record
February 02, 2011 12:02 am  • 

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

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - February 03, 2011 11:04 am
    About the issue of naming sports teams, for example, the Washington Redskins, along with the feathered cartoon logo, war whoops, etc.. I lived in D.C. for a time, and local folks said there was nothing wrong with the name, etc., it was just paying tribute to brave fighters.

    I'm going to play devil's advocate here, and make "A Modest Proposal", a la Jonathan Swift:

    Across the Potomac from D.C. is Arlington, VA, which now has enough population for a professional football team.

    I propose that the team cartoon logo be an African Zulu, with big eyes, thick lips, bushy kinky hair, complete with a spear and shield.

    Team name? The Arlington Darkies.

    Nobody should object. It's just paying "tribute" to brave warriors, right?
  2. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - February 03, 2011 10:48 am
    meadowlark said: "Many (not all) parents do go gamble or work at the casino while leaving kids at home to do their own thing."

    How strange!

    Years ago when I lived in Nevada, I saw a lot of NON-Indian people doing the exact same thing.

    How could that be?
  3. shawnwhitewolf
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    shawnwhitewolf - February 03, 2011 7:32 am

    Thanks for your comments. I wasn't aware of the ongoings at the historical society. Seems my invite got lost in the mail again. In anycase, there are tons and tons of things that Native youth are involved in on and off the reservations. A lot has changed over the pass few years and some things have not. I dont know Shawn Doyle. And I know even less about the Medicine Wheel Project. So, I can't speak to what they do or don't do.
    I'm sorry you had to get such a discouraging look at the issues facing Native people. The issues are very complex and require a great deal of patience and understanding of historical actions on both Native and non-Native people to truly understand how we have all ended up where we are today.
    Should you ever want to revisit the discussion, please feel free to email or call the Montana United Indian Association's office at 406.443.5350. If we can't answer your questions, we'll try to connect you with someone who can.
    Other great resources in Helena is the Indian Law Resource Center, who successfully got a resolution on Indigenous Human Rights passed through the United Nations.
    Shawn White Wolf
  4. acreasia
    Report Abuse
    acreasia - February 02, 2011 5:05 pm
    Yes, Doyle is a Crow Indiana who grew up on the reservation this fact included does not excuse him from his behavior. Doyle did not carefully or respectfully make his views known, and I am not one to exaggerate his aggressive and offensive behavior. Im taking action to contact the right people so next year this project will comprehensively exam the socioeconomic and sovereignty issues that affects Indians in our state.
    As for me,personally I have been to the Crow and Flathead reservations, I have never lived there for extensive amounts of time. I do however know that there is 70% unemployment on the reservations. That last year there were 20 middle school students in Poplar, MT, on the Fort Peck Reservation, that attempted suicide and five of succeeded. I do know that casinos are often the only buisness bringing in any jobs or money, and all the issues plaguing reservations are just symptoms of a much bigger problem. I was hoping to learn more about the specifics of these issues and how to help, and I thought this feild trip would exam them. I was sadly mistaken, and this is an issue that will never go away and needs a lot more attention.
  5. meadowlark
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    meadowlark - February 02, 2011 2:00 pm
    I dunno acreasia. You were there. I wasn't. Was Doyle a Crow tribal member? I appreciate your sentiments and feelings, but...what if he was speaking the truth? As he lives it anyways?

    I do know, that I have seen the same thing on many reservations, not just in Montana either. Many (not all) parents do go gamble or work at the casino while leaving kids at home to do their own thing. Most of the rez kids learn the same pop culture everyone else follows. Gangs and their interests are moving in. Drugs, paint huffing, meth, the whole thing. It is very complex, very troubling.

    One day is cool and all, and that's all many people can spare. But maybe the next step for the Medicine Wheel project, if they haven't done it already, is to actually take some kids from here to the reservations so they can see for themselves what is what.

    Truth, spoken respectfully and with care, is never offensive or racist. Maybe you need to take a road trip to find out for yourself.
  6. acreasia
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    acreasia - February 02, 2011 10:12 am
    I was offended by the speaker who was suppose to discuss Tribal Sovereignty. Shawn Doyle aggresively spouted his views about the Indian reservation needing to be more self-deterimnent, and went on to say that Indians need to stop building casino's and care about their children. His attitude that indians do not care about their children and spend too much gambling, is the sterotype that Indian Education was suppose to put an end to. Doyle went on to say that at any time of day, on the Crow reservation, adoloscents will be twiddling their thumbs outside the post office distributing marijuana joints. I was extremely offended by Doyle not only because his language and message was stigmatizing indians, but he would not allow me to disagree and point out that his rhetoric was offensive and racist. As a Helena High Senior I was extremely discouraged about further progress for indians in our state after attending The Medicine Wheel Project.

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