The Saratoga Sun -

The Native American way

CCSD No. 2 students got a glimpse into Plains Indian customs and culture recently


Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain elementary students enjoy learning Native American culture.

Twelve years ago Shelley Cooper, a teacher at Medicine Bow Elementary School asked Kay Hunt to come and give a presentation to her students on Native American Day. Cooper knew Hunt was knowledgeable about the lore and culture of Plains Indians, but did not imagine that first year would turn into the educational activity it has morphed into.

Cooper said the first year, Hunt put up a long table with Native American artifacts in school's gym. The second year, Hunt had students out to her home at Elk Mountain to get an understanding of how much the Plains Indians did activities outside, such as constructing a tipi.

Hunt has been educating students on the Plains Indians culture with a variety of tools, including actual stone instruments used in day-to-day life. She has a buffalo hide that has been on display for its ninth year she lets students scrape off a little hair with stone tools. About half the hair is left which is amazing given how many years she has displayed the hide.

She has a large tipi students can enter to see how the Plains Indians lived. There are different size parfleches (rawhide envelopes) that hold possessions and food. Hunt has toys, such as dolls and stone animals on view, which she allows the children to hold and touch.

She is a big believer that the children should handle what they see, even if the artifact is old. Hunt has six lesson plans formulated for different ages. By the sixth year of coming, the student has gone through a thorough Plains Indian culture curriculum.

Very important to Hunt is that students learn the seven virtues of the Plains Indians. The virtues are honesty, truth, humility, love, wisdom, courage and respect. All are necessities in the tribe. To teach trust, a student is blindfolded and then guided by the group they are in.

"In an Indian village it is paramount that you trust everybody around you to tell the truth, be courageous, love one another­-all the seven virtues," Hunt said.

An average group is around five or six students with a mentor, dressed in the garb of a Plains Indian. Hunt's volunteer mentors are children who are homeschooled and have come to Hunt over the years for her knowledge. She imparts on them the lessons and themes of the Plains Indians so they can help the students understand in a more detailed manner than can be gleaned by lectures alone.

Hunt teaches concepts often taken for granted such as how the Plains Indians used math, language, art, preparing food and making day-to-day necessities.

During the break for lunch, Hunt has Pamela Glasser-music teacher for Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain Elementary schools and Hanna-Elk Mountain-Medicine High School-teach children some Native American songs. Glasser makes many of her instruments including the drum she uses in the songs taught.

Besides teaching the seven virtues, Hunt gives the students vocabulary to learn by letting them see, touch and use. The children learned the word travois-poles used for carrying supplies-by actually transferring their tipis and belongings from one area of the property to another. The tripod, the three poles that make the tipi are available when the students make their own tipi for the group. Tipi pins, fletching (feathers for arrows), hafting (making handles for knives), buckskin, tiospaye (immediate family), sinew, rawhide, elk horn scraper were words learned. Hunt had them learn the greeting "Mitakuye oysin" to further get an understanding of Plains Indian language.

Hunt got interested in Native American culture when she adopted her daughter in Alaska. Her daughter had been born with fetal alcohol effects and by fifth grade, she found school very difficult. Hunt decided to home school.

"My son, who is two years younger saw what we were doing and felt we were having too much fun, so he wanted to join in," Hunt said. "When I went to teach American history, I wanted to it be enjoyable for both, so I decide to teach the history from an Native American point of view and that is where I got started."

When Hunt moved to Elk Mountain, their house was on the trails of the pioneers coming through. She said the crossing many used is where her house stands. The building she lives in is one of the oldest in Elk Mountain.

She got interested in the local tribes and started talking to Native Americans and learning more and more.

"I was fortunate to run into people that knew people who knew I was interested and I got introduced to a lot of Indians and found the older ones wanted their culture shared," Hunt said.

Hunt kept learning from all sources and being a teacher, wanted to impart the knowledge to the younger generation.

This is why she wants the children to be able to use as many senses as they can when become exposed to the different artifacts she puts on display.

Hunt is teaching the children about coup feathers this year. She explains the feather is not easy to get, so having even one was a sign of bravery. Killing an enemy seldom got a coup feather, but going up to the enemy and touching him and then leaving was a such an act that would get a feather.

She lets the children touch the different feathers she has brought.

"Kay has been doing this for years and every time we come, it is something different and learn about the Indians, their way of life," Erin Kennedy said, an aide at Elk Mountain Elementary School who has come for her fourth year. "Some years we help set up the big tipi and sometimes Kay has food from the their culture, like last year we had buffalo stew. It's very educational."

Kennedy said if any person has an opportunity to come to Hunt's presentations, there is a good chance he or she will be awestruck.

"Kay does this awesome job doing a whole rendezvous with different themes every year and it is just unbelievable," Cooper said. "She doesn't just show us her artifacts, she makes the dresses and moccasins for the student teachers and does it the same way native Americans would have done it."

It is an all day event for the students when they come.

Kay Hunt's home is one of the oldest buildings in Elk Mountain.

Hunt teaches art Elk Mountain Elementary once a week. In the week to come, she will show the children how to make a drum out of hide and then decorate it.

"They have to learn how to use the real earth paints, how to make the tools to make the materials that will make the drum," Hunt explained.

The students that attend her rendezvous, come away knowing more about Native American culture than when they first came is a given and it is why not only schools from Carbon County visit her. Hunt said she has schools from all over the state visit in addition to groups that are interested in the Plains Indian culture.

Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow were her guests this week and on September 14, Saratoga Elementary will visit. The Saratoga Sun expects to bring you pictures from their visit.


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