Bringing Curriculum to Life
The fourth-graders’ eyes were glued to what the tall visitor carried into the classroom: a drum stretched with animal hide, a three-foot long birch bark canoe, and a quiver of arrows with feathers on the shafts.
He put his belongings on a table, introduced himself, and assessed the students. “By your age, you would know how to survive in the woods.”
The guest, James Bruchac, is an Abenaki storyteller, author, and educator from the Adirondack region who focuses on Native culture and the natural world. “He brings the fourth graders’ study of New York State’s history to life,” said teacher Theresa Garber.
Special Guest Shows Native Ways are Living Traditions
"It was said, long ago ..."
Part of Meadow Pond Elementary fourth grade curriculum is to read “The Sign of the Beaver” by Elizabeth George Speare, historical fiction set in the late 1700s about a young boy who survives the challenges of living in the Maine wilderness with the help of Attean, an Abenaki boy.
Bruchac showed students that many of the Native traditions in the novel are still very much alive today. He also shared his unique connection to “The Sign of the Beaver.” His father, award-winning author and storyteller Joseph Bruchac, wrote the introduction.
“When I say ‘ho,’ you say ‘hey,’” Bruchac told the students. “This is what the Abenaki do. Ho?”
“Hey,” the students agreed.
Bruchac asked the students what resources Native people had access to. Students named soil, rocks, animals, plants, water, and sunshine. “From these things, Native people shaped everything they needed to survive and thrive by using their most important natural resources—their minds,” Bruchac said.
“It was said, long ago …” Beginning in that way, Bruchac captivated students with traditional stories about a flying head, “bigfoot,” and a toad woman—each one imparting a lesson about survival. Stay close to the village. Do not surprise a moose. Be alert.
Engaging Students' Minds
“Students were very engaged and really enjoyed both the stories he told and the authentic artifacts he brought,” said Jason Briggs, one of Meadow Pond Elementary’s fourth grade teachers. “The legends he shared also connected to our students’ own writing.
“How should we address Native people,” Briggs asked at the end of the presentation. “American Indians, Native Americans—what is correct?”
“Call them by their tribal name,” answered Bruchac. “Ask them, who are your people. Ho?
“Hey,” responded the students and teachers.