Native American students learning in traditional American schools is like a French student trying to learn in a traditional German school, the culture and traditional customs are very different therefore it’s harder for the students to learn growing up in a school that’s different from their native background. Growing up as a child we’ve learned the stereotypes of Native Americans. In movies and stories the Natives were the people who dressed up in costumes, lived in tents without electricity, and were the people who always ended up getting chased by the cowboys. But throughout this project I’ve learned that Native American people are so much more than that. They have a whole different culture, outlook on life, and are truly great people.
For the past few months I’ve been working on field-site with East Carolina’s Native American Organization. ECNAO is an on campus, multicultural organization, established in 1970. The main goal of this organization is to serve as a cultural resource for all and to provide the community with programs that will expose them to the riches of the Native American contribution to American’s history and culture. When attending the group meetings the students in the organization weren’t all that different from myself. Most of them had a dark complexion, had dark hair, and had very strong southern accents. Everyone was friendly and the meetings were very informal and laid back. The meetings were always in a classroom, and only about 10 people would show up. The meetings were small and were female dominated. Everyone acted friendly and joked around with each other throughout the meetings. The girls sat in little groups according to whom they were good friends with. The organization had a president like most organizations but with ECNAO the decisions made were more of a group effort. The president of ECNAO was a petite girl, dark complexion, dark hair, and had the strongest southern accent I had ever heard. She was a very laid back leader but she made sure things got done. Everyone came up with ideas and everyone contributed; it was like a big family atmosphere.
Luckily I was able to attend the big Pow-Wow that the Native American Organization puts on every year. The Pow-Wow is a large Native American gathering open up to anyone who wants to come. The Pow-Wow was located in Minges Coliseum on ECU’s campus. There were people of all ages and all ethnicities at this event. Many of the Native Americans were wearing bright, colorful costumes that had bells attached and made noises when they danced. The men were gathered in a circle around the drums and they were beating and chanting throughout the whole event. Also at the Pow-Wow there were booths set up with different cultural, hand-made items on display and for sale. They had jewelry, weapons, purses, blankets, etc. The dancers at the Pow-Wow were of all ages. When it was time for them to perform they would go up in groups depending on gender and age. They would dance to the beat of the drums and to me it seemed like a lot of hopping around from one foot to another. When attending the Pow-Wow I was able to get more of a feel for the native culture.
At the Pow-Wow the drums played a very dominant role. The drum was also the item I chose for my artifact. I learned that it is the most important Native American instrument and it’s the center of the Native lifestyle. The drum is made of a wooden frame or log with buckskin or elksin stretched across the opening by sinew thongs. The drums are played by men who are gathered in a circle. Beating and chanting on the drums was a way to talk to the dead, and the Greatest Spirits (American). The drums are very powerful and loud. They are sacred to the Native American culture, which is why they were the center of attention at the Pow-Wow.
When working on field-site it seemed like the Native American students were just like me and so I thought that they would have just as easy as a time in school as I did, but when doing online research and completing my interview with Aleshia Hunt I found that to be completely false. Aleshia Hunt is the Co-Advisor of ECNAO, and is a Lumbee Native American. She has a dark complexion, short dark hair, and she also somewhat of a southern accent. At the organizations meetings she was always the one that everyone looked to when making final decisions, especially when something financial came about. My interview with her was very informal, I just asked a few questions and she answered them to the best of her ability. In the interview Aleshia told me that tradition and family was a big part of the Native American lifestyle. She started traditional dancing at the age of three, she learned from her ancestors how to bead and make necklaces and she was taught how to make traditional Native food, because in her Native lifestyle a lot of their gatherings are centered around food. To lean more about the difficulties of being a Native American student in a traditional American school I asked Aleshia to tell me about her hardships with school and some of her encounters. When Aleshia was a freshman in the dorms many people thought she was just mixed with another race, but when she told them that she was Native American she would get crazy questions such as; Do you live on a reservation? Do you have electricity at home and running water? When she got asked questions like that she said it was bothersome because like I said earlier those aren’t true at all, they’re just stereotypes that us American students have grown up learning from movies and books. Aleshia said that sometimes it was harder to adjust to school because Native Americans don’t have the representation of staff and students on campus like most populations do. She felt like the teachers didn’t understand much about her as a Native student and how she needs to learn being in a different environment.
When doing online research about Native Americans in traditional classrooms, I learned a great deal of information I would have never thought would help contribute to someone’s learning process. Native American students are becoming an academic concern across the world. Research suggests the Native American students have a low self-image and the highest drop out rate of all ethnic groups (Sutliff). Native students view the world based on their cultural values. In the Native community they value humility and harmony; therefore Native students will underachieve to avoid appearing superior so that they don’t violate their cultures traditional norms. Parents of Native students strongly emphasize on performing an activity correctly; therefore that student may not attempt to answer a question if they don’t know the exact answer because they’re scared of not performing well (Morgan). Teacher’s who don’t understand these values will just think that the student is lazy and doesn’t care which in reality the student is just following their cultural norms. Native American students are very visual and learn best from observing and demonstrating (Morgan). They do well in classes that are visual like math class because it offers a variety of visual learning opportunities. They also prefer to work in groups rather than alone and they always look to authority for guidance because that’s their cultural norm.
Teachers play a big role in helping Native American students adjust in traditional American schools. Teachers should talk to their students and understand their preferred ways of learning so that each student can reach their fullest potential. When teaching a new task teachers should teach slowly to give students time to familiarize themselves with what is being taught. One aspect in the school curriculum that allows for all students regardless of cultural customs to achieve in is physical education (Sutliff). For hundreds of years as part of the Native American culture they have participated in a variety of athletic games, physical activities, and outdoor challenges. In their culture theses types of activities were very important for daily living. The activities were designed to improve endurance, strength, speed, fitness, and courage (Sutliff). P.E. teachers should educate themselves about the cultural similarities relating to their Native American students. They should also incorporate multicultural themes relating to the Native background. Physical Education plays a great deal in the development of multicultural education. The students who participate in P.E. class will have a rewarding experience, which will open up their learning environment.
I’m Sierra Alexander a freshman student at ECU finishing up my second semester. I’m 18 years old and from a middle class family. I have Indian and Hawaiian in my family background. When going to Hawaii for family reunions I’ve experienced the same culture experiences that I noticed with the Native American Culture. Both cultures focus solely on family and tradition. Also in both Native and Hawaiian cultures dancing and food is the center of many gatherings. So having a Hawaiian background I’ve had experience with Native cultures. My position on the topic of Native American students learning in traditional American classrooms has changed since I started this project. At first I didn’t think Native American students should be taught any differently. I thought that since they spoke the same language, and they were from America that they shouldn’t have any difficultly learning. After learning Aleshia’s point of view, and after reading my secondary sources I found out just how hard it is for someone with a different cultural background to adjust to a traditional American school like ECU regardless if they’re from America and speak english. Schools and instructors need to become leaders in educating themselves, and students about multiculturalism. By educating themselves and others about Native American lifestyles and culture the Native students will better adjust when learning in a traditional American school.
American Indian Drums (2011). In Native Languages of the Americas . Retrieved April 29, 2011, from http://www.native-languages.org/drums.htm
Sutliff, M. (1996). Multicultural education for native American students in physical education. Physical Educator, 53(3), 157. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Morgan, H. (2010). Teaching Native American Students: WHAT EVERY TEACHER SHOULD KNOW.Education Digest, 75(6), 44-47. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.