By Amanda Moses
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, students at PS 346 showed their creativity by putting together a museum based on Indian culture and traditions.
The museum incorporated student’s artwork, which reflected the lessons they learned on Native American tribes, such as Algonquian and Iroquois architectures. Each grade had their very own creative approach to adding items to their museum, some created spiritual objects like rain sticks and dream catchers, while the older students read and researched about pinnacle events in history, for example the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Trail of Tears, and then wrote narratives about the life of a Native American.
“This museum was very much about getting families and their children to put projects together. There was a time when students would have points deducted when their parents helped, but we encourage our parents to be involved in our students work,” said PS 346’s Principal, Kevin Caifa.
Caifa was inspired to create a Native American museum in the school after seeing President Barack Obama’s proclamation that November will be deemed as National Native American Month, and November 27th will now be known as Native American Heritage Day.
“In the past, we have created similar projects for African American History month, so I decided to do the same for Native American Heritage Month,” said Caifa. After brainstorming ideas with his staff, each teacher came up with projects for their students to participate in. “Ms. Bennit and Ms. Sciotlo, were instrumental in their help,” Caifia said. In addition to tangible art creations, the students also held a show depicting Native American dance and a play about their lives.
Ten-year-old, Ethan Howell’s project allowed him to tap into an artistic side of himself that surprised many of his classmates and teachers. With the help of his mother and imagination, Howell created an intricate Iroquois home—the longhouse. From plucking tiny stones off the ground in Spring Creek Towers, to strategically placing each caricature, his display was phenomenal. “The longhouse reflects Iroquois’ culture because everyone in the village lives together in that one house,” he said enthusiastically. He enjoyed the lessons he learned so much that he made his very own headdress and drum.
In addition to Howell’s longhouse model, he created a 3-D Claude Monet style painting of a forest, which incorporated actual wheat grass and popsicle sticks to make a fence-like layer.
On November 10th, Caifa invited Redhawk, a Taino Indian to come to the school and discuss his culture, the importance of oral tradition and story telling, and other topics regarding Native American history. Redhawk was so impressed by the students’ museum, he added to the display by donating a traditional art piece of Native American culture, an actual cow skull with a crow painted on it.
Many of the lessons that were taught resonated with Elias Rivera, who wrote a narrative about the experiences of a Native American. He also created a longhouse model, and described in detail each item’s function. “The fur I placed in the house shows how everything in Native American culture has meaning and importance. They believed in the spirits, so if they killed an animal nothing was wasted. The skin and fur was used for clothes, the bones for tools and the meat for food,” Rivera said. “I think what I like the most is that they were so grateful for everything, so after killing an animal they would pray for the animal’s spirit,” he said.
Along with the students’ various projects, Caifa added his own collection of Iroquois artifacts, which he received from his sister-in-law’s family after she passed away. His collection included paintings of iconic symbols in Native American culture, animal fur embedded with hand painting by Iroquois Indians, traditional jewelry and sand paintings.
Photos: Amanda Moses