By Sharon Stewart Peregoy, M.Ed., For the Wisdom of the Children Project Coordinator
Under their For the Wisdom of the Children project, Little Big Horn College held a seminar in July for pre-service and classroom teachers to develop a thematic science/math unit with a culminating Parent Night activity. The seminar was designed to support the classroom and home efforts of the Chickadee Lodge Crow Language Immersion School in Crow Agency, Montana. Twenty participants represented classrooms from Lodge Grass, Hardin, Crow Agency, and Pryor Schools, along with Pretty Eagle and St. Labre Schools.
One hundred percent of the participants spoke the Crow language with varying levels of fluency and literacy. Their challenge was to create learning activities that would reinforce Crow Cultural concepts and identify Crow vocabulary needed for Crow language development in science and math.
As educators, we have found that one of the biggest needs in the Crow language immersion classroom is Crow materials. The last reservation-wide effort for Crow materials development was between 1975-1986, when Hardin Public Schools received a grant. Although the Crow Language Conservancy and other schools have invested in Crow materials, they are not widely available to everyone.
The seminar offered an opportunity for Crow teachers of Crow children to come together to research, explore, create, and learn from each other to become the premier developers of Crow materials for their school. The largest hurdle for the Crow teachers was to meld Crow oral traditional ways of knowing and learning with STEM. Although science and math are part of the mainstream school curriculum, the question was how to transcend the cultural divide?
Luckily the Little Big Horn College Archives has a variety of Crow language and culture resources within the collection for reference. In addition, the New Crow Language Online dictionary was a godsend for teachers as a vocabulary resource. But the most important resources for the teachers were the elders. As way to bring this discussion forward, Mr. Grant Bulltail, an oral historian and Crow elder, was invited to share the Crow ways of knowing and learning with the seminar participants.
He explained, “As nomadic people of the Great Plains, we had to have a symbiotic relationship with the environment in which we live.” According to Crow belief ways, we have three mothers: our mother who gave us birth, our home the teepee, and mother earth, who sustains us with the flora and fauna given by the Creator. The Creator gave life to “Biiluuke,” the people of our side, and placed us on mother earth to live. The Creator gave the Biiluuke helpers to teach us. The Biiluuke were given the Crow Clan system to establish the social and kinship relationships and structures to mold behavior, to teach and develop skills, to establish identity, belonging, and self-esteem, as well as spiritual guidance and protection.
How do we teach? It is through the oral tradition of storytelling that these ways of knowing and interrelationships are shared with each generation.
The art of teaching science and math concepts is knowing that they are interrelated. The art of science relies upon seven concepts: observation through the use of the five senses; comparing by looking for similarities and differences; classification through grouping and sorting of characteristics; measuring by working with or describing quantities; communicating ideas or retelling; inferring knowledge through gathering and organizing information; and predicting outcome or situations by making reasonable guesses or estimations based on observations, prior knowledge, and experience.
It is through the Oral Tradition that we explain the interrelationships. For example, Alfretta Jefferson Reed, in her unit on Crow astronomy explained the connections of the sun (Isaahkaxaalia or old man) and moon (kaalixaalia or old woman) to time and seasons. In addition, the story of the Seven Buffalos explains to the Crow learner how the Big Dipper was created and the circumstances behind its creation, providing knowledge of its gifts of guidance and protection.
In another example, Crow Teacher Fannie Cliff Ward explained a lesson on the traditional uses of the Bison or buffalo to the Crow people. The significant buffalo jumps and places as well as their stories were part of the research journey that Ward embarked upon to develop the material. She also sought information from elders living in Pryor, Montana.
Seminar attendees learned that students are encapsulated by their culture, as interpreted by the family, community and Indian nation. It is through the power of our stories and history that we reaffirm our existence and that we are all interrelated.