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Indian Schools Help Students Connect With Their Culture

Construction workers watch a ceremony at the new Indian Community School being built outside Milwaukee. It is one of at least 150 schools in the country where students' Indian heritage is celebrated and nurtured.
Construction workers watch a ceremony at the new Indian Community School being built outside Milwaukee. It is one of at least 150 schools in the country where students' Indian heritage is celebrated and nurtured. (By Kristyna Wentz-graff -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The 156,000-square-foot school is built into the surrounding landscape, and the grounds around it will be filled with native trees and grasses. A portion of the land will be turned into a garden for subsistence farming and to teach students about native agriculture. Inside, tall timbers taken from forests in northern Wisconsin act as pillars for a low copper roof. A manmade river and floor-to-ceiling windows will give the feeling of nature.

School officials plan to increase the students' access to native languages and spiritual ceremonies when they make the move. They also say the new school will provide even more chances to revive Indian culture.

Often, more than the students themselves might need to be taught.

"This school will become a community to bring all of us together," said Cheryl Weber, 42, a member of the Oneida Nation who teaches second grade at the Indian school. "We find that we are trying to tell our students that they have to go home to teach most of their parents these things, because they have been removed from reservations and their ways."

Several of the Indian schools open each year, though the exact number is unknown. The Milwaukee school is possibly the only one that does not receive state or federal funds.

Instead, it is financed through a gaming agreement between the state government and the Potawatomi Nation in Wisconsin, which runs a lucrative Milwaukee casino. That agreement, which gives about $27 million to the school each year, ends in 2010, however.

Student Logan Gott, 12, said he believes he has learned more about his spiritual life and the ways of his ancestors than he would have at a public school. Since he started at the school, he has learned how to sing and drum at sacred ceremonies and powwows, an honored opportunity.

"At school, people think it is just about learning," he said. "But at school, you should learn things that put together your cultural, historical side with your today side, too."


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