Tahlequah Daily Press by Hunter Lane
A local school is broadening its services and teaching students the importance and history of Cherokee culture.
Grand View School was rife with activity Tuesday afternoon for its first Cherokee Heritage Day event. Throughout the day, students went from station to station, learning about Cherokee attire, how to play stickball and marbles, and listening to storytellers.
The event was hosted by the Cherokee Heritage Center and funded through a grant from the Native Youth Community Project. The NYCP is administered by the Department of Education and was launched in tandem with President Barack Obama’s Generation Indigenous initiative.
This was the first schoolwide Cherokee heritage learning event at Grand View, and Margaret Carlile, federal programs director, said she hopes it will become an annual event.
“Grand View School has about 400 Native American students from 18 tribes, but most of them are Cherokee,” Carlile said. “We’re trying to restore some pride in the communities, and we want to spend some time teaching these kids about their heritage. I was pretty specific today that we did Cherokee things. A lot of things become pan-Indian, which is fine. We’ll celebrate that, too, but today I wanted it to be about Cherokees and the students.”
Carlile said Cherokee Heritage Day supplements a student’s education, and that kids often better remember hands-on experiences than regular book work.
“They remember the day they got their face painted or the day they got to play stickball with the real Indian man,” Carlile said. “They remember the days they get to do stuff with their hands, and those are the kinds of things you remember about school if you think back, not the spelling tests or reading.”
Carlile wants to teach kids about their heritage in a meaningful way that will benefit students in the future. She hopes to also teach students the importance of education to the Cherokee people and their culture.
“If we don’t understand where we’re from, it’s kind of hard to understand where we’re going,” Carlile said. “When we had the seminary here, before statehood, this was the most literate place west of the Mississippi. I try to remind people that we need to tell these kids education is a part of Cherokee history. It’s part of our heritage to be educated, and it’s very important.”
Glenda Sellers, community liaison for Grand View, said students should learn about Native American heritage because it is part of their lives and directly affects them – particularly in this area.
“We need to keep it alive, whether it’s at home or through the school,” Sellers said. “All the activities up here today are interactive with the students, and we have the big kids working with the little kids so they’re able to share some common ground.”
With budget cuts and general uncertainty befalling Oklahoma education, Sellers said schools must use all resources available.
“I think it’s especially important to rural schools,” Sellers said.
Hannah Chesser, a seventh-grader at Grand View, learned how to sing “This Land is our Land” and “Osiyo,” in Cherokee, listened to Cherokee storytellers, and helped paint some of the younger students’ faces.
“We got to hear a story about a song bird that couldn’t sing and stole other bird’s songs,” Chesser said. “We played marbles, stickball, and then we played with blow darts too.”
Chesser’s group was paired with the school’s first-graders. She said she likes events where all the students work and spend time together. Chesser believes cultural education helps people understand one another.
“I like helping [the younger students], it’s a lot of fun,” Chesser said. “They kind of look up to us and they’ll know what to do when they get older to help the little kids. Once people know [about culture], maybe there is more stuff we have in common and they’ll be able to tell people about it.”