Native American Heritage Month
November 12, 2012
Native American Feather Bonnets, camp fires, and stories. The kids' science club this last weekend at the H. M. S. Beagle Science shop in Parkville was a blast! Everyone had a good time, but I think the neatest thing about putting on this program was the fact that I learned so much about Native Americans. My professors are right. One learns best when one has to teach something, and I sure learned a lot about Native Americans when I was preparing for this club!
National Native American Heritage Month celebrates the beautiful, vibrant culture and history of all Native Americans. I only had one day to prepare for the event; we were called in to help with this program at the last minute, as the H. M. S. Beagle's original presenter had been called away to another matter. In my quick flurry of research, I learned about counting coup—a way of gaining prestige in battle without necessarily killing your enemy. It's an interesting concept, because when Native Americans went to war, it was more heroic and courageous of warriors to touch the body of their enemy with a hand, bow, or stick and leaving them unharmed in the process. I'm not entirely sure how this worked, but it sounds almost like tag-team football rather than war.
I remember, from my grade school days, learning all about how Native Americans would use all parts of the buffalo, efficient and respectful to the animal. However, without horses, how could they hunt buffalo effectively? Well, they herded them off cliffs. They used a decoy who would wear a buffalo hide to disguise himself as a buffalo, and then when the other men of the hunting group scared the buffalo herd, he stood near the buffalo and ran towards a cliff. When the other buffalo are scared, they follow the lead buffalo or, in this case, the decoy buffalo. I hadn't heard of this technique before, but it was very fascinating.
I also learned that the Cherokee language doesn't use letters like an alphabet. It uses a syllabary! As an undergraduate English Major, I loved learning about this language system. What I really liked most was that by 1830 most Cherokee people were literate in their own language, even though the language itself was introduced to the people in 1819. That's a really short time for so many people to learn a whole new writing system! Language is fascinating and if it fascinates you too, check the syllabary here.
Native Americans have a rich oral tradition of storytelling as well as elaborate music and dance rituals. There may really be something to these rain dances. After our rain dance in the program, the sky was clear, but it started raining. Coincidence perhaps, but I like to think we helped make it rain. The kids sure loved it!