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Native American cultural enrichment through the arts.

We need to encourage students, beginning on the elementary level, to learn about our multicultural society. Art can help students become aware of cultural differences and similarities. Through an increased awareness, students will develop a respect for peers of other ethnic backgrounds. We need to instill these values of respect in young children. As respect increases, so do students' self-esteems.

The Native American culture lends itself to cultural enrichment through the arts. Books on Native American designs are readily available. Ethnic cookbooks can supply cooking projects with corn or cornmeal, recipes for beef jerky made in a low-temperature oven, solar-cooked apples, panfried bread or berry leather made of flattened berries dried in the oven or the sun.

Native Americans in the Southwest create sand paintings as an extension of their religion. These paintings can be developed into an exciting unit coupled with illustrated books on the subject. Heavy cardboard cut from storage boxes is an excellent base for sand paintings. Colored sand or corn-meal dyed with food coloring and moistened with rubbing alcohol rather than water may be used. Draw traditional or contemporary designs with pencil and outline with marking pens. Fill in blank areas one at a time with white glue. Sprinkle colored sand or cornmeal over the glue. Shake off excess amounts.

Create glazed or unglazed round beads of various sizes with red clay. Carve designs by poking pencil points into the clay. Poke the pencil point into each end of the bead until a hole goes entirely through the bead. Clay pendants with traditional designs may be made with any fairly flat shape. A hole poked with a pencil point near the top makes the pendant ready to be strong with yarn, string or leather strips. Beads and flattened decorations may be incorporated into the sides of a headdress. Add fur scraps and leather pieces.

Berry juices and dyes made from boiling yellow onion skins for fifteen minutes make marvelous, inexpensive natural dyes. Try using them as a painting medium on pieces of old sheets, t-shirts, pillowcases or construction paper. Paint simple designs as background or borders for Native American poetry or creative writing.

Small cooperative groups can work together to construct large sculptures, such as models of Native American villages or papier-mache horses. Use a tepee for a quiet reading or study area. Construct the tepee with long sticks or bamboo poles tied with ropes and covered with a sheet. Use marking pens or paint to embellish the covering with drawings by every student in the class. Refrigerator boxes from appliance stores could become longhouses. Combine washing machine or other large appliance boxes to create Pueblo apartments.

Create cardboard loom weavings by stringing 9" x 12" (23 cm x 30 cm) pieces of cardboard, cut and notched at the vertical ends 1/2" apart. Natural colored yarn embellished with twigs, beads and feathers will emulate the weaving of Native Americans. On a large scale, weave a rug on a 7' x 3' (213 cm x 91 cm) frame with nails at each vertical end for the weft. The warp threads include heavy yarn, fabric or rags cut into lengths. An old bathrobe or a pair of pants works nicely. Leave open spaces in the weaving to create a wall hanging instead of a rug. Allow each student to weave a few rows.

Consider a multicultural afternoon in which students choose an interest center. Small group activities include a poetry corner, a reading corner, a cooking area and several art centers with music in the background. Thus, students will be immersed in another culture and begin to feel the richness and diversity in the lifestyles of some Native American tribes. The sounds, smells, enthusiasm and creative atmosphere will be long remembered in young minds.

When a few hands-on experiences are incorporated into the curriculum, students can begin to appreciate the strength of the heritage of our Native Americans. Our hope is that through art programs such as these we can strengthen our children's awareness of their own culture as well as others. This awareness will help the next generation to think globally and work in harmony.

Barbara J. Conrad is Art Representative at Jackson School, San Diego, California School District.
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Author:Conrad, Barbara J.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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