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Beech House Infants Learn About the American West

Tuesday, 03 June 2014

Today the pupils at Beech House were learning about the American West. The whole day was themed accordingly, with wanted posters featuring the teachers displayed on the walls! Even the catering department joined in: they dressed up as cowboys and Native Americans, and served up teepee cakes and ‘fire-toasted’ marshmallows with edible sticks. The children really enjoyed tucking in to these unusual treats at lunch time!

However, the highlight of the day was their special guests: Alan Blackhorse-Hull and his wife Sam, both of whom are first nation Canadians and members of the Umatilla.

They spoke to the Beech House pupils about the Native American Indians’ history and culture. Each year group was allocated a session with Alan, where he described the history and the friendship between cowboys and Native Americans.

Alan himself was wearing a traditional outfit made of deerskin and satin, which was available since the 1800s thanks to trade with Europeans. His wife, however, was wearing a more contemporary Southern Cloth outfit in very bright colours. Some of the children were able to try on the additional outfits that they had brought with them! One girl tried on a working dress, the everyday clothing a young girl would wear; while another tried on a buffalo headdress that was designed to keep the hair dry. Alan chose a boy to put on a swan-feather headdress, and explained that this was not reserved for a chief, as films and television often describe, but simply for respected people within the tribe; it was earned through the completion of brave deeds. Another boy was able to try on a wolf headdress, which was first bought in 1875 – making it one hundred and eighty five years old!

These were all Plains Indian outfits, but another boy was able to try the outfit of a Woodland Indian. It was made of black velvet rather than leather, which surprised the children until Alan explained that the Woodland Indians lived on the East coast. This was where the Europeans first landed their boats, and the Native Americans there traded food for black velvet.

He had brought lots of other artefacts to look at: beaded purses from various tribes which were over one hundred years old; fur-lined moccasins; elaborately carved food bowls; jewellery made from porcupine quills or seashells; a sheath for a knife. He also had a drum, which he used in the course of the talks to teach the children different songs. The younger children learned a traditional Cheyenne war song, but the Year 2 pupils learned something more modern: a Native American version of the Spongebob Squarepants theme!

Alan and Sam rounded off each of the presentations with a powwow dance. They also taught this to the Year 2 teachers – much to the delight of the children!

The children had a fantastic time and were captivated by Alan throughout. This was a really enriching experience for them, as they were able to learn more about Native American Indians beyond the stereotypes that appear in films and television. They will hopefully be inspired to learn more in the future.

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Two pupils wearing Plains Indian outfits

Two pupils wearing Plains Indian outfits

The Year 2 children learning a powwow song

The Year 2 children learning a powwow song

The pupils were captivated by the presentation

The pupils were captivated by Alan’s presentation