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Phys. ed. Classes integrate tradition in Montana

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Educators recently attended “The Culture of Survival” certification academy in Great Falls to learn how to integrate traditional Indian games into physical education classes statewide. The state of Montana now requires that Indian education, including knowledge, history and culture, be included in all schools throughout the state.

The four-day event was organized by DeeAnna Leader, director of Indian education for the Great Falls Public Schools and executive director of the International Traditional Games Society. She explained, “Two parallel things were going on. Nine people made up the certification group of teachers and 15 people were getting certified. Another eight were part of the curriculum development group. Both groups were going back and forth between each other because often the state standards group would have a question they needed to ask of the people who were doing the training for certification.”

A rewrite of the Montana Constitution in 1972 included wording requiring Montanans to know about Indian culture and the heritage of the tribes in the state. “Indian Education for All” is the title given to legislation that passed the Montana Legislature in 1999, essentially putting regulations, policy and money into the program. It’s taken all those years to get the program off the ground.

Arlene Adams, Salish from Arlee, was an instructor at the recent workshop. She commented, “It’s been my 20-year commitment to work with Native Games for the implementation of instruction into the public school system as well as the Indian school system in Montana. It was great to see the educators come out and the people that attended the workshop to help in that process. It’s really good to see it’s finally coming out the way it is. The workshop was wonderful and really strengthens my hope for Native Games.”

Indian education is to eventually be included in all school disciplines. The social studies curriculum was done in the past year and current efforts are directed at the health and physical education aspects. The group of eight in attendance at the recent academy that makes up curriculum development observed the teaching of the Native Games activities to determine how they can be infused into the health and physical education curriculum.

Dulci Whitford, Blackfeet, is one of those curriculum development persons. Whitford has recently been hired by the Great Falls district as a teacher on special assignment to help implement Indian Education for All.

“We observed the Native Games and put them into a curriculum format so they can be used in public schools. I see it as a very positive move towards including Indian Education for All in our Montana school districts,” she said. “When you’re writing curriculum on Indian people and their history it’s difficult; it’s not something you write overnight. It was very positive but more work needs to be done to fine-tune the lessons.”

Leader commented, “The weekend went very well. We had 12 stations where traditional games teachers were with our young certified group of sixth- through eighth-graders. They were teaching while the curriculum group watched how the games were being taught. The students of Longfellow School in Great Falls were going through the stations. At one point we must have had 200 kids on the field. A kindergarten teacher came running over and said, ‘DeeAnna, look around. Nobody’s pushing. Nobody’s fighting. They’re standing patiently in line. They love these games.’”

Adult instructors came from various tribes throughout Montana. Each is very dedicated to researching oral history and traditions as well as ethnology to ensure that everything is done correctly and with traditional materials. Some games are common to wide regions of the country, whereas others were played only within a particular tribe. No game is taught until it has been sanctioned by elders of their tribe and permission has been given to allow everyone to play. Some games may be restricted to only members of that tribe, and perhaps only to boys or only to girls within the tribe. Those games are not taught in the workshops, but retained within the tribe.

The instructors do an outstanding job. Leader mentioned Richard Horn, a Blackfeet from Browning; Perry Main from Fort Belknap, Betsy Clark and Henry Anderson from Little Shell, and Videl and Ruby Stump from Rocky Boy’s, among others. “They are all so very, very dedicated,” she said.

The end result should be better-informed students of all races about Native games and history in Montana.

“The knowledge that is coming back is powerful when you see it in action,” Leader said. “These traditional games appeal to all ages, including grandparents.”