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Tapestry Institute reintroduces holistic learning experiences

CRAWFORD, Neb. - Indigenous people have a special connection to the natural world that allows for a more holistic learning experience and provides a more complex understanding.

The key is a response to the natural world that most cultures have forgotten or lost, because every human being can trace their genealogy back to a time when tribal instinct and learning from the surroundings was paramount to existence.

There is an organization that is reintroducing a response to the natural world as a way of mental development and reasoning and it uses the model created by the indigenous peoples of this country, the sacred circle.

Tapestry Institute, founded by Dawn Adrian Adams, Choctaw, has a program that evaluates how the natural world relates to intelligent thought and is reintroducing this concept to the Western-thinking world.

''The trend right now is to use the intellectual ways, so we do research to learn how those ways of knowing function and how it is integrated

into people's lives,'' Adams said.

''We develop educational programs to let people know how it can be restored to them.''

What this all means is that a person should experience the full world view which includes a liberal learning process in addition to learning the teachings of the natural world in order to create, think and successfully function in that whole world instead of in an individualistically created environment.

''We use educational programs. You can read about as much as you want, but you have to experience using art to understand things, to learn things and to respond. People experience the power of the story which is a real thing, they experience whatever their spiritual tradition is and we encourage [them] to understand in a full way to integrate with the other ways of learning about the world,'' Adams said.

Adams has a doctorate degree in vertebrate paleontology from the University of California - Berkley.

''All the way through school it was an uphill struggle, dealing with this issue.

''I was raised in the world view, but not until recently did I realize that everyone was not raised in that condition,'' she said.

Art has a place in science and Adams tried to use that concept with dissertation proposals and was told that the concept was not real.

''I was told story was not important in science. I was spending 80 percent of my time and energy arguing with administrators,'' Adams said.

What the Tapestry program attempts to do is to get people to use art and story to help teach valuable natural knowledge.

''They are part of the world and they are real,'' Adams said.

When Adams started Tapestry Institute, she decided to operate within the world view.

For years, many American Indian students struggled with the sciences because they were bringing the world view into the study of science which was rejected.

''It's a meat grinder, the pressure to give up your world view and buy into Western thinking,'' Adams said.

Adams wants people to experience another view through art. Participants in programs attend various art projects and learn to let the natural world communicate with them to create the art. Storytelling is done by the same method.

''We want people to learn as a group. We put together a team of people who are different, one half Indian, half not, artists, musicians, filmmakers, scientists, forestry people and business people and now horse people, to act as planners for the institute,'' she said.

The planning takes place primarily outdoors. People go hiking, ride horses and engage in the natural world together.

Enter the horse

Tapestry Institute is located on a ranch in northwestern Nebraska. The area is prime for trail riding and horseback riding in general. The horse is part of the natural world and when a person interacts with them, there is a strong physical and spiritual experience.

''I'm not Native. I come from the Western culture and I never experienced before that people come together with horses and they left with an agenda. They were out on this sacred land on this trail ride,'' said Jo Belasco, Esq., director of the Voice of the Horse Project.

The horse became integrated into the program when a group experienced a trail ride and began experiencing the natural world, and sharing the experience in story with each other. A mustang became a major topic of discussion.

Tapestry Institute organized a Voice of the Horse event at Iowa State University, where celebrated horse trainers conducted seminars, including Phillip Whiteman Jr., Northern Cheyenne, founder of the ''Medicine Wheel Model to Natural Horsemanship'' training.

''A person was asked why they were at the stable, she said, 'I've had a bad day. I'm going riding. He is my best friend.'

''People want to know how the horse is helping them. People with MS [Multiple Sclerosis] get on a horse and in a few weeks they are in remission. People with post-traumatic stress disorder ride a horse and they are better,'' Belasco said.

People tell stories about their experience with a horse, something people of Western culture have never experienced, Belasco said.

Belasco is not an indigenous American, but she said she was reconnecting with her indigenous culture.

''I can look back at those of Europe and they were doing the same thing,'' she said.

''When you are in that materialistic world view, when nothing but human beings are alive and nothing else has significance; it's a value system that says knowledge is based from facts and reasoning and that this is all connected to a reality that is strictly material and money is tied into it and the more money is involved the worse it gets,'' Adams said.

''Let's lay things out on the table and acknowledge that all these things are real and talk about it. Accept the reality of what is, it spreads from horses to everything. We've got to get people started doing this,'' Adams said.

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In the spirit of the horse

Indigenous people and some organizations are on the path to preserve a method of creating sensitivity towards the environment and all living creatures, and embracing a spiritual understanding on the natural world view.

The horse can play a central character in the art of and enhancement of communication with the natural world and at a recent conference in Ames, Iowa, the Tapestry Institute brought together many horse clinicians and trainers to help others communicate with the horse.

The Voice of the Horse conference drew people from across the country and on the Internet from around the world.

Philip Whiteman Jr., the founder of the ''Medicine Wheel of Natural Horsemanship'' training, and his daughter, Kyla Two Bulls, held clinics during the conference. The high school student has been conducting tests on diabetes among horses that mirror the diabetes in humans. She experiments with exercise and healthy food.

Whiteman, Northern Cheyenne, and Two Bulls, Oglala Lakota, refer to the mirror effect between humans and horses and say that each group can learn from the other in a variety of ways.

Whiteman said the Voice of the Horse conference addressed the prey and predator approach, the natural horsemanship method and herd theory. Tapestry Institute director of the Voice of the Horse Project, Jo Belasco, Esq., claimed that humans and horses are both prey animals and have a closer relationship than most humans thought.

''Tapestry believes that there is a higher level of communicating between humans and the horse and all the equine clinicians and

specialists were invited to come together and share their experiences and knowledge and share the spirit of the horse,'' Whiteman said.

''One of the things that was foreign to me was to hear non-Natives speak about the spirit of the horse and how they communicated and acknowledged that a horse had a spirit,'' he said.

Whiteman said his medicine wheel model recognized that everything is related and that the human nation and the animal nations have a place in the circle of life; in that circle, he said, everything is equal.

''With right-brained thinking, it is circular and connects to Mother Earth and the universe and everything evolves in a circle,'' Whiteman said.

One of the talking circles used by Tapestry Institute addresses boundaries and barriers between groups of people and nations with the horse in at the center.

''In different denominations or with theology, man is on the top; but in the medicine wheel, it is that we are all equal,'' Whiteman said.

When horses are confined, abused or oppressed, that stress can cause physical illnesses such as diabetes or colic. Their communication skills become more dangerous, in a territorial way.

''In many ways our people have experienced that same thing.''

In the Great Plains societies, the horse was brought into the circle as a healing power, the horse participated in some Sun Dances.

Within the work that Whiteman does it is important to understand that this is not a mystical American Indian belief. It is a holistic way of looking at life, looking and working with people and yourself and all creation, Whiteman said.

Two Bulls said that her horses have a spirit and that she is connected to them.

''Horses are the mirror of the owner and other people. In my science project, what they eat affects their blood sugar. We know how Native Americans hunted and ate natural foods and now how we depend on other foods and depend on others to feed them,'' she said.

''We have to acknowledge the spirit and also the mirror concept that the body can speak in volumes without speaking a word, to speak the universal language of Mother Earth.

''Animals communicate with senses and they are constantly trying to communicate with us,'' Whiteman said.