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Native American Heritage Day: Polson students study heritage and traditions

Editor | November 24, 2022 12:00 AM

Students at Polson Middle School set aside their regular studies Tuesday to learn about the cultural and artistic traditions of Salish and Kootenai people during the seventh annual Native American Heritage Day.

D’Arcy Ellis, an artist and teacher, helped students learn about traditional indigenous dress, hair styles and embellishments. Students experimented with different materials and patterns as they adorned paper-doll size cutouts.

“We’re going around from the beginning of school until lunch learning about Native American heritage,” said eighth grader Morgan Delaney as she put finishing touches on a doll.

Tim Ryan, department head for the Salish Kootenai College’s Culture and Language Studies Department, and John Stevens, also of SKC, taught students how to build a fire (carefully) with a bow, spindle and notched fire board.

The room erupted in cheers when someone finally elicited a slender tendril of smoke and flicker of flame. “Keep it going, c’mon, c’mon!”

In another classroom, Jan Gardipe of Salish Kootenai College helped students learn to twist strips of dog bane into rope (Specn in Salish), a traditional winter activity.

“Imagine being in your lodge all day, you’re going to make stuff that you’re going to utilize in the springtime for ice fishing, deer snares, tying up rawhide packs after you’ve killed an elk or bison.” Pile of dog bane showed how to crack it open, peel fibers out and make rope).

“You want to have good feelings put into the stuff you make so people feel good when they have your things,” she told students.

Stick games, tipi making, Coyote stories, pictographs and petroglyphs, bead work and round dances and traditional games were also among the offerings.


Jan Gardipe, who teaches at Salish Kootenai College, shows Polson Middle School students how to make rope out of strips of dogbane, a traditional winter activity, during Native American Heritage Day. (Kristi Niemeyer/Lake County Leader)


Forget the matches -- Tim Ryan coaches a student at Polson Middle School Tuesday on the art of fire-making with primitive tools. (Kristi Niemeyer/Lake County Leader)


Eighth graders Morgan Delaney and Karly Smith learn about traditional Indigenous dress during a Native American Heritage Day session with D’Arcy Ellis. (Kristi Niemeyer/Lake County Leader)