When certain holidays come around, I struggle with teaching my students about them in a way that honors those who experienced great pain while not trashing those who were victorious in their efforts to conquer. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but I can’t help but think of all the people who’ve been pushed aside and displaced as a result of the appearance of colonists.
In my classroom, I spent a lot of time this month teaching my kids about various Native American tribes. We looked at maps of tribal territories, read stories from the Lakota and Blackfoot tribes, talked about (and built) various types of tipis, played “memory,” with home made Native American symbol cards, talked about foods that Native Americans ate (and sorted them into food groups), and learned a few words from different tribes. I wanted to honor Native Americans for who they are as people, outside of and apart from their relations with colonists. I wanted my students to learn about Native American cultures without making the native Americans into some sort of cliche art project.
My friend Shannon at The After Crafter enjoys crafting with her toddler, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving and honoring all things Native American, I asked if she could share her totem pole crafts here on Whole Heart. I really love that she researched both the meaning of totem poles and the symbolism of the various animals used in her totem pole as part of creating her project. Here is some of what she learned:
“I️ have always had a fascination with totem poles. They look so mystic, like they are patiently waiting to reveal a library of stories to anyone willing to listen. When my friend spoke to me about doing a craft commemorating Native Americans, I knew immediately this is what I would make. Here are some neat things I found out:
🍗Totem poles are sculptures carved into large trees by only SIX tribes of indigenous peoples of the Northwest coast of North America.
🍖The poles are carved and painted with figures or animals that represent families or clans, and are believed to have spiritual significance as a guardian or helper.
🥐 Every color used on the poles have meanings, as do the figures carved on the poles. The Symbols for every animal or spirit carved on the pole also have meaning and when combined on the pole, in sequence, constitute a story, legend or myth.
While planning my pole I decided to let my daughter choose the four animals we would make. Just for fun I looked up the meaning of each animal totem to see what our story would be.
🐇: Pour your energy into creative pursuits
Those with a rabbit totem are spontaneous and unpredictable. They have fast reflexes, and good coordination. They are gentle and nurturing yet also clever and quick witted.
🦉: Listen to your inner voice and watch for signs that will guide you forward. Use wisdom.
🐻: It’s only when you can say a clear no that you can say a clear yes. Both are just as important in defining what your boundaries are. Those with a bear totem have great confidence and are seen as an authority figure.
🐘: You already have all the tools you need to accomplish what you desire, just go for it. Elephant totems are highly intelligent. Family and loyalty are important.
Making our totem pole was really fun and a great learning experience. Make sure to comment below and tell us your totem experiences!”
Check her out! https://m.facebook.com/thehealthycrafter/
As a teacher, I love learning and teaching about various cultures and finding ways to honor them without voiding the authenticity and meaning behind the art form. I am grateful for the various Native cultures and I hope to continue learning about them, not just during the Thanksgiving season!
Have a happy and safe holiday!