By Kay Walburger
Academy Award-Winning Singer/Songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie Creates Educational Project Teaching Science thru Native American Eyes!
"It's a Perfect Marriage of Culture and Core Curriculum, bringing the Entire Subject to Life!"
"Discover Science: Through Native American Eyes!" This title is filled with possibilities that fired my imagination and motivated me to discover more about this intriguing project. The creator, Buffy Sainte-Marie, has long held the vision that there must be a way to help raise the self-esteem of children, both mainstream and Native American. Now she believes that she has found a way and has ten years of implementing the project in select schools to prove it. My interview with Buffy, has made a believer out of me as well.
Like many others, I had only thought of her as a beautiful and talented entertainer (which by the way is enough), however, I was thrilled to learn much more about this delightful lady. Saint-Marie was born at the Piapot (Cree) Reservation in Sas-katchewan Canada and raised in Maine and Massachusetts. Her experiences with cultural diversity began early in her life. She earned a degree in Oriental Philosophy, a teaching degree, and a Ph.D. in Fine Arts, all from the University of Massachusetts. She became a teacher before she ever started singing. That was a wonderful surprise to me and I could see how her life has come full circle with her new classroom teaching model. Sainte-Marie has continually used her talents in art, music and cutting-edge technology to educate both on stage and in the classroom.
Her songs, including "Until It's Time for You to Go", were recorded by Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, and hundreds of other international artists; and "Universal Soldier", the anthem of the 60's peace movement, brought her fame and fortune enough to found her Nihewan Foundation. The Foundation, which began in 1965, provides scholarships in the field of Native American studies. Some of Nihewan's scholarship recipients are now presidents of the 30 Tribal Colleges who make up the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. "It feels very gratifying to know this is the result of my modest efforts. Since 1968, she has used her songwriting revenues to provide scholarships and operate the Ni-hewan Foundation.
Sesame Street Influence
During the five years that Buffy Sainte-Marie spent as a semi-regular on "Sesame Street", it was always her hope to convey in the Native American episodes one message above all: "Indians exist. We are alive and real, and we have fun and friends and families and a whole lot to contribute to the rest of the world through our reality.
"Native American people suffer from being misperceived all their lives due to the lack of accuracy in the mainstream. Native American reality is virtually invisible to them, their peers and the parents of their peers. Any child whose concept of self identity must depend upon what is reflected as Native American in the world of school and media will come up empty. It's like looking in the mirror with a group of friends and having everybody reflected but you .
"With the help of Big Bird and Oscar and friends, we put out this simple message of reality three times a day to the children of 73 countries of the world, providing them with positive realities, before racism and stereotyping ever had a chance to set in.
"When my son was in grade five, his teacher at Island School in Hawaii asked for my help in presenting a better Indian studies unit to her students. I looked at the available materials and was appalled that they weren't any better than they were when I was getting my teaching degree fifteen years before, - a lot of dead text about dead Indians. I wrote a seven-page unit, which was implemented into the curriculum, and every year added to it; but I was continually frustrated that no matter what I wrote about, the text and pictures alone just didn't feel real to me.
"At home on the Reserve (Piapot's in Saskatchewan, Canada) I would think -If only real life here could translate into something meaningful for non-Indian teachers and kids, maybe our input could replace the junk they read about us in the schools, which does nobody any good. Ten years into this process, I began connecting the kids at Island School with kids in a class at Whitecalf Collegiate at Starblanket Reserve in Saskatchewan, where my cousin was teaching. The two classes exchanged pictures, letters, faxes, etc. Beginning about 1991, (while I was recording in Hawaii), we set them up with e-mail and Live Chat using their computers. With the partnering of real live people, the entire curriculum came alive, and the Cradleboard Teaching Project was born.
Cradleboard (krad-l-bord) a frame, made of natural materials, is used by North American Indians to carry a child. The cradleboard style varies from tribe to tribe. It is flexible in use, protective and decorative; a Native American invention much appreciated by other cultures that have adapted the idea to their own uses.
The Cradleboard Teaching Project is creating an organization that will develop and distribute accurate, up-to-date Native American educational materials, to be made available to students from K through university, both online and by traditional means. Educators and children from five pilot groups will initiate the project: Mohawk, Lakota, Ojibwe, Cree, and Northwest Coast. "The lack of accurate Native American teaching materials in mainstream schools is not only bad for mainstream students, but also has a direct negative bearing upon the lives of Indian children whose cultures are being studied," said Buffy Sainte-Marie, founder of Cradleboard. "Confusion of self-identity and lack of self-esteem in Indian communities has been shown to contribute to depression and suicide, which are rampant in Indian country.
"The Cradleboard plan maximizes excellent, but scattered, present efforts by American Indian educators to provide accuracy in the field of Native Studies, and helps grassroots resource people - including Native American school children to deliver their contributions without ever having to leave home.
"It is our hope that we can joyfully replace the old inaccuracies, with reality delivered by teams of experts; to the lifelong benefit of Indian children," Sainte-Marie said, "and that every mainstream child will have access to an enriching Native studies unit provided by Indian friends, including children of their own age.
"I have continued to develop the Cradleboard idea at several informal sites. In October of 1996, we received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, and now, thanks to them, the Project expanded to 33 participating classes in 11 states. An additional grant from the Ford Foundation will help the project continue its efforts."
Through Native American Eyes
Cradleboard has created our first interactive multimedia CD on the subject of Science, quite deliberately. It wouldn't occur to most people that the words Native American and science could even go together. Our first interactive multimedia CD Rom, "Science: through Native American eyes", teaches scientific concepts through the presentation of hundreds of photos, videos, animation, music, printable files, lessons, and quizzes, and it feels much closer to both the oral tradition and today's Native realities. By sensitively utilizing new technology, standard and accredited materials and tools, The Cradleboard Teaching Project blazes a great light on truth, dissolves inaccurate images and replaces them with reliable, live ones that will nurture and promote self-esteem and good will among thousands of children.
"The Cradleboard Teaching Project is a continual learning process, and a lot of fun too: improving the curriculum, and learning from fellow educators at teachers' conferences, in classrooms, and online, as machines become better, easier to use, and more available to teachers and children. But Cradleboard is not about the technology. Cradleboard is about helping children through cross-cultural communication, with whatever means they have to get to know one another."
"The Cradleboard Teaching Project was born out of my own experiences as a teacher who has traveled widely, thanks to a concert career. When I had a concert in New York, afterwards I would go to the Mohawk Reservation out in the country upstate. If I had a concert in Sydney, Australia, afterwards I'd spend time with Aboriginal people out in the bush. This became a way of life for me, and I'm grateful for all the good people I've met while crossing cultural borders."
Correspondence can be sent to: The Cradleboard Teaching Project, 1191 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746. Phone: (808) 822-3111, Fax: (808) 823-0111. Also check out the website at www.cradleboard.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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