Kindergartners from Union Elementary School took a step back in time last week when they visited the Coharie Tribal Center, bridging the gap between generations as they met with tribal elders and learned more about the rich Native American culture that is woven into the fabric of Sampson County life.
During their nearly day-long field trip to the center, located at 7531 North U.S. Hwy. 421 in Clinton, the youngsters had the opportunity to visit the center’s art gallery and museum, and the center’s senior site where they witnessed some of the tribe’s elders quilting.
“It had an extra powerful feeling being there. You just can’t recreate that same thing at school,” shared Union Elementary principal Dr. Linda Jewell Carr.
“You get more of the full effect by coming here,” agreed Wanda Ammons, the Indian Education Coordinator for the Coharie tribe. “We had displays of arrow heads for them to see and the artwork which is all made by the Coharies. All of our past chiefs’ things have been donated and they get to see all that here.”
Students also got to see all of the the Indian heritage posters dating back to 1980, and the tribe gave the school this year’s “We’re Still Here” heritage poster which Carr has already hung in a spot of honor at the school, surrounded by snapshots from the field trip.
However, the students didn’t just get to see — they were also allowed to be a little hands-on in the museum.
“I liked touching the fur,” shared kindergartner Kayden Wayne, referring to the three different kinds of fur pelts that were on display and that students had permission to feel.
Additionally, the kindergartners enjoyed using another of their senses in the learning process — taste.
Student Reed Strickland shared that tribe members treated the kids to Indian fry bread which he described as being “really good” and having “sweet stuff (powered sugar) on it.”
After the students toured the center’s gallery and museum, members of the Coharie tribe performed for them, captivating them with dancing, drumming, and singing.
“They played drums that were loud and they danced to the drum’s beat,” explained kindergartner Josiah Ashline.
Fellow kindergartner Gracie Bridgman shared that she liked the dancing the best, especially “the little one,” referring to a 3-year-old Coharie dancer.
“I liked the grass dancer,” added Ireland Allen.
“Yes, and they let you all participate, didn’t they,” Carr reminded her, demonstrating how the tribal dancers led the children in waving their arms in the air to represent grass. “It was magical.”
The dancers’ regalia also caught the attention of young eyes.
Kindergartner Sonjayah Scott shared that she thought the Native Americans’ dress was pretty and recalled how one dancer shared that the idea for her regalia come to her in a dream.
Some of the dancers’ regalia featured bells which student Mireya Escamilla liked because as the dancers performed she could her the sounds of the bells.
“It really helped bring what we were teaching to life for them,” said Amy Bass of the visit, pointing out that she and her fellow kindergartner teachers could teach students about Native Americans during November, which is Indian Heritage Month, and they could show students lots of pictures of Native Americans in their regalia, but that alone wouldn’t have had the same impact. “With this visit they got to see the dress first hand.”
Ammons shared that the dancers who performed in their regalia varied in age from senior citizens to middle-age and even down to a toddler, noting how meaningful it was for all those generations to be involved in the day. Having Union Elementary’s kindergartners come for a visit was particularly special for the tribal elders who were there, she acknowledged.
“Even the eldest wanted to help and get involved,” she shared, adding that it was the senior citizens of the tribe who made the goodie bags and the beaded friendship bracelets that were given to the school children before they left. “Some of the old-timers there who had been to school there said that they felt like the school was laughing again by having the children visit.”
“It felt good to see students walking the halls because it brought back memories for them,” she continued. “Our chief, Gene Jacobs, was there and he told the children that he went to school here when he was their age. He said that it lifted his heart to see the children here at the age he was when he was in school here.”
The significance of having the elders there and participating with Union’s kindergartners was not lost on Carr or the teachers either. “Being with the elders, you felt like you were among the wise,” described the Union principal.
Bringing these generations together to learn and share with each other is something that, Ammons stressed, is very important to the Coharie tribe.
“When I do a presentation I always try to let the students know that TV has portrayed us as savages and all but we’re really just like them. I always ask them if they think we still live in tee-pees and ride horses because some do, and they’re really around Native Americans all the time they just don’t know it,” she explained. “It’s just important that they know we’re still here and we’re still celebrating our heritage.”
Union Elementary’s kindergarten teachers shared that they felt sure their students wouldn’t soon forget the experience.
“I feel like it’s something they will always remember,” said teacher Stephanie Bass, praising the Coharie tribe for going “above and beyond” what was necessary to make the day memorable.
“Yes, they were very friendly and made it so special,” fellow teacher Jessica McClellan agreed. “It being their (the kindergartners) first time to really experience Thanksgiving and what it’s all about just made it even more richer.”
And Ammons shared that the feeling was mutual. “We just want to give a big ol’ thanks to principal Carr and the school for taking time out of their schedule to come; it just meant so much. We performed at the school last year and she was so welcoming to us. We just wanted to do the same for her when she came here on our turf. We had a ball.”
“You could tell they truly wanted us there. It was kind of magical. I couldn’t tell who was having more fun,” said Carr, thanking Ammons in return. “It was a warm day of sharing, and I encourage other schools to embrace this opportunity.”
For more information about the Coharie Tribal Center, please call 910-564-6909 and visit the tribe’s website at www.coharietribe.org.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.