By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Squirms and giggles were interrupted at a Reagan Elementary school third-grade classroom Thursday for shouts of newly learned Chickasaw vocabulary words.
The students learned words like “tohbi” for white, “okchamali” for blue or green and “homma” for red as a part of a mini arts festival hosted by the Chickasaw Nation and Norman Public Schools.
Lucyann Harjo, Indian education coordinator for Norman Public Schools, said this is the third year the festival has been hosted in Norman.
“We are working on sharing the history and culture of all our state’s tribes,” she said. “There are 39 tribes, and we are hoping that all students in our district will have the opportunity to be exposed to learning about the history and culture of our Indian people for a deeper understanding, respect and knowledge of our Indian people as a whole.
“Any group, in order for us to fully understand different races, we need an opportunity to learn about them so we don’t make assumptions or continue any negative stereotypes. So that’s what this initiative is all about.”
Reagan Elementary was one of eight schools participating in the fairs. Other participants include Wilson, Monroe, Madison, Jackson, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy elementaries.
Chickasaw Nation and NPS staff are continuing to visit the schools separately during morning and afternoon sessions today, Wednesday and Nov. 14.
By the end of next week, Harjo said, approximately 577 third-graders will have participated in the fair.
Phillip Berryhill, Chickasaw choir director, led the language activity and said the festival is an opportunity to expose students to diverse cultures and experiences.
“After speaking the words, singing about them and then playing a game applying the song, by the time they leave, hopefully they’ll remember something,” Berryhill said.
Other activities during the fair included a storytelling activity with stuffed animals for props and an art activity creating paper butterflies to learn about symmetry and a Native American legend.
For some of the larger schools like Truman and Roosevelt elementaries, Harjo said they will incorporate Chickasaw social dances, as well.
For 8-year-old Reagan Elementary student Nicholas Estes, the experience taught him how to be a little more compassionate toward others.
“That’s important to understand how they feel,” he said on why learning about different cultures is relevant.
Morgan Olsen, 8, said learning about cultures helps her understand diversity and helps her be a better friend.
Laura Stewart, Chickasaw Nation Fine Arts Department director, said the different arts-related projects help young students more easily retain information about culture.
The festivals are relevant to Native American and non-Native students, Stewart said, allowing both to become more culturally aware and sensitive.
“When I used to teach at a rural school, 49 percent were Native American students in the school and I was the art teacher, so I felt it was important to go ahead and bring in projects to help preserve and teach these students,” Stewart said. “They were losing their culture, and this way they were connecting again, getting validation.”
For more information on the Chickasaw Nation, visit chickasaw.net.
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