Sleeping bags were a course requirement during a Montana State University-Billings workshop for teachers this week. Tonight, the teachers swap dorm rooms for a night in tepees.
During the tepee encampment on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, 20 high school and middle school teachers from across the state will get a firsthand look at Northern Cheyenne history and culture.
The five-day workshop, "Battling for Survival: American Indians in Montana," is designed to help teachers build a curriculum to meet the requirements of American Indian Education for All, a statewide statute designed to recognize the cultural heritage of American Indians. The workshop stems from collaboration among faculty at MSU-Billings, Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer and the tribe's historic preservation office.
"It's a great blending of the faculty here with tribal college faculty and Northern Cheyenne cultural and historical experts," said Jeffery Sanders, head of Native American studies at MSU-Billings.
On campus at MSU-Billings, the teachers learned about the effect of westward settlement on the lives and cultures of Montana's tribes. During the field trip, they will focus on the Battle of the Rosebud and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, touring both battle sites and hearing interpretation of the battles from the Northern Cheyenne perspective.
The Northern Cheyenne refer to the Battle of the Rosebud as "Where the Girl Saved Her Brother," while the Battle of the Little Bighorn is described as "Where Custer Was Wiped Away."
The date of this week's workshop is tied to the anniversaries of both battles, while the second session, June 26-July 1, dovetails with the Northern Cheyenne's Fourth of July powwow in Lame Deer.
During the evening's tepee encampment, Cheyenne dancers, singers, storytellers and artists will share a traditional meal with the group. The teachers will watch Cheyenne dancers, listen to Cheyenne music and hear Cheyenne storytellers. They will learn which kinds of songs are sung at different ceremonial and social occasions and what to listen for in Plains tribal music.
"What a wonderful way to learn it, to go and hear it from a primary source," said Jason Olson, a workshop participant who taught eighth-grade history last year at Absarokee. "That's the thing about history, we read it so much out of books," he said.
During the workshop, teachers will develop a lesson plan they can use in their classrooms.
"The need is for accurate, sensitive information about specific American Indian tribes," Sanders said.
For too long, American Indian education was too generalized and failed to pay attention to the various languages and cultures of the individual tribes, he said.
The workshop's two sessions attracted 65 applicants for 40 spots. Preference was given to teachers from rural, isolated school districts, and the programs were primarily geared to middle and high school teachers in social studies, history and English.
"The great response to this was in direct response to Indian Education for All and the need for each school district in the state to start implementing accurate American Indian studies in their curriculum," Sanders said.
The summer sessions are funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. MSU-Billings faculty members hope to find future funding for a similar course on Crow culture done in collaboration with Little Bighorn College on the Crow Reservation.
Contact Donna Healy at email@example.com or 657-1292.