The idea of making a speech is enough to make many students nervous. Putting your voice out to the wider world on a podcast? That’s a new level of jitters.
But a group of Crow Agency students felt like their message mattered enough to enter in a National Public Radio podcast contest, and it earned them a coast-to-coast shout out for their work highlighting how stereotypes don’t match up with contemporary Crow life.
“The thing was, it went to the whole state of Montana … to the whole country,” said fifth-grader Laila Real Bird.
Fifth-graders in teacher Connie Michael’s class worked on the podcasts in small-group projects, each brainstorming their own content, script and then recording. Michael spliced the recordings together into one edition that met NPR’s contest requirements.
Michael got some inspiration for the project when she attended a teacher training seminar at the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian. She found that many people were unaware that tribes still existed and had not only district traditions, but had evolved into contemporary cultures, to the point that some people assumed American Indians still lived in tepees.
She talked about Crow Fair with her students — some dance and hold powwow titles and stay in tepees with their families during the annual celebration. But others chill out in an RV and are more focused on shaved ice and roaming with friends.
Crow Agency Elementary has a Crow-language immersion program for younger grades, but chit-chat between students is just as likely to encompass Fortnite or Nikes.
“They kind of have their feet in both worlds,” Michael said.
The podcasts weren’t high tech; students used Michael’s laptop to record in the hallway. But their content caught the ear of NPR, standing out from among more than 6,000 entries. It wasn’t named a grand champion, of which there were only two, but it was featured as one of eight podcasts “that made us smile,” and a clip was played on national radio.
The podcast starts with students introducing themselves, before launching into their descriptions of life on the reservation, and how it might differ from outsiders’ expectations.
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“People think we still live in tepees and still hunt for food,” the podcast says. “We use modern stuff now like iPads, iPhones, cars, houses and TVs.”
Portions include beats from a traditional drum, but students note that “we listen to modern music like jazz, rap and hip-hop.”
They also highlight things unique to the Crow Tribe, like their language, as “things that make us special.”
An NPR article highlighting the podcast names it “one of our judges' favorites.”
The podcast suggests that people should “come visit us,” but one student reckons it also could be useful for those who don’t.
“If we’re going to go somewhere else, people are probably going to have a lot of questions,” said fifth-grader Elmer Hill.
Hill and Real Bird were joined by classmates Kevee Rogers, Emme Pickett, and Ryan Tushka to talk about the podcast on a sunny June day. Most agreed that overcoming their nerves to record something that could be heard far beyond their classroom walls was the most challenging part.
“You’re representing your culture,” Hill said.