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Confluence of Cultures

Palouse Prairie Charter School

Fourth-grade students at Palouse Prairie Charter School in Moscow, Idaho participated in the Confluence of Cultures expedition. Judy Sobeloff led students in a playwriting project with performance at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center. Gary Dorr, founder of the Nez Perce tribal organization Nimiipuu54, led students and families in building a dugout canoe at Canoe Camp at the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute. Playwriting, canoe-building, and paddle-carving were integral parts of our study of westward exploration, westward expansion (i.e., colonization), the indigenous peoples of Idaho, the meaning of “culture,” how stories reveal culture, and how sharing stories can promote deeper understanding and compassion for ourselves and others. We made this canoe with and for Nimiipuu54 to support their mission to “preserve and promote the traditional culture of the Nimiipuu across the traditional territory” and as a symbol of our hopes for the confluence of cultures.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How do people contribute to awareness and understanding of their lives and the lives of their communities through art-making?

We wanted students to gain knowledge and understanding of their own and others’ cultures, and to gain compassionate curiosity about the diverse world we all share to carry with them into the future. The arts of theater, woodworking and traditional canoe-making impacted students’ awareness and understanding of their own lives and the lives of the Nimiipuu peoples who have inhabited this land for thousands of years. We saw a high level of engagement and growth in knowledge and understanding of indigenous history and culture throughout the project. We also saw throughout the process of carving paddles and building a dugout canoe that participants, including students, families and experts, gained a deepened awareness of their sense of place and connection to the waters and landscapes where these traditional watercraft have traveled for centuries, and to the histories of these landscapes and the peoples who have inhabited the lands that we now share.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Students’ responses to “I hope that our canoe and paddles will help Nimiipuu54 share this message” clearly show their learning.
-Everyone is the same species, so treat others how they want to be treated.
-The Nimiipuu are still alive and have lived on this land for thousands of years. We need to respect it.
-Even though their land was stolen from them, the Nimiipuu, along with their culture and history, are not going anywhere. They are still here. They want to protect, preserve and promote their culture. They want their traditions to be known, and they want to be treated right.
-Even though the Nez Perce were forced off of their land, they are keeping their culture alive by doing traditional things.
-My crew and I share love and peace, so you can trust us. I will always be kind to you and your people.
Students shared, “I hope our canoe and paddles inspire others to”:
– help Nimiipuu54 keep culture, traditions and stories alive.
– encourage everyone to help Nimiipuu54 in their mission.
– work hard and show compassion to the natural world.
– make their own canoe and spread the word so more people will do it too.
– not feel ashamed of your culture and be proud of it.
– respect other cultures.
– try something new.

Impact

The power of this project was evident when students, families and community members participated in a moving ceremony led by Gary Dorr (Nimiipuu54) and Nez Perce tribal elder Lucinda Simpson with our new dugout canoe Himyume (Niimiipuutímt for relative) at the edge of the Snake River. One impactful moment was watching everyone walk across the grass together in silence with a handful of cedar to put their greatest hopes into the fire. In this moment I could feel the heartbeat of our collective hopes for a confluence of cultures in our own community as well as in our nation and across the globe.

This message from our Teaching Artist clearly demonstrates the impacts of this project that I felt in that moment: Given the cultural and racial divisions in our country, as well as specifically in Idaho, I feel this project is helping to build very meaningful and significant awareness in young people of the historical wrongs done to indigenous peoples and the need to respect and do what we can to support the preservation of indigenous cultures. The fact that the kids also had so much fun while doing this helps make the learning even more rich.

Reflection

My students benefited tremendously from having Judy Sobeloff and Gary Dorr engage them in an authentic and meaningful way. Judy led us in a writing process with much appreciated enthusiasm, positivity, and high-quality instruction. The final performance of plays with local actors was absolutely beautiful and all involved loved seeing the students’ work performed on stage. Gary hosted inspiring Canoe Camps for paddle-carving, canoe-carving, storytelling, and ceremonies. Working intimately with Gary and Judy was a rich experience for students, families and me as a teacher. We were very thankful to be able to adjust the project to build a chipmunk (small) dugout canoe with and for Nimiipuu54 this year. We had harvested a 26-foot cedar log on a project supporter’s land in 2021 specifically for our 2022 canoe. However, due to weather and road conditions, we were unable to transport the log for use this season. We made a new project partnership with a local arborist and logger who helped us secure a Douglas fir log for this year’s canoe. Nimiipuu54 appreciates having a smaller canoe that will be used as an educational piece in Moscow. We are happy to report that all project partners demonstrate continued commitment to the project with ongoing planning for future years. My advice for others is to take time to engage meaningfully with experts. Building genuine relationships is the key to engaging students in truly authentic work.

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