COTTONWOOD - Fourth-graders at Lakeview Public School have been learning a lot about local history and the people who came before them, beginning the project with curriculum on pioneer and Dakota life and concluding with a special poetry presentation and art display Friday in the school auditorium.
Barb Schueler coordinated the project with artists in residency Florence Dacey and Fern Cloud, who worked with fourth-grade teachers Beth Kesteloot and Mary Roe and their combined 42 students.
"The students got a chance to do a lot of things," Dacey said. "They made hide paintings, which are on display. They wrote an artist statement about their painting. They also got a chance to eat cornbread made from scratch. They made yarn dolls and they made poems."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Lakeview fourth-graders finished up a cultural arts project this past week, giving a special poetry presentation and artwork display in the school auditorium. While Austin Naab read his poem “Let Me Run,” classmate Anna Meyer softly pounded a drum to join poet Florence Dacey in adding background music.
While this particular project - which is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, 2008 - is nearing its fifth straight year, Dacey said that the concept actually began many years ago, working with immigrant themes. Gradually, after deciding to bring students over to the Lower Sioux Interpretive Center, the project changed course somewhat.
"We were really able to start to integrate the story of the Dakota as well," Dacey said. "It think it's gotten more significant as we've gone along."
One of the reasons why, Dacey said, was the inclusion of Cloud, a Dakota descendant who has a great deal of teaching experience and working with projects.
"Fern has been able to add that dimension in a very authentic way," Dacey said. "So the kids have had a rich experience."
Since this year marked the 150th year of the U.S./Dakota Conflict, Dacey said the project took on added significance for her.
"Right now, the Dakota people are riding over from South Dakota and the ride has been taking place since 2008, commemorating those 38 people who were hanged on Dec. 26th over in Mankato as a result of the war," she said. "Two more hanged were hanged later and there was great suffering.
"I know that a lot of people are hoping for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing about that, and this project was really done in the spirit in that, I thought."
Cloud wore traditional regalia, a dress she made out of two old Army blankets, for the occasion.
"I'm also a seamstress," Cloud said. "When I made it, I put 40 Abraham Lincoln pennies in two rows, as kind of a symbolism of the 1862 mass hanging of the 40 Dakota men. This dress is kind of symbolic to me. So I decided to wear it, to be kind of a personal commemorative of that time."
Cloud said that she was really honored to be in attendance and to have the opportunity to work with the kids.
"It's so invigorating, as an artist, to see how creative these young people can be," Cloud said. "They're just a joy to work with."
Cloud explained that the rabbit hide painting that students did was similar to the traditional method that her people used.
"They'd paint larger hides, like deer hides or buffalo hides," she said. "So we used natural paint pigments, buffalo bone brushes, sticks and just whatever our ancestors would have used. They used symbols, either to tell a story, like a picture graph, or just did a design. It was fun."
Each student also wrote an artist statement because every piece that was made was unique, Cloud said.
"Every one is an art piece because it came from them, their own expression, I guess," she said. "I really enjoy coming here and sharing some of our culture through the arts. It's fun to see the kids being inventive and creative on how they want to express a story on the hide."
Kesteloot said that by the look of their hides, the students really had fun with the project, though it was difficult at first.
"It was kind of hard at first to realize that they needed to write with symbols instead of words," she said. "That was quite the concept for them. After they realized how to do it, they really ran with it."
Fourth-graders Jaden Barnes and Trinity Broberg both said they really enjoyed the project.
"It was really fun," Barnes said. "My favorite part was when we painted the hides. We used bones from buffalo to paint the inside. It was kind of easy but different than using paintbrushes."
Broberg said she liked doing all the art projects, which also included making a yarn doll.
"I liked it because it was really fun painting and doing stuff with Mrs. Schueler because she's my favorite art teacher," Broberg said. "(For the yarn doll), we wrapped it around the book 80 times and put a tie right here, like a mustache. Then we tied it for a stomach. And then if you wanted to make it a guy, you'd braid their legs. So I braided the arms to make a girl."
Dacey worked with all of the students to help them produce poems, one of which each student revised and read aloud Friday.
"I had specific poetry skills I had them work on, like creating images, using simile, using personification, using repetition," she said. "So it's some really simple elements that we work on, which tie in with their language program."
Each class also did a group poem in addition to their individual poems.
"We just drew on what they had learned on their fields trips and from their curriculum," Dacey said. "When they went over to the Lower Sioux, they did role playing about how the Dakota people were denied that food. That came across a lot in the poems, the suffering that people endured. It's part of our history, and they probably won't forget it."
During the special presentation, students went on stage two at a time. While one student read his or her poem, the other student added to the experience by playing a drum, triangle, sticks or other appropriate music maker. Dacey also helped to set the mood by accompanying the students presentation with soft digital piano music.
"I thought the students really, really enjoyed the project," Kesteloot said. "They have spent a lot of time."
Field trips to the Lower Sioux area and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove helped personalize the experience, Kesteloot said.
"They got to hear them and see the reservation, so that kind of made it a little more real for them, I think when we started writing," she said. "Then when they were writing about pioneers and settlers, they remembered going to the museum and that made it a little easier to write the poetry, too."
Cloud, who told of strong leadership in her Dakota ancestry, said she was moved by many of the poems.
"I really was touched that so many of them thought about the Dakota and the 1862 time," she said. "Minnesota is the homeland of my people."
It's important to talk about and remember the history, Cloud said, because it happened. But she also believes that people need to go on and see what they can do to make a better life amongst each other. As she was typing up all the descriptions for the students' hide painting, Cloud said it made her optimistic about the future.
"It was just amazing how many of them were so inspiring in their symbols of a good future," Cloud said. "That's exactly what we all look for: a good future, reconciliation and healing between our nation and our people."