First Peoples' Project: Native Children Distribute Their Cultural Wealth (Transcript)
Narrator: For centuries, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi have celebrated their culture in games and dances.
Narrator: Now the youngest generation is learning about their tribe's culture and sharing their discoveries with a global audience through the International Education and Resource Network's First Peoples Project. Indigenous people from five continents participate in this cultural exchange.
Student: [speaks Choctaw]
Man: Our ancestors were praising the animals that provided food and…
Narrator: Students conduct research into their own unique heritage. They then write stories, draw pictures and take photographs.
Student: We're going to send this digital picture to the [inaudible] group in Thailand. What'll we write? First a greeting and then we're going to tell them about the picture that we're sending them.
Narrator: The artwork is displayed on the First Peoples Project Web site, and it's also exchanged by mail each year with other project schools.
Student: This is the kind of painting done by Albert Lewis. He's in fifth grade, and I reckon the [inaudible] is well done.
Bob: We display the artwork and different teachers in schools may develop their own curriculum activities, because we have this treasure that's come in once a year.
Student: They live in houses like these. They don't have very much possessions and they sleep on mats and don't have a lot of furniture, and this is -- they have small tables.
Narrator: The Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians, which operates the largest and most tech-savvy reservation school systems in the country has participated in the First Peoples Project since 1995.
Student: Let's do that one.
Narrator: This year, the First Peoples Project theme is "pastimes," and for the Choctaw, that means stickball. America's first field sport, it was called "the little brother of war" and traditionally played to settle disputes among rival factions. The rules are simple in this rough-and-tumble game: Carry or throw the ball downfield using your sticks, then bounce it off the other team's goalpost.
Jason: You've got to be strong body, mind and your spirit. You've just got to be all toughened. If not, you're going to get hurt once you start playing.
Narrator: In addition to the art exchange, the First Peoples Project has a humanitarian aid component, an effort that began several years ago, when Choctaw students were watching a videotape that showed the start conditions of a project school in Thailand.
Woman: You can see all -- what do you call -- the holes that the wind can seep in. It's very cold in the night, and the teacher said one of the things that they need a lot is blankets to help keep the cold away.
Bob: Some students that were watching the film at the time says, "We've got plenty of blankets. Can we just send them some blankets?" and at the same time the kids in Zuni, New Mexico, were seeing the film, and they just happened to say basically the same thing: "Well, we make blankets. We have blankets. Can we send them some blankets?"
Narrator: So the students launched a humanitarian effort that is still going strong today.
Student: So we made Christmas cards for Thailand to raise money, and we gave them a generator.
Woman: That's great. What did you think about that?
Student: I thought it was kind of nice.
Narrator: So far, the tribe has raised money to buy blankets, flooring and a generator and fund a teacher's aide position and several student scholarships for the Thailand school.
Teacher: Look this way.
Narrator: While the humanitarian efforts and the art exchanges connect students to their peers around the globe, the process of researching their own culture has given these students and even greater reward: a chance to connect with their elders.
Student: What's your favorite Choctaw dance?
Man: Snake Dance, because you maneuver to the right, to the left, and you just wiggle around, and that's the way life is. Life is not always straight road, and that's what the Snake Dance reminds me of.
Bob: The importance of this project has been it prods us to research and get the kids working in areas that are significant here at home, communicating more with their elders.
Student: When did you start chanting?
Man: I was with John Levi Bell. You ever heard of John Levi Bell?
Bob: Researching culture, learning how to research through the Internet and coming up with the information, going through the process, the learning process.
Jason: [speaks Choctaw]
I don't want kids to forget about traditional dancing or traditional cooking or speaking their own language, and maybe I can influence or somebody else can influence these kids that we need to keep our tradition and our culture alive.
Man: You don't speak Choctaw?
Student: A little bit.
Man: And even if you just can say a few words in Choctaw, that's okay. Anything you want to learn, you can learn. We're all supposed to learn from each other as we go along, because I can learn from you. I'm learning something from you about that humanitarian -- I didn't know that. I learned something from you. I hope you learn something from me.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.