By Lindsey Ziliak
A seventh-generation Miami Indian twirled slowly around a classroom of third-graders Monday, showing off her traditional elk-skin dress adorned with colorful beads.
The students at Blair Pointe Upper Elementary School gasped when the woman momentarily donned a headdress made of a coyote pelt.
“It looks like the coyote is eating you,” several students shouted in unison.
Christine Bowyer smiled and assured the children she was perfectly fine.
The lesson was part of an all-day program Monday to teach third-graders at Blair Pointe about their county’s Native American heritage.
Students built their own tepees and made Native American jewelry with plastic beads and construction paper arrowheads.
Then, Bowyer showed the students real beads and arrowheads the Miami used.
She held two small beads that she said were carefully carved out of stone. Those stones and shells called Wampum were routinely used to make jewelry.
“They’re beautiful,” Bowyer said. “But it’s very labor intensive. It’s hard.”
She told the students that life for the Miami was not easy. Women often died in child birth and rarely lived past 25. Men were considered old if they lived to be 45, she said.
Their way of life was very different from today’s society.
The Miami respected the earth, she said. That’s something children and adults today could learn from.
“Our footprint on the earth is supposed to be light,” Bowyer said. “People today stomp on it. We are turning the earth into a dump.”
She said today’s society is so disposable and wasteful.
She showed the children how her ancestors used every single part of an animal to make food, tools and clothing.
“Nothing got thrown away,” she said.
They saw a knife made out of antlers and stone, clothing made out of animal hide and tools made from animal teeth.
Third-grader Braden Ream was amazed by the musical instruments Bowyer showed him. They were made out of a turtle’s shell and coyote’s paw.
“That’s the most coolest thing I’ve seen,” Braden said.
Ream also got a lesson on Miami County’s own Frances Slocum.
The Quaker girl was captured by a group of Indians in Pennsylvania in 1778 and was brought to Miami County to live as an Indian the rest of her life.
Braden recounted the story.
“Her brothers, they were ... they were ... what’s that word?” he said, as he tried to remember what he learned. “It starts with an ‘s.’ Oh, they were scalped.”
Third-grader Raeni Draving said she had no idea that Slocum’s burial site was in Miami County at the Mississinewa Reservoir.
“I want to see the grave,” she said.
Teacher Kim Cox said the students are always shocked to learn about all the connections Miami County has to Native Americans.
Cox, a Miami Indian herself, started this Native American Celebration Day four years ago.
She had wanted to take her class to the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis to see the Native American displays. The school didn’t have the money to fund the trip, though.
So she decided to bring the Native American culture to her classroom instead.
Having real Miami in class with her students is an asset, Cox said.
“For them to present all of their knowledge is great for the students,” she said.
Braden said it was a real learning experience for him. He joked that the only thing he knew about the Miami Indians before Monday was that they were Indians.
Bowyer said she is not surprised by that. Kids’ knowledge of Native American culture today is very limited.
“Most children have no idea that Indians still exist,” she said.
And when they do see Indians, it’s often a caricature of the culture. She said school mascots tend to portray Native Americans in a derogatory way.
She wants to show children what real Indians are like, she said.
“I love doing this,” she said. “I teach [the culture] to them as it was taught to me.”