the Confluence of Cultures A Fourth-grade Learning Expedition

The fourth-grade students at PPCS have been actively involved in the resurgence of traditional canoe building that is happening recently throughout the Pacific Northwest. Students engaged in a semester-long learning expedition to learn about how the historic and current mixing of indigenous and European cultures in Idaho and beyond has shaped who we are. They studied westward exploration (i.e., the stories of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and David Thompson), subsequent expansion of the U.S.A. (i.e., colonization), the indigenous peoples of Idaho, the meaning of culture, how written and told stories reveal culture, and how sharing stories can promote deeper understanding and compassion for ourselves and others. As part of this standards-based expedition, the fourth-grade crew built a David Thompson-style cedar plank canoe, which was traditionally built incorporating both European and Indigenous forms and techniques. Keep reading to learn more about this fourth-grade learning expedition.

Guiding Question: How has the confluence of cultures shaped who we are?

Case study 1: Was westward expansion good for people?

Students studied how the exploration of the west in the early 1800s led to the expansion of the U.S. territory and identified both positive and negative impacts of the resulting confluence of cultures with particular focus on the indigenous peoples of Idaho. In fieldwork to Lewiston and Lapwai, Idaho, students met two historically and socially important canoes. First they met Mato Chante, which was built to retrace Lewis and Clark's journey for the bicentennial celebration of the Corps of Discovery in 2005. Next, they met New Medicine, the first dugout canoe that the Nimi´ipuu people have made in over 100 years since colonization drastically changed the course of their lives and culture. Back in class they used all of their notes to prepare evidence-based arguments and engaged in a rich History Talk to respond to the intentionally provocative question “Was westward expansion good for people?”

In 1805 the Nimi´ipuu (Nez Perce) helped Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery make dugout canoes from hollowed tree trunks in order to get to the Pacific Ocean. The Nimi´ipuu people are making their first dugout canoe in over 100 years, and we were lucky to be part of it! Standing Red Bear, our Nimi´ipuu friend and expert, taught us about the historical and cultural significance of New Medicine.
“Our project matters because we went back in history and talked about what actually did happen and what should have happened.” -fourth-grade student
"A canoe has a huge historical purpose to Native Americans and was taken away from them by white settlers. They had many different looks and uses. I now have a deep understanding of why canoes are made and what they mean. -fourth-grade student
"A canoe is a sacred piece of art and hard work that many Native Americans had lost and now are bringing back. Canoes are culture that needs to be preserved." -fourth-grade student

Case study 2: What is culture? How do stories reveal culture?

Students discovered the power of storytelling to understand culture. They explored the meaning of “culture” by defining their own personal values, analyzing how our EL design principles help us shape our school culture, and learning about indigenous cultures directly from experts, including Nez Perce, Kalispell, Shoshone-Bannock, Oglala Lakota, and San Carlos Apache people. Next, students analyzed picture books to identify the structure of a story and how stories can reveal elements of culture. They then learned the art of oral storytelling from expert storytellers. They practiced telling stories from the indigenous peoples of Idaho and the Northwest region. Then we started to look inward to analyze how our own stories can reveal our own family values and culture. Each student wrote a monologue with themselves as the main character in metaphor of an animal that symbolizes their values, similar to indigenous storytelling. In April, ten local actors performed their monologues for them on stage at the Moscow High School. Then students interviewed family members about their family values and culture and wrote stories using their animal characters and with their “family motto” as the theme. They practiced telling their own stories using the five main characteristics of oral storytelling taught by our experts.

Case study 3: What is the meaning of our canoe?

As part of this standards-based expedition, the fourth-grade crew hand-carved cedar paddles and built a David Thompson-style cedar plank canoe, which was traditionally built incorporating both European and Indigenous forms and techniques. Visitors from the regional traditional canoe families Nimi´ipuu, Kalispell, Shoshone-Bannock, Oglala Lakota, and Colville Confederated Tribes joined PPCS students in the canoe-building and classroom learning process throughout the semester. Their canoe and paddles symbolize these students’ understanding of our history full of both pain and joy, and their hopes for the future confluence of cultures throughout the Pacific Northwest region and beyond.

The students were filled with excitement when they discovered they were going to be building a canoe!
The fourth-grade crew spent ten weeks building their David Thompson-style cedar plank canoe, starting with the keel and gunwales, next bending and attaching the ribs, affixing the planks, and finally painting and oiling it in preparation for its First Journey!
Each student hand carved a cedar paddle and woodburned a message about the protection of cultural and natural resources on the land we all share. They learned to use several different woodworking tools including a block planer, spoke shave, chisel, and sand paper.
Fourth-graders collaborated with the seventh-grade crew who painted formline art on the blades to express the connection between rivers, salmon and orcas, work which was guided by Samish Nation artists and part of their spring expedition called "The Blackfish Effect".

What is the meaning of our canoe?

The crew reflected on this question throughout the expedition in order to consider the historical, cultural, spiritual, and emotional meaning of our canoe. They concluded that this canoe is a way to bring back respect to Native Americans and their culture, and a symbol of our unity working together as a crew. Students decided to paint the canoe with a medicine wheel to symbolize the true meaning of the confluence of cultures – peoples of different race and culture are all bound by the same Sun, Moon, Earth and Stars, and although we have had encounters of both war and peace, we seek harmony as we flow together on this land we share.

"We named our canoe "Blooming Culture" because when a flower blooms it opens up. This expedition and canoe project is opening up the meaning of culture and the truth about the confluence of cultures in the past." -fourth-grade student
"We have been learning about the Nimi´ipuu and indigenous peoples of idaho, what they did in the past and their history. The message of our canoe is to bring back culture like a flower blooming. A flower is like culture. It never disappeared. It just got hidden from the outside world. It’s like a flower that dies, but the seed is still there, it just needs to rebloom. Culture never died, but it now being seen." -fourth-grade student
The students worked closely with a Nimi´ipuu friend (expedition expert) to design their canoe to symbolize the seven sacred directions. The white, red, yellow, black of the medicine wheel represent the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west. The blue on the bottom and green stripe represent the fifth and sixth directions – the sky and the earth. And the seventh direction of the center, inward or spirit, is represented by the kids paddling inside the canoe.
"Our canoe also represents how some of us have discovered our own values and more about our own cultures in this expedition." -fourth-grade student
Students also wanted to represent their own crew culture, which is shaped by each of them as individuals and their families. So each student woodburned their family motto into the inwale (inside of the gunwale) of the canoe.
"The fact that ten-year-old children are able to articulate these messages in their own words and from their own hearts gives me hope as a teacher that what we are doing educationally is on the right path. I can think of no greater benefit from this project than these students expressing their concern for the difficulties of our histories, and then choosing to spread a message of compassion and hope throughout their community and the world." - Fourth-grade Teacher

Celebration of learning

"A canoe is a representation of culture. Today it is a way of life for the native peoples to regain their culture and show that they still live here. This project has changed my view of a canoe from just a boat to a major impact in the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples." -Fourth-grade student

Colville and Kalispel friends, Patty and Loren, perform a naming ceremony to welcome "Blooming Culture" and the crew into the region's growing traditional canoe family.

Patty smudges "Blooming Culture" with cedar, juniper and sage as we wish for the safety and comfort of all who join in her journeys.

The fourth-grade crew carries "Blooming Culture" to the water for the first time, ready for their First Journey together.

"My son is now able to really see the humanity in the struggles that the Nez Perce and other indigenous peoples have experienced. I think it's very valuable to understand how they were treated and to see their human experience and the lasting impact and to empathize with it." -Parent
"A canoe is a representation of culture. Today it is a way of life for the native peoples to regain their culture and show that they still live here. This project has changed my view of a canoe from just a boat to a major impact in the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples." - Fourth-grade student
"A canoe means respect. When we paddle it we are respecting past and present cultures." - Fourth-grade student

EL Education "Better world day"

Fourth graders from Palouse Prairie Charter School joined one hundred EL Education schools across the country in celebrating "Better World Day," a day of student service and civic action to create positive change in our communities.

This fourth-grade crew chose to celebrate Better World Day in Lapwai to express their gratitude to the Nimi´ipuu people for their friendship and genuine sharing about important aspects of their culture over the past two years, and for so kindly helping them in the process of building a traditional handmade canoe. They spent the entire day doing acts kindness and community service in Lapwai. They started their morning with a visit to the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center museum to learn a little bit more about Nez Perce culture and history. By 10am they began spreading kindness and service around the Lapwai community. Here's what they did...

Students hid hand-painted Kindness Rocks all throughout the community for other to find ...

They "kindalized" the Lapwai Senior Center, leaving positive notes, kindness rocks and fruit as hidden surprises for our seniors to find upon returning home in the evening...

They donated books to Lapwai Elementary School and the Boys and Girls Club...

They planted roses at the Nimi´ipuu Health Community Garden and dugout canoe site...

They pulled weeds in the Nimi´ipuu Health Community Garden...

And they helped lay gravel in the butterfly garden at the Lapwai Nature Trail.

Thank you experts who made this expedition possible & unforgettable

The fourth-grade crew would like to thank the many experts who dedicated their time and energy to share their knowledge, skills and experiences with them throughout this expedition. Our family keep growing!

The fourth-grade crew extends a very special thank you to Xander Demitiros and Adam Wicks-Arshak, traditional canoe artists from Voyages of Rediscovery, The River School who spent two months lovingly guiding the crew in carving paddles and building a canoe!

and Thank you to our funders!

This year’s work was made possible by the generous support of the Nez Perce Tribe Local Education Program Fund, the Latah County Community Foundation and NRS. We are incredibly grateful for you for believing that our youth truly can change the world!

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