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Storytelling is key part of culture lesson

Lakeridge third-graders, from left to right, Alex Platou, Victoria Muti, Amanda Olson and Alex Walker fill their plates with food at a potlatch celebration held in the Lakeridge library last Wednesday, Feb. 4. - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
Lakeridge third-graders, from left to right, Alex Platou, Victoria Muti, Amanda Olson and Alex Walker fill their plates with food at a potlatch celebration held in the Lakeridge library last Wednesday, Feb. 4.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Third-grade students at Lakeridge Elementary celebrated Native American culture during a potlatch held last Wednesday. The third graders recently finished studying Native American tribes and traditions in the area, a unit that included visits from Roger Fernandes, a local artist and member of the Klallam tribe.

Fernandes, who is an artist but also visits schools in the capacity of a storyteller and teacher, visited the students in each of the third-grade classes, teaching about traditions, the importance of storytelling and preparing the kids for their potlatch ceremony presentation. He said that about half of his work involves visiting schools.

“One thing I want them to remember is that natives are still here and still practicing their culture and language,” said Fernandes. He explained to the parents who attended the potlatch that the traditional ceremony is about giving. In the past, people were considered wealthy based on the amounts they gave away at potlatches.

“It’s the economy of the coastal people,” said Fernandes. Tribal tradition required that those invited to a potlatch had to invite the host to a potlatch of their own, continuing the cycle of giving. It was also a time when important announcements were made.

Lucy Anderson, a third-grade teacher at Lakeridge, said the focus in her classroom has been on cultures in the community. Her students began by looking into their own heritages before transitioning into those native to the Pacific Northwest. This included studying the language, canoes, importance of cedar and other aspects of life in the Pacific Northwest, with the help of Fernandes.

“They have learned so much from him,” said Anderson. “But I think the most valuable lesson for them is to know that Native Americans today are just like you and me. It helps break away from stereotypes. Prior to his visits, some of the kids imagined native people still wearing traditional cedar bark clothes and living in longhouses. It was great for them to meet an ordinary guy and learn that he eats and shops and lives just like we do.”

Storytelling is an important part of the lessons.

“Children’s strengths are storytelling, games and art, so any group of kids that gets to do this is great,” said Fernandes.

“Stories are teachings. Stories are how we learn things, the oldest way we have for teaching,” he said. The students learned it is important to remember elders are people to turn to for help in a time of crisis because they are wise, and that hiding from problems does not help solve them.

Fernandes’ visit to Lakeridge was funded by the Lakeridge PTA.

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