by Cori Hilsgen
Kennedy Community School sixth-grade students recently completed a Minnesota Native American Cultures and Traditions artist-in-residency program.
Teacher Michaelene Lucia said sixth-grade social studies standards focus on Minnesota.
“This project was a great resource to teach those standards, especially the standards that look at the Dakota and Ojibwe people and their customs and way of life in Minnesota,” Lucia said.
The grant focused on developing students’ understanding that Native people are still living.
“Native people were here long before European settlers, and students will understand the environment is central to native culture and their art,” Lucia said.
Local artist Anne Meyer taught the students about the Native Americans’ use of clay from the earth. Students worked on three art projects with Meyer. They learned about the uses and construction of indigenous pottery of Minnesota tribes and tried out the techniques by hand-building a pot of their choice. They used clay Meyer had dug and processed on her family’s farm, which is located close to Kennedy.
St. Cloud State University astronomy professor Annette Lee taught the students about Native Skywatchers. Lee, who is also a painter, is part Dakota heritage. Students studied the Ojibwe and Dakota beliefs and knowledge of the stars and created their own “Star Plan.”
Lee’s husband, Ojibwe painter William Wilson, also shared stories with the students about his traditional upbringing and his style of painting.
Another art project students worked on was beading a band on a loom. Students converted shoeboxes into a simple loom and designed their own pattern to bead. Dakota beader Grace Chianelli visited with students about beading.
After students learned traditional techniques, they were encouraged to create their own images, forms and designs rather than mimic Native American beadworks.
SCSU professor Darlene St. Clare finished the sessions with the students and discussed their experiences.
“The grad standards that sparked this residency, as well as the project we designed, both seek to make students more aware of Minnesota’s own Native cultures, as they make up an important part of the multi-cultural communities we belong to,” Meyer said. “The project aimed to replace stereotypes of Native people with meaningful interactions with Minnesotans who celebrate their cultural heritage as Dakota or Ojibwe people. The students meeting people from their own community was essential to creating a human connection and a real bridge which they could connect with and appreciate a culture which is not their own. I believe it will help them live and contribute to their multi-cultural communities and the greater world.”
One of Meyer’s favorite parts of this project was being able to work in media the sixth-graders had very little exposure to, such as clay and beading.
“Some students commented this type of art wasn’t as intimidating as drawing and painting,” she said.
Meyer also enjoyed the show-and-tell visits of the native artists.
“They each seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to share their artworks and culture with the students,” Meyer said. “The students seemed very engaged with the exchange, asked phenomenal questions and left inspired.”
The residency was funded by the Central Minnesota Arts Board.
Local artist Anne Meyer works with sixth-grade students during an artist in residency program at Kennedy Community School. The program focused on Minnesota Native American Cultures and Traditions.
Students (left to right) Asher Smith, Mackenzie Lee and Jayda Satzer work on their clay projects.
Student Mason Grams works with artist Anne Meyer on his clay project.
Students (left to right) Zach Schiltz and Maison Zimmer work on their clay projects.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.