News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 7, 2013

North students learn about American Indian customs

TERRE HAUTE — Katelynn Hernandez, a sophomore at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, using a long drumstick, kept time with the rhythmic pounding as nearly hypnotic singing filled the room.

Hernandez was one of a handful of North students to join the American Indian drum circle Monday as members of the Wabash Valley American Indian Council sang traditional songs and played a large, animal hide drum. The drum beat imitated the sound of a human heart.

“You could feel the rhythm,” Hernandez said after finishing her turn at the drum. “It’s like your heart beats with it.”

In all, about 100 North students from a variety of classes learned about American Indian customs and beliefs in an approximately one-hour presentation by members of the local council. They were told of the “Great Spirit” and that each of us is connected to every living thing.

“It’s all about getting in touch with other things that are created in this world,” said Gary LaPlante, a member of the council, speaking to the students. “We’re connected to everything, a tree, even that ant crawling on your arm. You’re connected to that, too.”

The songs performed Monday included a traditional prayer, a song for enjoyment, such as at a powwow, a song to honor great warriors and a crow-hunting song.

“These are very sacred songs,” LaPlante told the students. “We sing from our heart.”

There were two presentations by the Wabash Valley American Indian Council at North Monday afternoon, both in the balcony of the gymnasium. This was the first of what the organization hopes will be many visits to area schools.

“We hope this becomes a yearly thing,” said Glenn Jackson, an “elder” of the group.

The presentations are designed to show students there is much more to American Indian culture than is often presented on television and in the movies, said Pam Bird, a teacher at North who helped organize the event.

“This is something totally different” from the popular images of American Indians, Bird said.

Members of the Wabash Valley council recently returned from a visit to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, LaPlante said. Home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, Pine Ridge is one of the largest reservations in the country and has staggering levels of unemployment and poverty.

“It’s devastating,” LaPlante told the students. A goal of the local council is to send supplies, such as clothing, back to Pine Ridge, he said.

In all, about eight members of the council performed for the North students Monday. They also performed a traditional “honor” circle for a North student celebrating his birthday.

“It’s just a whole different way of thinking,” Bird said. “I just thought this was something the students would benefit from.”

For more information on the Wabash Valley American Indian Council, see their page on Facebook.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib

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