Sunday, July 30, 2017

Celebrating Indigenous Arts and Sciences & Earth Partnership

Ruth Ayres has a link-up on weekends where people link to posts that are celebrations about their week. I love this reminder to celebrate every week.


This week I participated in an Earth Partnership Institute. The title was Ho-Chunk Indigenous Arts and Sciences and it focused on habitat restoration using indigenous plants and the teaching had a Ho-Chunk perspective.

We spent a lot of time learning outside and I loved hearing from many different people throughout the week. We started with the names of indigenous plants. We came up with some of our own since we didn't know the scientific names. Our teacher, Cheryl, shared this quote from the book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer: "It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways we humans build relationship, not only with each other, but also with plants." We named our particular flower Daisy's Breath. I loved a few of the other names like Dinosaur Daisy and Tickle Finger.

"tickle finger"
We heard from experts like Woody White during the week. Learn more about him here. He shared his concern for our food supply and ways to get back to cultural/spiritual indigenous roots. He is concerned about losing the herbal and farming knowledge. He has tried to learn the teaching stories to pass them on to others. He explained that food itself is medicine. He said, "Restoration for us culturally is to learn from elders how to make the best food possible." He recommended these resources: The Decolonizing Diet Project and The Resilient Gardener

We also learned about tribal sovereignty from several people (the inherent right to self-rule was the way David O'Connor explained it). The Ho-Chunk have four branches of government: legislative, judicial, executive and a general council. A chief is someone who serves. It seems that it is more servant leadership than a power thing. In addition, we learned about Ho-Chunk kinship connections. 
One activity I enjoyed a lot was our single spot moments. We picked a spot to go to outside and returned to the same spot throughout the week. We usually had time to reflect and respond to our learning or we were reflecting on the nature around us.

We had an amazing plant walk with Kjetil Garvin. We saw sheep's ear, yarrow, woodsorrel, hazelnuts, goldenrod, St. John's Wort, bush clover, blackberries, hawkweed, lion's foot, sweet clover and sweet fern.


It was wonderful to meet these and many more plants during the week. The second day, we started to learn about the critters around us and how watersheds work. Ona Garvin shared about the Ho-Chunk language specifically in relation to water. She explained, "Water is sacred. our people were always near water ways." Nee is the word for water. Nee shonok is the word for river. Tee is the word for lake. Madison is called teejope or four lakes. Necedah means yellow water (the yellow river flows through town) and Nekoosa means swift water.

She said, Water is the lifeblood that shapes everything we see. Ona Garvin encouraged us to teach students environmental stewardship. Also, to speak up and encourage them to speak up.

We did a watershed/waterdrop activity and then we tromped out into the marsh and took samples of the water to look at the life we could find.

Mandibles and head of Giant Water Bug

We used digital technology to compare a forest and a prairie ecosystem. I enjoyed getting to look closely at so many things out in nature.


Another Ho-Chunk elder, Gordon Thunder, came to speak to us. He told us we are here to experience creation for the creator. He spoke much of respect for others and creation. He instructed us to, "Go where there are people saying nice things. Give the creator good experiences." We are to treat people and things with honor and respect. "Everything has a purpose even if it is bothersome." I came away with the word respect ringing in my ears.

On the third day, we met at Cex Haci. Former Ho-Chunk president Jon Greendeer spoke to us about Ho-Chunk language and culture. He explained that the Ho-Chunk are the people of the sacred voice. They have been and are survivalists. They have lived through much and are still here. They are not past tense even though media imagery would have you think so. It's damaging to students. There are 11 federally recognized tribes in WI and one, the Brothertown, who are continuously trying to get that status. The Ho-Chunk are not hierarchical, but rather have a social structure within a clan system. He shared many powerful stories about Ho-Chunk history, but also about his life. 

We spent a good portion of the day outside at the site learning about soil, slope and garden design.


The fourth day began with a morning thought from Marie Lewis who recently became a Ho-Chunk Clan Mother. We then heard about Ho-Chunk Resilience in the face of intergenerational and historical trauma from Barbara Blackdeer-Mackenzie. Her affirmation was, "We survive. We are alive. We strive, and We thrive." One resource she shared that was helpful is a map by Zoltan Grossman that shows the removals and returns of the Ho-Chunk. She recommended we take advantage of the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity training if possible. She also encouraged us to give students chances to fail and bounce back - to learn that failures are not the end. We need to teach them coping skills.

Our next guest was David O'Connor. He began by speaking about Native imagery and the damage it does. He emphasized that teaching about culture is not the same as teaching culturally. To do that, we need to be student specific. We need know our students. He used a definition of culture I liked - culture is relationship and meaning.

We went to the bison paddock in the afternoon to learn a bit more about plants and the insects of the prairie. It was fun to swing the net around and catch little critters. We caught a grasshopper and a bunch of beetle types.


In the evenings, we had free time. I was able to spend time with some of the other participants at dinner, go on runs (once along the Wisconsin River), enjoy the outdoors, and read. One night, I found some awesome spiders on the bridge in Nekoosah.

For the final day, we were at Cex Haci again. There we worked on our own plans, but also did some of the site preparation for their pollinator garden they will plant later. Our artist was a lovely person. She was in the same group as I was and I was fortunate to meet her.

The week was full of learning about life, culture, connection, respect, water, plants, nature, and more. I hope to bring back some of this learning and the activities we did so my students and the staff at our school can also share in the learning.


  1. What a beautiful week you've described, Crystal. I'm bookmarking it so I can return to check some of your links. Thanks for sharing so much, and so many pictures! I've spent time through the years with students with different Native groups on trips and at home and it was always a wonderful time of learning. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing your week of learning with us and the magnificent pictures you took. My grandson Jack and I walk by a habitat restoration project on our walks in their condo complex.