Angela Brandt Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A University of Montana educator said one of the most important lessons he needed to know he learned in the fourth grade. Although Patrick Weasel Head thinks the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” has some truth, such as the learning of love, respect, caring and nurturing, he learned a huge life lesson later in his schooling, he said during his keynote speech at the Hi-Line Indian Education for All Conference on Thursday. Weasel Head, who was born in Malta, said he grew up a timid little kid. In the summer, he would run around only wearing shorts and his skin would tan to a golden brown. Then, come fall, he would stick out in the “white farming community” in which he went to school and because of this didn’t have playmates in his class. He said he became “unobtrusive, quiet and shy as a safety net.” One day during his fourth grade year he borrowed a pen from the girl sitting next to him. Her boyfriend heard about the sharing and threatened to beat up Weasel Head after school. “Who has boyfriends and girlfriends in the fourth grade? ” he said with a laugh. Weasel Head said he wanted to “just get it over with” and met him, expecting a pummeling. He instead talked with the boy and asked questions, and the two “became best friends after that.” He used the story as an example on how touchy issues like racism can be approached head-on and discussed. Weasel Head made his speech to about 40 educators who had gathered for the conference, which will come to a close after a panel discussion this afternoon. Havre Public Schools and the Montana State University- Northern Education Department partnered to host the conference, the first of its kind in Havre.
Speakers from the Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap and Blackfeet reservations will speak today about the similarities and differences in the ways of their tribes. Topics presented and discussed at the conference at Havre High School include the tribes’ histories, social issues, culture and traditions. “It is important to have an in-depth understanding of who we are because of our culture and history,” Weaselhead said. He said his mother always told him to never forget where he came from. “It wasn’t Hays or Browning, but from the heart. The Indian in you, remember that,” Weasel Head said. In a search “to understand who I am so everyone else can as well,” he said he traveled to Norway in 1979 to find out more about his European ancestry and was “hit hard in the face because they have an aversion to people of color.” Once the Norwegians found out he had European blood “their arms opened,” Weasel Head said. He said situations like the one he described and his fourth-grade incident should be used as a lesson. “Everyone has a story. Ask the right questions, like: What have you learned in life?” he said. Weasel Head said students should be treated on an individual basis because its their varying backgrounds that molded and shaped them. A knowledge of the history of area tribes would be helpful to identify with students. Teachers could recall the stories in their lessons, he added. “Do what I did in the fourth grade and talk to them,” Weaselhead said. The speaker left the audience with a final note. He said one of the most important things needed in the understanding of cultural diversity is to create a caring and positive environment in the classroom.
After the speech, the Rocky Boy Singers performed. The educators all joined hands and did a round dance. MSU-N education professor Darlene Sellers, who helped coordinate the conference, said the day, which featured a preconference session of cultural diversity training with American Indian/Minority Achievement director for the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education Ellen Swaney, and evening event went well. “It’s exciting. You can see the excitementIn the room,” Sellers said after the dance. She said the gathering was needed to initiate conversations on subjects once considered taboo. “It’s an environment in which educators are not afraid to ask questions,” Sellers said. HPS assistant superintendent Dennis Parman, who also organized the gathering, said he has gotten good feedback on the experience so far. “There’s a lot of good information for educators on working with other cultures,” he said Thursday night. The conference was made possible by a state grant Havre Public Schools received to enhance American Indian education. The Indian Education for All constitutional mandate requires that all public schools teach the cultural heritage of the state’s Indian tribes. The schools were awarded a $22,000 one-year grant, of which the majority of funds have been used on the conference and the filming of a DVD capturing interviews with local tribal members. The grant money is given to schools to create curriculum that can be used by all Montana public schools to teach Native American ways. Parman said an application has been submitted for another grant to fund an Indian education conference next year.