sponsored by Helena Public Schools Indian Education for All and the Montana Historical Society
by Jan Jamruszka-Wilson, Indian Education Coordinator
Over 600 CHS, HHS and PAL American Government students are expected to attend the sixth annual 2012 Medicine Wheel Project on February 7th and 8th at the Montana Historical Society and the Capitol. The Medicine Wheel Project is a partnership between the Helena Public Schools Indian Education for All Program and the Montana Historical Society.
Traditionally, medicine wheels were constructed by laying stones in a circular pattern on the ground. Spokes radiating from the center divided the circle into segments. The wheels were used for various astronomical, ritual, healing, and teaching purposes and they are still used today in Native culture. Medicine wheels are believed to create a roadmap to sacred space and to provide guidance in making choices throughout one’s life.
Helena’s Medicine Wheel Project similarly uses the Medicine Wheel as a modern-day metaphor to further the understanding of Montana Indian Tribes by 12th grade students in the Helena Public Schools, as intended when the 1999 Montana Legislature passed the Indian Education for All act into law. This action re-energized the legislative implementation of Article X of the Montana Constitution that has been in place since 1972. The Legislature recognized that the history of Montana and the current problems of the state cannot be adequately understood and the problems cannot be addressed unless both Indians and non-Indians have an understanding of the history, culture, and contemporary contributions of Montana’s Indian people.
During the Medicine Wheel Project, the students participate in sessions relating to traditional and contemporary aspects of Montana Indian culture and the interface with Montana and U.S. Government policies. Representatives of Montana Indian tribes will present on topics such as: Sovereignty and Modern Tribal Governance since the 1970s; Stereotypes of Indians in Society; Reservation Land Ownership and Eloise Cobell; Hunting and Fishing Regulations on the Reservations; Indian Boarding Schools; Planting Seeds of Hope – Suicide Prevention; and, the Protection of Sacred Sites. Other sessions will address Blood Quantum; the Role of the Buffalo in Traditional and Contemporary Times; Traditional Uses of Plants; the Changing Roles of Indian Men and Women; and, Ledger Art.
HSD#1 American Government teachers develop classroom activities related to the Medicine Wheel Project topics that take place both before and after the event so that students can explore and increase the relevance of their learning about Montana Indian heritage in their lives. Helena School District Indian Education Coordinators and the high school administrative teams support the teachers as they research and prepare lessons to involve their students in the Medicine Wheel Project. The Medicine Wheel Project is a significant learning event about Montana Indian history and culture for high school seniors.
I will be teaching 12 half-hour classes of these high school students next week at the Montana State Capitol; my topic: "Protection of Sacred Sites and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)." After I am done, I will post something here about it.