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Reconnecting to Earth and America

During the two-week long "Native American Camp," students learned about the history and tradition of the Ojibway and Dakota-Lakota tribes, including the importance of the buffalo by visiting Belwin Conservancy in Afton and participating in a mini-pow wow. Staff photo by Amber Kispert

Whether they care to admit it, the fact remains many people have preconceived erroneous notions regarding American Indians and their culture.

A summer camp for young people ages 6 to 12 is aiming to dispel those opinions and reveal the truths.

South Washington School District, in cooperation with the South St. Paul School District, the Indian Youth enrichment Program and St. Paul Area Council of Churches, recently wrapped up a two-week summer program called "The Native American Camp" that taught children the values and the ways of both the Dakota-Lakota people and the Ojibway people.

"The program is primarily to introduce Native American ways, values, culture, into today's lifestyle and let people know what they watched on TV is not true," said camp coordinator Donna Stein, who is a member of the Ojibway tribe. "We need to break down the prejudices between cultures, between races and let them know that Native Americans weren't naked people running through the woods yelling 'Ugh.' We're intelligent people."

During the camp, approximately 80 students learned the different values of the two different tribes. Activities and lessons were taught at two different locations, the Valley Branch Environmental Learning Center in Afton and Prairie Island Indian Community Buffalo Project in Welch, Minn.

The children participated in a variety of activities that included various native crafts, nature hikes, plant and animal identification, visited Fort Snelling to learn about the history in association with American Indians and learned about the importance of the buffalo.

"Native Americans have been invisible for a long time, but we no longer want to be invisible -- let them know that we are still here and that we are still standing," Stein said. "The values of the Native Americans need to be kept alive."

One of the central focuses of the camps is the importance of the buffalo to American Indian culture, and in order to teach this to the children they visited two different buffalo ranches, one of which was the bison on the prairies at Belwin Conservancy in Afton.

In addition to teaching the children about the beliefs and values of a culture that so few people know about, the camp is also helping children realize that nature is a beautiful thing and that it must be preserved and taken care of.

During the last meeting on June 26, all of the children came together at American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul for a mini pow-wow and buffalo burgers.

Stein said the program has continued to be a success among the children because they enjoy learning and participating in the culture and she believes that this is the first step to dispelling the myths and prejudices against American Indians.

For more on this story, see the July 1 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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