SPOKANE, Wash. – November is Native American Heritage Month, and Westwood Middle School has been honoring Native American culture this month by showcasing artifacts from various students’ families.
“I like taking part in our culture and seeing things displayed because I feel like people don’t really talk about Native Americans and how beautiful the culture is,” eighth-grader Jayla Williams said. “I’m really proud to be Native American because it is a beautiful culture. The beading work, the songs, the dancing, the drums, all sorts of stuff like that is gorgeous, and I love it.”
Williams, along with eighth-grader Marcus Lafley and seventh-grader Markel Larcom, brought in several artifacts showcasing their Native American heritage and history. Artifacts range from beaded moccasins, buffalo skin drums, a cradleboard, a ribbon skirt, a shawl, a beaded purse, and a beaded hair barrette, among other items. In all, seven different tribes are represented by the three Westwood students: Cree, Navajo, Spokane, Colville, Blackfeet, Cherokee, and Paiute.
“I feel like they are happy that we’re [celebrating Native American Heritage Month], that we’re still having a celebration for them,” Lafley said.
Among Lafley’s items is a black-and-white photograph from the early 1900s of his great-great-grandparents; his great-great-grandfather, Wallace Nightgun, was a medicine man for the Blackfeet Tribe. Although Lafley and his family relocated to Eastern Washington, they make the trip back to Montana when possible to attend Blackfeet powwows.
“Montana’s powwow is in the center of Montana in Browning,” Lafley said. “There’s games, food, and things they sell. It goes on for all day and all night. It’s really fun to go because you can see family and friends that you haven’t seen in a while.”
Williams has also attended powwows of her native tribes, Spokane and Colville, and she has been learning how to bead, a skill set passed down from generation to generation.
“I like being taught how to do it by my mom,” Williams said. “It’s really enjoyable because I get to spend time with my family a lot more and learn about my culture. It’s really fun.”
For Larcom, he’s continuing to learn and honor his heritage, soaking it all in as he continues to grow.
“As I get older, I try to do [more things that are culturally significant to my tribes],” said Larcom. “I sometimes do dreamcatchers, and sometimes I sell them or give them to my friends.”
In addition to honoring the history and culture of Native Americans, Westwood Principal Erika Burden said the display also serves as a segue for further education and belonging.
“Not only do we want to educate ourselves, but we want to educate everyone else through their stories, through their artifacts,” Burden said. “Native American Heritage Month is a great opportunity to do that and for students to be able to bring in artifacts from their family that are important to them and have them on display and be proud of their heritage.”
“It makes my heart so happy because I know that this is something that they’re going to remember in their life that we took the time to say hey, bring in some things,” Burden continued. “We’ve really taken the time to learn about each student who is Native American in our school so that we can better support them.”
Westwood’s Native American Heritage Month display will be available through November, located directly inside the school’s main entrance. This month, along with other culturally significant events and activities Westwood participates in, is a way for the school to create a sense of belonging for all students and each culture represented.
“I love this school because it educates people, and they don’t assume or act like they know everything,” Williams said. “They take the time to learn about things and respect it. This school is always celebrating the cultures, which I really like.”