Keep Firebird alive

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Teachers will tell you that experiencing a lesson trumps reading about it in a textbook for most of their students.

For example, a child learning about the history and culture of Virginia’s Native American tribes would probably rather learn Algonquian words from a member of one of those tribes, explore a yehakin, see a dugout canoe, feel an arrowhead, touch the hide of a black bear, hear traditional music and participate in dances with tribal members than sit in a classroom and read about Virginia’s first inhabitants in a textbook.

While the written curriculum is important, it’s more important to supplement it with experiential learning. Inviting tribal members to speak in a classroom is OK, but invitations often come during November, relegating learning about American Indians to one month of the year and putting great demands on the speakers’ time. Plus, there’s no way to take an authentically constructed yehakin to a school.

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For all those reasons and more, we love the Nansemond Firebird Festival, an event that took place for the first time over the weekend and helped young visitors learn about Nansemond language, lifestyle, culture, food and more.

Produced by the tribal council members of the Nansemond Indian Nation and other members of the tribe, the event at Mattanock Town featured different stations where children learned about different aspects of the Nansemond way of life. A “passport” asked children to write down and reflect on what they had learned by providing activities and open-ended questions for children to complete.

Nikki Bass, a tribal councilwoman, said the Nansemond Indian Nation wanted local children to learn about Native American history and culture directly from them, as a complement to what children learn in school.

We hope the Firebird Festival becomes an annual event. Nobody can teach what the Native American experience is like better than those who live it.