Central School Students Enjoy Native American Presentation Sponsored by the Central School PTO
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Kunnaway and Birdie from the Pennacook and Mohawk tribes visiting with Central School students.
Children feel the fringe of a Native American woman’s shawl worn by Awabejiwani (Eveningbirdwoman or Birdie). It was part of an educational program at Central School in South Berwick, Maine, on Tuesday. [Deb Cram/Fosters.com]
By Deb Cram email@example.com Nov 14, 2017
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — With two vertical creases on his brow and a bristly mustache, the 75-year-old man wears a black-rimmed hat sporting a feather and bead work. The hat sits atop his long, gray hair.
“My name is Kunnaway, which means Youngbear, but you can see by my hair, I’m an old bear,” said the Pennacook Native American, who is also known as Robert Kunnaway Turner.
Kunnaway and and his walk-beside (wife) Awabejiwani (Eveningbirdwoman or Birdie) of the Mohawk tribe, came to Central School Tuesday, courtesy of the school’s PTO, to share their knowledge, history, artifacts and stories of their Native American culture.
“I teach my culture because it’s about time the white people understand about Native Americans and who we are,” Kunnaway said. “I speak my culture, which is Algonquian, even though I’m Pennacook, the Algonquian language is like a universal language that every tribe should know.”
Second-graders sitting in a semi-circle kept their eyes fixed on the teller of stories as he held up one of the many flutes he makes by hand out of white pine. Soft, gripping music floated through the gym as Kunnaway played his flute.
“We enjoy doing this for the children because they are our next generation,” Kunnaway said.
Kunnaway was born and raised in Rochester, New Hampshire, and went to Spaulding High School until 1960 when he left school, went to Concord and joined the military.
“I’m a two-time Vietnam veteran,” Kunnaway said.
He said he didn’t really know he was Native American until later in high school.
“I knew I was different because I went to powwows and made my own regalia and different things and I finally went to my dad and said ‘Dad, how come I know how to do all this stuff?’”
Kunnaway said his father told him they were “native blood.”
“Back in those days, it was worse to say you were Native American than it was to say you was colored. And to this day still the native people don’t get honored the way they should,” he said.
“History started right here,” he said. “When the white people landed here, my great chief, Passaconaway, was the first one to greet them. He figured why can’t we live in harmony. The white people were not prepared for the winters and harshness of New England weather. They would have starved to death the first winter if it hadn’t been for the chief and others bringing them venison, squash, pumpkins and turkey. That’s how they ended up having Thanksgiving.”
Awabejiwani walked among the children in their semi-circle wearing the shawl, which tells the story of Skywoman. She let the children feel the silkiness of the material and fringe. As the light blue material embraced her arms, which formed a circle she explained, “All of these colors represent something personal to me. The story of this shawl is the creation story, how our God came to be.”
The children listened as she shared the legend that began up above, in the Sky World, where a woman was next to a Tree of Life when she fell through a hole.
Awabejiwani and Kunnaway have shared their stories and culture with their local schools in the Laconia, New Hampshire, area as well as at Southern New Hampshire University. Their goal is to teach native culture to all people. They participate in area powwows and are members of the New Hampshire Intertribal Native American Council, the Laconia Indian Historical Association and the Metis Nation of the United States and Canada.