By Denise Waterman
Today’s parents speak with pride when referring to their ONS school days, especially referring to the projects, events and speakers, which became in part the foundation of their present knowledge of Haudenosaunee culture. In those days, Mr. McCaffrey was the Principal and Sandy Hart the Art teacher. The leadership of the school building and the classrooms were important aspects of the cultural preservation movement in learning about our Onondaga culture. Classes studied Bee Keeping, made snowshoes and snowsnakes, took nature walks to collect herbs for natural dyes, learned the sway of poetic storytelling, and the discipline of beading in the style of “Iroquois” relief work.
A quarter of a century later, Ms Ellsworth is the Principal. This year at Onondaga Nation School the Art Teacher, Mr. Hovey organizing a cultural arts series.
Mr. Hovey conversed with Chip Isaacs, a local silver-smith artist, about a Native American Arts Project. Community consultants were selected from Onondaga’s repertoire of renowned artisans, such names as Ida Jacques, Charmaine Booth, Alfie Jacques, and Tom Huff.
Culture is the essence of knowledge represented by a belief or a people’s way of life. Therefore, a renaissance of ones’ culture may be defined as returning to the knowledge or belief of ones culture though an inspiring means. A cultural renaissance is happening at the Onondaga Nation School.
This winter one could overhear the discussions by children with Haudenosaunee community artisans about wood carving. A wonderful example of their work produced through the influenced of the Art and Technology programs is on display in the main office.
Mr. Hovey was asked, “What inspired you to offer the Onondaga cultural arts series? “ He responded by saying, “I had an informal conversation with one of my parents, Shannon Booth. I just asked him what he would like to see in the arts program here at ONS.” Shannon said, “Try to incorporate as much of the cultural arts as you can.” “His response stuck with me,” said Mr. Hovey, “I found myself in the cultural center one day, reading school philosophy hanging on the wall. It was at that moment that it became quite clear to me that I had a responsibility to feature Onondaga Culture in my classroom, which led me to develop the Onondaga Cultural Series.”
The program began with the first artist, Alfie Jacques, a well known lacrosse stick maker. Alfie presented in previous years but this year Mr. Hovey asked if he could demonstrate wood carving project in one of his art classes. After a short talk, he agreed to work a design known as the “Great Lakes Lacrosse Stick”, it is a short stick with a circular net at one end.
Mr. Hovey went back home to the Cortland area and began his searched for a White Ash tree. He cut it down, sawed it into pieces, enough to fill his car with white ash logs. Then he transported the logs to school to “pound”. His efforts would allow students to have a block of white ash wood in which to carve their Great Lakes lacrosse stick.
Students sit on the carver’s bench, every pull of the carver’s tool is a breath of fresh air. This motion of both hand and tool shaping a rough piece of wood into a sleek stick is riveting. The children’s thoughts are focused on their tradition and their heritage of lacrosse.
Along with work comes the sharing of stories, and traditional community stories are a recipe for thought. Thought leads to teachable moments, which spread excitement and energy in students. The cultural arts series produces teachable moments. In a walk through ONS, students were in the school hallways proudly carrying each of their lacrosse sticks-in-progress. And this had a wonderful and profound influence on the younger students who could be heard saying to each other, “I’m going to make a lacrosse stick too!”
Now, the school has 2 new wood carving benches of its own. While it may not be obvious as to whom will take Alfie’s place as Onondaga’s one premiere lacrosse stick carver, one could guess he’s currently walking the halls of ONS with a stick under arm.
A cultural renaissance in progress surely makes the heart feel good. The excitement and the inspiring signs of culture we see through our children would receive acknowledgements from our elders as to say these are examples of the continuance of the “Haudenosaunee Way of Life.” Dahne:toh.