For Immediate Release

September 22, 2006 - PRESS ENTERPRISE

Contact: The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

Indian Ways
Inland tribe, university teach children Native culture

10:00 PM PDT on Friday, September 22, 2006

By CHRIS RICHARD / The Press-Enterprise

Wendy Kitchen knows how to prepare acorn flour, one or two nuts at a time, in a granite dish called a matate that has been in her family for 150 years.

Christian Sanford, 10, a fifth-grader from Our Lady Assumption in San Bernardino, decorates a clapper stick Friday at Cal State San Bernardino.

But to make the flour for a lesson on Cahuilla cooking Friday, she used an iron meat grinder.

For a lesson on traditional Luiseño music, Wayne Nelson brought rattles fashioned from gourds, from turtle shells -- and from tin cans.

"People may have used what they had at the time, but the music didn't change," Nelson said. "The songs are still the same."

Nelson and Kitchen taught two classes Friday at the California Indian Cultural Awareness Conference, a weeklong series of seminars that give local elementary school students a clearer understanding of the daily life of American Indians in the past, and how those cultures remain vital today.

The program included storytelling, dance and singing, California geography and history.

After his lesson on Serrano bird singing, conference director James Ramos overheard some of the children singing a traditional song about a hummingbird.

To a man who remembers struggling to explain to elementary school classmates why his people didn't live in teepees or wear war bonnets, it was a welcome change.

"Now, when people know something about our culture and want to know more, it kind of lifts you up," he said. "You can see it in our children."

Still, sometimes understanding another culture is a challenge. Kitchen saw that during the lesson on cooking.

When it is first ground, acorn flour is far too bitter and astringent to swallow. So the Cahuilla wash it in water, leaving a woody-flavored paste.

On Friday, one child asked Kitchen why anyone would eat food that tastes like dirt.

She tried to help the children understand by asking them to imagine their favorite food, some family treat.

"I told them, 'To us, this is like that treat,' " she said. "Then, they got it."

Nine-year-old Martina Naranjo said she would never compare anybody's food to dirt. Hearing about it reminded her of an experience she had herself on Friday.

A fourth-grader at Our Lady of the Assumption School in San Bernardino, she began her lunch as she always does, by reciting a blessing.

When she looked up, a boy from another school was laughing at her.

Fourth-grade teacher Sandra Morris called it a learning experience.

"I told the children that the blessing is not something the boy was used to, but that they should be proud of who they are," she said. "Other people may not get it at first, but they will."

Ramos hopes for a similar growth in understanding for his own people.

Legislation enacted in 2001 called for a statewide curriculum on California Indians for kindergarten through 12th grades.

No such program has been completed for the state as a whole, but a curriculum has flourished in San Bernardino in a cooperative effort between the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Cal State San Bernardino and local schools.

The conference is one outgrowth of that effort, and now the Southwest Museum of the American Indian is considering a similar program, Ramos said.