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Visiting artist shares basketmaking and Haudenosaunee culture with Byron-Bergen fourth-graders

By Billie Owens

Above, Tonia Galban teaches weaving.

Submitted photos and press release from Gretchen Spittler, Byron-Bergen Central School District:

BERGEN -- Alyson Tardy’s fourth-grade class has been studying Haudenosaunee culture. Their studies included a special classroom guest -- Tonia Galban, who is a member of the Mohawk Bear Clan and a celebrated basket maker.

Today (Nov. 18), Galban is teaching the students how to make a woven, decorative, sunflower bookmark out of strips of black ash wood and raffia.

Galban and Tardy came together as part of a workshop called Culture, Community, and the Classroom, offered through Genesee Valley Educational Partnership by Local Learning: The National Network of Folk Arts. The workshop paired artists with classroom teachers to explore the mutually beneficial aspects of collaborating.

Today was the second, and last, of Galban’s visits. On her first visit she discussed ties between arts and Haudenosaunee culture. During the final visit, she chose to teach the hands-on activity in a traditional way. Galban gathered the students around the front table where she taught, not the students, but Tardy and her two teacher aides how to weave the bookmark.

“Children will watch the adults working,” Galban said. “Sometimes they won’t even realize that theyhave learned the skill – just by watching. All people have to develop patience. Calm insides and calm minds. Use your senses first, listen, and follow directions.”

After the demonstration, each student returned to their own desk to try weaving. As they worked, the adults helped them until, at some point, they began to help each other.

“Not everyone is a basket maker,” Galban said to the class. “You might be a singer or a dancer. Some sunflowers are big, some are small. You have your family to depend on – your friends can help.”

After some hard work and concentration, each student held up their completed sunflower.

“You have taken part in an in-depth dialogue with your teachers and me on big concepts,” said Galban as the lesson concluded. “The basket weaving is an analogy for how to be in your mind and in your heart. Patience and cooperation. Being a balanced human being. Kudos to you guys – you learned more than I could have even hoped for.”

“Niá:wen,” the students thanked Galban in Haudenosaunee. “Io, you’re welcome” she replied.

In addition to Galban’s visit, the students’ study of Native American culture included a field trip to Ganondagan State Historic Site. Also known as Boughton Hill, it is a Native American historic site in the present-day Town of Victor in Ontario County. It was the largest Seneca village of the 17th century.

During the field trip, the children experienced song, dance, storytelling, traditional arts, and culture during the annual Haudenosaunee Day celebration. They also presented their Haudenosaunee cultural artifact projects to other students.

Below, Tonia Galban working with student.

Below, students help each other with a weaving project.

Below, the class displays their finished projects.

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