SEVENTH GRADERS, from left, Lydia Blood, Kipp Butts, Juliette Frizzle and Kayleb Trebilcock help build a smoker on Friday under the guidance of Sarah Gladu, the education director for the Damariscotta River Association, during Wabanaki Cultural Day at Brunswick Junior High School.

SEVENTH GRADERS, from left, Lydia Blood, Kipp Butts, Juliette Frizzle and Kayleb Trebilcock help build a smoker on Friday under the guidance of Sarah Gladu, the education director for the Damariscotta River Association, during Wabanaki Cultural Day at Brunswick Junior High School.

BRUNSWICK

It’s not every day students get to build a wigwam, try their hand at basket weaving or watch someone in 1690s-era Wabanaki garb discuss the importance of a tool of that period.

But that’s the experience Brunswick Junior High School seventh graders had Friday when the school celebrated its first Wabanaki Culture Day.

Juliette Frizzle helped build a smoker outside the school alongside the wigwam students constructed. She also helped fellow students film and document the day.

“It’s definitely like life skills and survival,” she said, reflecting on the events of the day. “It’s good to know this just in case you are in a situation when you need to know how to make a fire or make a wigwam or collect rocks or know where or how to gather food.”

It’s also good to preserve the culture of the Wabanaki, she said, noting they were in Maine before European settlers.

As Frizzle interviewed the experts visiting the school Friday, she asked if the procedures they were teaching students were the same as Wabanaki people actually once used.

“Every single one of them said that the procedures are the same, but the materials are different,” she said. “They said they wished the materials were the same so the kids could really get a sense of how difficult it was and how fun it is, to be in that era.”

“It was really eye opening,” said student Lydia Blood, adding that if the school hadn’t hosted the day, she didn’t “think I would have learned about them.”

Nicole Johnson grew up a member of the Penobscot Nation, part of the Wabanaki — which was a confederacy of tribes. She portrayed a basket seller in the 1840s at the event.

“I love teaching about the culture and I really appreciate the opportunity to do that,” she said.

There are now less than 3,000 tribal members left in the world, Johnson said, “and there may be five fluent speakers of my language. We’ve lost more than can ever be recorded.”

Maine schools are required to teach the Wabanaki culture. When Johnson and her husband, historian Ken Hamilton, go into the schools, “we’re trying not to do a generic Native American history or anything like that.”

“It needs to be a little bit more specific,” she said.

Presenting school programs for more than 25 years now, Johnson has found educators are much more educated about the Wabanaki. She said that’s apparent when she talks to students: “The students ask fantastic questions.”

Johnson said she is happy to present her tribe in a positive way and educate people about its culture.

“We’re trying to preserve as much culture as we possibly can. And it’s so difficult to live realistically in two worlds,” she said. “Your cultural beliefs, yes that gets incorporated into modern society, but it doesn’t really go backwards.”

Any culture that children can be exposed to besides their own, Johnson said, is only going to help them be a better world citizen.

Social studies teachers Carla Shaw and Dick Weafer, and talent development teacher Sharon McCormack worked to bring the guests to the school Friday — with a total of 10 activities, nine presenters and 13 parent volunteers — thanks to a grant from the Brunswick Community Education Foundation.

The plan is for Wabanaki Cultural Day to become an annual event if they can find the funding.

The team has done a lot of classroom preparation on studying the Wabanaki. To bring in artisans and experts in the field, Shaw said, “it just brings it to life and brings the past to the present and gives opportunities for everybody to learn and be engaged.”


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