IB Research & Curriculum Assistant
Newport High School
How do you make history come alive for a group of Native American high school students whose history is most often ignored in classroom curriculum? This was the challenge taken on by educators Elizabeth Fox and Crystal Taylor. They met the challenge by engaging their group of twenty-two students, from three schools in Lincoln County, Oregon, in a sort of time travel.
Instead of visiting or studying the historical totem poles in their part of the country from a book, these teenagers, members of the tribe identifying as Deeni, connected with history using their hands and artistic talent to make the totem poles as they had been made in the past. Fox, a ceramicist, taught the students an ancient carving technique called sgraffito, allowing each student to carve a cultural image into a cylindrical tile of wet terracotta clay. The students glazed their pieces, Fox fired them and together the 22 tiles, when assembled, will become four totem poles, each standing almost six feet tall.
Fox reported, “It was amazing to see how quickly the students caught on to the sgraffito technique, clay is such a great vehicle for expression and their totems are a beautiful reflection of their Native culture.” Through this experience the students gained new artistic skills, as well as an understanding of the meaning of the cultural symbols they carved.
The students were rightly proud of their work, proud it would be displayed for the public to see and excited to have engaged in a group project that will bring much needed attention to this part of American history.