A teepee raising celebration was held last week at Riverstone School, a holistic, experiential school for ages 5 to 18 located south of Hamilton. The teepee was erected, according to the school’s Executive Director Sarah Southwell, “in honor of Native American culture, Montana history, and the unifying power of art.”
“How do you know where to go, if you don’t know where you are at,” said Southwell. She said that’s why it’s important to look back to this place’s first occupants. She said the teepee, hand painted by the students, stands as a powerful reminder of where we are, who came before, and the promise the future holds.
“At Riverstone School, we believe in illuminating every child’s individual genius,” said Southwell. “This genius best emerges through a place-based, experiential learning journey in a holistic environment. Experiences like Coyote Camp and the teepee raising help a child discover the land on which they’re standing to better explore the world.”
Preparations to erect the teepee began about two months ago and included not only learning about the history and culture of the valley’s first occupants, it also meant coming up with a design, as well as doing the hands-on application.
One of the students, Jackson Jessop, described the process of how they came up with the totem images that would adorn the teepee, which included the sun, moon and stars, fish, crawdads, and an elk, wolf, eagle and bear. After entertaining all sorts of possibilities, the kids voted on the ones that they would use. Jessop said that the size of the teepee limited the number of images.
“Mountains,” he said, “just didn’t make the cut.”
They also decided to place each student’s hand print on the teepee.
A little lesson in entrepreneurship was also woven into the project as the students raised money to purchase the teepee and materials by selling artwork and gluten-free, dairy-free treats they made themselves at Riverstone’s 2017 Hamilton Farmer’s Market booth.
One final step in the process included going to Coyote Camp at the Big Hole National Battlefield where, through fun, interactive activities, they learned more about Native American culture and met Maurice Wilson, Nez Perce tribal member and medicine man, who gave his blessing to their teepee project. At every step of the teepee project, from initial preparation to Thursday’s raising, students learned the meaning behind what they were doing.
“At Riverstone, we think it’s important for students to not only acknowledge other people and perspectives, but to understand and appreciate them on a deep level,” said School Administrator Kayli Maffei.
Art teacher Clare Ann Harff elaborated, saying, “Art is a powerful unifier. It’s a way to bridge cultural understandings and encourages students to express themselves in creative and compelling ways. Part of what makes this teepee project especially unique is that it is a springboard to learn about, and appreciate, on deeper levels, where we live.”
The school is located on ABC Acres farm on Sleeping Child Road and the farm crew helped out by setting up the teepee poles and mounting the finished teepee on celebration day.
Riverstone School will offer a full curriculum beginning this fall. To learn more about Riverstone’s project-based learning model and mission, and how to enroll, visit their booth at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market or go to myriverstone.org.