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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Indian culture comes alive: Two Feathers brings native lessons to school

News-Journal correspondent

NEW SMYRNA BEACH Fourth-graders at Indian River Elementary School discovered that war paint was an effective sun block.

They also learned some Indian signs have become part of American sign language for the deaf and teepees were "original" mobile homes in a lively lesson on Indian culture provided by Edgewater resident Richard Burke.

Working as a brave, Two Feathers, Burke has become a living picture book of the crafts and lifestyle of American Indians. For the past two years, he has set up his teepee on the Indian River campus, donned a warrior belt and a deerskin shirt, set up his ceremonial masks and totems and brought to life the required fourth-grade lesson on Southeast Indians.

"This reinforces the information in the textbook and makes it more real for the children," schoolteacher Julie Postlethwait said. "Two Feathers engages them in stories about native culture that they will remember."

For example, Burke told the fourth-graders that children their age would be responsible for gathering and stacking firewood and setting snares for small game. Older boys would be taught to hunt with bow and arrow, while girls might use the jawbone of a deer to scrape kernels from a corncob so it could be made into meal.

Most of his stories involve legends about the protection of the Great Spirit and the balance of nature.

He told of a time when there was only one very large mosquito. However, when it started to carry off children, the Indian people appealed to the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit squished this gigantic pest, but preserved the life of the insect by allowing every drop of its blood to become tiny mosquitoes that would cover the Earth.

"We can learn a lot from each of the animals," he said. "For example, the spider teaches us patience because it spins its web, then just sits back and waits for a fly to get trapped."

Fourth-grader Erika Dumas said that she learned that Indians "were very superstitious. But they were also very spiritual people."

Nine-year old Tyler Peacock said, "The Indians had a hard life. But what I like most about their life is the teepee, because those are my initials."

Travis Dees said that what he liked most was "the part where he played the drums."

Burke's fascination with Indian culture began in his boyhood, he said. It was renewed about six years ago, after he had retired from the U.S. Postal Service in New Jersey and moved to Edgewater.

Intrigued by crafts created by an Indian friend of the family, he began fashioning his own dream catchers and jewelry.

As he researched other items used in Indian life, he continued to develop and make replicas of tools, weapons, masks and clothing. His deerskin war shirt features 10,868 beads in intricate patterns.

Burke's collection of Indian crafts attracted the attention of the Southeast Inter-Tribal Council, headquartered in Ormond Beach. He was invited to join them as an honorary Native American about four years ago. The teepee that he built to participate in regional powwows now is the centerpiece of his programs for children.

One of his current goals is to discover more about the lifestyle of Florida's earliest Indians.

"So many of these tribes were destroyed early in our history," he said. "By the mid-1700s, tribes like the Calusa and the Timuca had either died out or left with the Spanish. The kids have so many questions about how these tribes lived. I'd like to find the answers for them."

Rob's comment
We can't be sure what "Two Feathers" is teaching children. But as someone noted, Southeastern Indians didn't have tipis. That all Indians lived in tipis is one of the most common stereotypes. References to war paint, a "brave," the "Great Spirit," and drums also suggest stereotypical content.

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