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Myaamia Culture, Imagery Lessons Added To 'Ohio As America' Curriculum

Courtesy of Stephanie Danker
Miami art education majors Cas Napier, left, and Zania Hasty introduce Myaamia culture and imagery in a Talawanda classroom in October 2019.

Fourth grade is when Ohio students learn about state history, usually focused on just that - history. Now a curriculum developed by Miami University and the Myaamia Center focusing on the modern-day culture and imagery of the Miami Nation is being added.

While students learn about Native American tribes with ties to Ohio, Kara Strass, director of Miami Tribe Relations for the Myaamia Center, says those lessons are always about the past. "This brings it into the contemporary and teaches these 4th grade students that Myaamia people are still a living people who practice culture, including ribbonwork, which is a part of our traditional culture, but that that is today a part of who we are as a tribal nation."

The lessons will be taught in the Talawanda school district and will be available to teachers statewide in the Ohio As America 4th grade online textbook provided to more than 20,000 students in 91 districts by Ohio History Connection. Two 50-minute lessons focus on the Miami Nation's history, culture and imagery, specifically ribbonwork - the art of creating intricate geometric patterns from ribbons.

Stephanie Danker, Ph.D., associate professor of art education, came up with the idea after attending several of the tribe's Winter Gatherings in Miami, OK, where the tribe was ultimately relocated from its ancestral homelands in the Great Lakes regions, including Southwestern Ohio and Southeastern Indiana. She worked with her students and the tribe to create the curriculum and learn how to teach it properly and respectfully. After several years of revisions, it's ready for statewide implementation.

"My art education students who are training to be art teachers need to learn how to also teach about social studies and integrate art with other subject areas," Danker explains. "Fourth grade is where students learn about Native American tribes and Myaamia culture - the Miami Tribe - was indigenous to this area so it's a way that we can make something come alive from a paragraph in a history book."

Credit Courtesy of Maria Jose DeSantiago Galan
Talawanda fourth graders show off their ribbonwork bookmarks.

The lessons teach about Myaamia culture and imagery through ribbonwork. The first focuses on social studies, talking about forced migration, the Myaamia language and learning about key people. In the second, students create paper bookmarks with geometric shapes in a process that simulates that of ribbonwork without replicating it.

That part is key as curriculum is careful about maintaining the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, Danker says.

"We feel like it's very important for 4th graders even to learn about the difference between cultural appreciation versus appropriation. They know that Myaamia artists are the ones that create ribbonwork which is made out of fabric, but for them to be able to do a hands-on activity and create this bookmark, shows their appreciation of the culture."

Danker and Kristina Fox, an education assistant at the Myaamia Center, are leading an upcoming professional development class on the curriculum for teachers and educators across the state.