GESP celebrates National Indigenous Heritage Month

For Poolesville High School (PHS), National Indigenous Heritage Month, which occurs throughout November, is a critical part of the school’s Global Ecology Studies program (Global). 

“Global is based on a lot of Native American values, like working with and celebrating nature,” said Global US History teacher Mr. Edward Morrell.    

To celebrate indigenous history in the Global program, Morrell integrates different activities into the class’s curricula. While the Native American history unit typically begins in October, Morrell includes lessons on Native American history throughout November. 

“I want students to recognize and celebrate a culture that was here and still is,” said Morrell. “It’s important to remember that indigenous peoples are not a people of the past; they are still very much present today.” 

As a part of the Global curriculum, students are assigned projects centered around Native American history and culture. For example, in one such assignment, students are given a natural occurrence or event and find the Native American story or ceremony associated with it. In another assignment, students are expected to research a significant indigenous figure in Native American History and represent their character in a play.                             

“It’s important to study Native American history because it lets us look at our past with a critical eye,” said Morrell. “When we can recognize the past, we can prevent [tragedy] from happening in the future.”  

But even beyond typical assignments, Global students are given plenty of opportunities to have fun. One aspect of the Global curriculum is “Native American Day,” in which students are exposed to different aspects of Native American culture, including archery, plant identification, and lacrosse – in which students are even encouraged to create their own lacrosse sticks, called a gattale. Part of the day often involves a “buffalo meat and corn feast,” where students can sample indigenous foods. 

“The way we learn about Native American culture is really cool,” said Global senior Erin Cherian. “I think that if everyone learned about different cultures through this type of hands-on experience, people would be more interested in becoming more educated about other cultures and their experiences.” 

Another part of the National Indigenous Month celebration is a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian. While students typically can go inside the museum to see the exhibitions and botanical garden, COVID has caused the program to adapt to changes. Last year, Mr. Morrell explored the outer part of the museum, while broadcasting live on Zoom. This year, based on his discoveries from last year (such as a garden of squash and beans), the focus has been examining the museum’s exterior. 

“I don’t think the experience of the museum was ruined at all from COVID,” said Global sophomore Katie Hopkins. “It was still a super enlightening and exciting experience for me.” 

These lessons on Native American History inspired a few students to seek knowledge on indigenous cultures individually. Miranda Wang, a junior in Global, decided to visit the museum on her own. 

“I wanted to know more about their culture,” Wang said. “I realized how limited my knowledge was and how many preconceptions I had.” 

Beyond Poolesville High School, Montgomery County has formally recognized National Indigenous Heritage Month this past June. 

“I think this is a really important step in spreading awareness,” Morrell said. “I don’t think that it should be mandated to celebrate Indigenous Heritage month, but I like that we are promoting a larger awareness of different cultures.”