Fridley Public Schools celebrated Native American Heritage month in November through districtwide showcases of Native dancers, cultural food served at lunch, and educational activities that focused on Minnesota’s Indigenous communities. November has been nationally celebrated as Native American Heritage Month since 1990.
Highlights of celebrating Native American Heritage Month were the showcases by two local Indigenous cultural groups. Fridley High School and Fridley Middle School were invited to see Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli (kal-PUU-lee yao-say-noh-shlee) perform in the Fridley District Auditorium at the high school. Introduced to us by Stevenson Elementary’s Equity and Inclusion Specialist Alma Lora, who is a member in this group, Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli is composed of families that are committed to lifelong learning of the philosophy, dance, drum and songs of the Mexica (Aztec) traditions. Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli is a traditional Mexica-Nahua (Aztec) cultural group dedicated to preserving and sharing the dances, songs and philosophy of Nahua traditions and culture, Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli means warriors of the first cactus flower.
In between dances, members of the group inspired the audience with messages of hope and perseverance. Additionally, students were invited to ask questions in between dances. In response to one high school student’s question about what the performers think about when they are dancing, performer Samuel Torres responded, “We dance to protect these ways for the future, for our children, for their children, so that we know that the world that’s so hungry for healing, has something to be optimistic for.” Lora added, “I’m dancing for you, even though I don’t know you. I want to pave the path for you as a future generation.”
Madge Ducheneaux, who works at the Division of Indian Work and works with elementary students who identify as American Indian, helped facilitate the performances at Hayes and Stevenson elementary schools. Dancers, dressed in traditional regalia, performed as elementary students watched in awe. The performers explained their traditional dress and identified parts of their outfits that held meaning to their culture. One of the performers, Afton Delgado, explained that she is a Northern Women's Traditional dancer and can be identified by the stationary dance and long breastplate that she wears. Her dance signifies the strength of Native communities and honors the important roles of women in Native culture. They then performed a circle dance, first with members of the American Indian student groups and then welcomed other elementary students to join in.
Fridley’s American Indian Education Coordinator Jayna Gunderson, worked to plan the districtwide showcases. “The goal was to be inclusive of groups in Minnesota as well as Indigenous people throughout North America,” Gunderson said. She mentioned that this was the first year that Fridley has planned such a big celebration for the month. “We learned new things from both groups, it brought really great energy to the buildings and to our knowledge about Native American culture,” Gunderson said.
Fridley Public School’s Nutritional Services department sought to incorporate three dishes this month that honor and reflect Native and Indigenous culture: wild rice salad, wojapi and three sisters salad.
Wild rice is of great historical, spiritual and cultural importance to the Ojibwe people. Minnesota has more acres of natural wild rice than any other state in the country and it has been historically documented in 45 of Minnesota's 87 counties and in all corners of the state. The wild rice salad included wild rice, locally sourced apples, cranberries, maple syrup and a few other ingredients.
Wojapi is a traditional berry soup, or pudding, and is associated with the Lakota of the Northern Plains and is traditionally made with local berries such as chokeberries or buffalo berries.
Three sisters salad consists of three main ingredients: corn, beans and squash. The three ingredients are known as the Three Sisters to the Iroquois and Cherokee. Native Americans would plant them together because they would help each other grow.
At the beginning of November, the equity and inclusion specialists at each school shared age appropriate educational resources with their fellow staff, including information about the eleven Native tribes in Minnesota, notable Indigenous leaders from our state, videos about powwows and importance of land acknowledgement statements. Students were given the opportunity to ask questions and reflect on what they learned.
“I appreciate that Fridley is very diverse and has been working on their inclusion and equity journey,” said Lora. “I’m so happy I can share what I can with our community.”
Fridley Public Schools invites students that identify as Native American to participate in a Native American student group year-round at their schools. The student groups focus on cultural knowledge, language development, creation of traditional crafts, field trips and Lakota and Ojibwe cultures.
In addition to the student groups, Gunderson notes that there is an American Indian Parent Advisory Committee that parents are invited to join, saying that “their feedback and input is invaluable.” For more information about Fridley’s American Indian Education program, visit fridleyschools.org/academics/american-indian-education.
The video below highlights activities, celebrations, cultural experiences and lessons learned by Fridley students during Native American Heritage month.