Children can learn Native American history at free summer workshops

May 30, 2014 

mounds

Ivey Whetsel uses a stick to put the finishing touches on a clay pot she makes while taking part in a children’s workshop at the Ocmulgee National Monument in this 2008 photo.

BEAU CABELL/THE TELEGRAPH — bcabell@macon.com

Hands-on learning about Macon’s original inhabitants will highlight free children’s workshops at Ocmulgee National Monument.

The workshops are for children ages 6 to 12 and will happen from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each Wednesday in June.

“It’s a chance for local kids to come learn about Native American history in the area,” said Angela Bates, an interpretive ranger at Ocmulgee. “They touch on it in school, but we get to go in depth with them.”

The workshop will begin with a hike from the Visitor’s Center to the Great Temple Mound, Bates said. The kids will make a stop at the reconstructed Earth Lodge, which is believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes by the Mississippian people. The lodge features the original 1,000-year-old floor, which is ringed by seats and includes a bird effigy in the center.

“I think kids today think, ‘Why does it matter?’ We want to teach them why it matters,” Bates said.

The hike is followed by a history lesson on Ocmulgee. Many of the mound sites date to the early Mississippian period but archaeological evidence found at Ocmulgee indicates it was inhabited for nearly 17,000 years.

“I talk about the history and I have a ton of tribal reproduction stuff they would have used -- hunting tools, deer skins, deer parts they would have used for tools -- and I talk about them from the Ice Age through the Mississippian period and what their lives were like,” she said.

There is a lunch break (children should bring their own lunches and drinks) and then there will be other indoor activities that include arts and crafts, songs, stories and Native American games.

This includes using clay to replicate gorgets -- Native American pendants worn around the neck.

“The Indians made them out of seashells ... and they carved things into them,” Bates said. “They wear this home.”

Bates has a teacher ranger who helps with the workshops.

“She learned to tell Creek legend stories, like the creation story and the stickball story, and she has a puppet show,” Bates said. “She’ll do story time with them. It’s interactive with the kids because they have to portray a certain character.”

The teacher also does a demonstration about the wattle and daub technique Mississippians used to make their houses. It involved wearing river cane between logs and then dabbing them with mud, Bates said.

“We have a perception all Indians lived in teepees and that wasn’t the case here,” Bates said. “Only the Plains Indians lived in teepees. I think the 1950s TV version of Indians ruined everyone’s perception of Indians.”

She hopes children leave the workshops with a new appreciation of our area’s earliest ancestors.

“Hopefully, they’ll walk away knowing their local history,” Bates said. “My goal is to also make it fun because a lot of kids see history as boring. They think it is a lot of facts and dates, which it is, but you can try to bring history to life to show them history is not boring.”

Ocmulgee Summer Children’s Workshops

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. June 4, 11, 18 and 25

Where: Ocmulgee National Monument, 1207 Emory Highway

Cost: Free; registration is required

Information: 478-752-8257, extension 219

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