Students at Northwest Elementary School in Brownwood sat mesmerized Thursday inside a large tipi erected outside and behind their classrooms, listening to stories and learning about values of Native Americans that can be applied to 21st century society.
“It’s amazing what can be taught by telling stories,” Shelby Smith, a certified teacher who is part of Tipi Tellers of Dallas, said during a break to change classes.
For the past 10 years, Tipi Tellers have been taking their “field trips” to schools, festivals and other events throughout Texas, including the Brownwood Reunion Celebration last September.
Students entered the conical tent that was erected in less than an hour by the storytellers before classes began Thursday morning, and found themselves in a different era. Looking up, they could see the blue sky through the hole in the top as rain clouds moved out of the area.
“I have the talking stick,” Jaye McLaughlin, whose background is in library science, told the classes. “When I hold the talking stick, I get to talk and everyone else gets to listen.”
Each of the three Tipi Tellers storytellers took their turns telling stories with a moral, but not before the important talking stick was delivered into their hands.
Their program contains wisdom and humor from folk tales and legends of many cultures, along with personal observations.
Tsagoi, who has served as a counselor for 18 years, accompanied stories told by the two women with a drum, and also played a “courted song” on an Indian flute after telling a story himself.
The students were invited to use hand and arm motions to help demonstrate one story.
Smith said their stories teach listeners to appreciate the earth, encouraging them to recognize natural systems, patterns and their interdependence; understand how the environment changes; reflect on how humans can affect the environment; and learn lessons from nature.
The stories also plant the seeds of respect for all life, and introduce the Native America philosophy of stewardship of natural resources.
After singing along with the closing segment with Tsagoi, whose song urged the children to “soar like the eagles,” one class left the tipi to see two birds gliding high above them. They might have been vultures, but the children saw them differently.
“Look!” one youngster told his classmates. “I see the eagles.”