Star quilts and receding fears
Have you ever felt like a total hypocrite? As I was preparing for my big move, everyone told me I was so brave, courageous and adventurous. The truth is I was terrified. What if I wasn’t what those who hired me were expecting? Would I encounter racism? After all, white settlers stole the land, sent the natives to reservations and created boarding schools for native children that were things from nightmares. Would I offend them without knowing?
My fears were the main reason that I wanted to tour the school in June, before signing the contract. Another reason for coming out in June was to arrange for an apartment. When I entered the school on the second-to-last day of school, students were having their award ceremony. The students were polite and respectful, the staff friendly, and I was reminded of my time at Sheridan ES in Allentown, where, as a student, I felt for the first time how much the principal cared.
Needless to say, I signed the contract, handed it in and thus began my career in Montana. Were all my fears relieved after the visit? Of course not. That is why it bothered me when people said they thought I was brave. I was not and am not brave. The move was hard emotionally.
Family is my life. There is nothing better to me than watching my sister or nephews. In fact, if I were going to be alone at home for more than four hours, I would beg for a nephew to hang out with. We would go shopping, to the park, or just watch a movie, but I was always with them. Hugging them good-bye, not knowing what lay before me, or when I would see them again, or if I would be home for the holidays was hard on me. I tried to be strong and hide my fears as well as a few tears.
Now, my fears are receding. I still worry about offending someone, but I have found the people here to be understanding, kind and polite.
There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the schools where I subbed in back in Pennsylvania, the teachers looked out for all of the students, and the PTO provided snacks for holiday parties, such as Halloween. Children might bring in a few things to share, but the majority of the snacks came from the PTO. When a parent entered the classroom, not many of the students reacted.
But here in Montana, most of the students in this small town are eligible for free or reduced lunch. I have a parent come in at the end of the day to pick up her child and several children run over and greet her, a few begging to go to her house after school.
We recently had a class party for Halloween. As I was leaving my town of Cut Bank, running late, I remembered that the treats I had purchased for the partyt were on top of my fridge. We don’t have a PTO in my school, so I was left with having to decide if I could get back home, grab them and still get to school on time. I decided I didn’t have time, so the rest of the drive I was trying to figure out if I could run to the store during my 35-minute lunch break. I doubted I would be able to purchase snacks and get back to my class on time.
But I didn’t have to. What I found is that even though native families don’t have much on a daily basis, the parents sent in enough food that the class didn’t even notice that I forgot to bring my treats. Of course, I apologized and promised to bring them in the next day. In this school, I truly see what the saying “It takes a village” means. The town, the tribe, truly cares for its members. I have no doubt that if a resident saw a child in need, that child would be helped. In fact, there’s a program here that any shopper can contribute to for the children who don’t have food at home. At the end of the school week, those children receive a bag of food for the weekend. When the children pick them up, they hold the bags like a treasure.
According to the most recent information gathered in 2016 and 2017, 92 percent of the people in Browning are natives. That means that most, if not all, of my students are natives and they are some of the gentlest, kindest people I have ever worked with, and for.
I said in my column last week that I would learn more about the star quilt. Star quilts are given as a sign of honor and respect. In the days before the buffalo disappeared, honor and respect were shown by placing a buffalo robe around the shoulders of the recipient. When missionaries came, they taught the women to sew quilts. Stars, having a great importance to Native People, were created on the quilts.
Star quilts began with the Sioux tribe. There are a few different names for this type of quilt. The Southwestern tribes call it “God’s Eye,” in the 1800s they were called “Morning Star Quilts,” and currently, they are called “Lone Star Quilts,” or simply “Star quilts.” The quilt is made with one large eight pointed star. The blocks used are 45 degree diamonds. Stars were created in their beadwork, painted on their tipis and on the buffalo robes, so it was a natural progression to use them in the quilts as well.