Members of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation on Friday visited the place where generations of American Indians portaged their canoes between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers centuries ago.
The visit between 30 members of the Cheyenne Nation in Montana and Akron school students at Portage Path Community Learning Center was part of a cross-cultural exchange that began a year ago when the first representatives of the tribal membership of 5,000 visited the Lippman School, a private day school that emphasizes a multicultural curriculum and Jewish tradition.
In turn, Lippman seventh- and eighth-grade students, under the leadership of Sam Chestnut, head of the school on White Pond Drive in Akron, traveled to Montana in the partnership exchange in July. They were immersed in Northern Cheyenne traditions and culture.
During Friday’s program, Portage Path students shared the history of Summit County in a PowerPoint presentation covering the formation of a highway of rivers formed by glaciers that were then used by Erie, Delaware, Wyandot, Ottawa, and Mingo tribes.
About 40 Lippman students and school representatives attended the program.
Four classes of fourth- and fifth-grade students at Portage Path hosted the assembly where Northern Cheyenne leaders offered a taste of their language, culture, traditions and the art of drumming and dancing.
Burt Medicine Bull told students that the first time his ancestors, who lived in the north, were introduced to horses near the Missouri River “they were in awe.”
“They had never seen a horse before. They didn’t know what to call a horse, but it was the size of an elk so they called it a frisky elk,” he said as students laughed along.
When the original Portage Path school, built in 1908 south of Market Street in Highland Square, was replaced with a new community learning center in 2010, parents and former students at the school chose to keep the original name because of its history. A few touches from the old building, from original clay tiles to sculptures of American Indian heads, were incorporated into the design of the new school, said Akron Superintendent David James, who also attended the program.
“I think it’s important for our students to understand their local history. In terms of education, the history of this building is important to our students,” he said.
Portage Path fifth-grade teacher Karen Grindall brought the three groups together for Friday’s program.
Although some might disagree, Grindall said, it is her belief that the first schoolhouse built in Akron was on the spot where Portage Path school sits today, based on a letter the school received in 1980 from one of the students who attended the two-room schoolhouse.
“In 1850, Cottage Grove School sat right here,” she said pointing to the floor of the cafeteria. “It had a bucket and dipper and an outhouse in the yard. The teacher lived across the street, and all the girls who attended the school were in her wedding when she got married.”
It’s the rich history of the school that draws former students back, she said.
“There is just something about this school that creates a sense of, ‘Ahh, I’m home,’ ” she said.
Two of Grindall’s students, Cynthia Gaston and Isaac Pugh, both 10, used iPads to create a video of Friday’s program. The students will edit and produce a video that will be shown to the entire school when the project is finished.
Norma Wolfchief Gourneau, deputy superintendent of the Northern Cheyenne Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs, said this partnership developed between the school and Northern Cheyenne due to Chestnut’s efforts. She said she watched Chestnut grow up because his father, Steve Chestnut, was general counsel to the Northern Cheyenne for more than 40 years.
Gourneau said she has lived on the Montana reservation her entire life and spoke only the Cheyenne language in her home as a youngster.
“When I started school, I didn’t know any English and had to learn,” she said.
Teaching the Cheyenne language is part of the curriculum in reservation schools today, she said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.