Teaching native ways
It’s about spirituality, culture and heritage, not religion.
November was Native American Heritage Month, and students around Detroit Lakes got an education on ceremonial procedures, drum and dance, traditional clothing, healthy eating habits, ricing and more.
“This is the best month since I’ve been here. It was very well received,” Joe Carrier said.
Carrier serves as the Indian education teacher at Detroit Lakes Public Schools and coordinated the month of activities.
One of the presenters was Rick Larson, who is a pipe carrier from White Earth and performs at a variety of ceremonies. He spoke to different groups of children at the different schools, and on Monday he visited with high schoolers about what happens at a pipe ceremony, the respect associated with the culture and what it all means.
He brought along his treasured blanket and pipe, though there was no lighting it in the school, and had the class of male students sit around the blanket with him.
He received the blanket from his nephew several years ago and used it for a wall hanging. Going through drug and alcohol addictions, Larson said he didn’t know about his heritage. He had never sat at a blanket and didn’t know what the colors – black for darkness, yellow for sun, blue for water and white for air – symbolized.
Now 29 months sober and five years drug free, he uses the blanket at his ceremonies.
“Take care of yourself. Take care of your body. Later in life you’re going to want to have kids, have a family, and you’re going to want to be there,” he said.
He also encouraged the students to stay in school, get an education – he said he only has a sixth grade education and wishes he hadn’t quit school because he has a hard time reading, though he’s had “the best life I could have had” – and always follow the good path in life. Even if one falls off the green path, get back on it and find direction again.
Larson demonstrated to the students about the four directions of the circle of life, explained the sage in his shell that burns continuously during ceremonies and what it means to smudge, or cleanse yourself and the items around you.
“It’s the purification of the people that are going to sit in my circle. It’s always good to have pure thoughts at the blanket.”
The rituals and words spoken are of the heart, he said, not a part of a religion.
“This is not about religion,” he stressed. “This is about spirituality. This is about Native American heritage.”
Larson showed the students his pipe, which is made from pipestone, only found in Pipestone, Minn.
“It’s been with me for over 17 years. It’s a part of me,” he said.
After the ceremony, it’s time to relax at the blanket and talk about whatever is on your mind, he told students.
Larson, also a former sled dog musher, said he is a modern day pipe carrier. Rather than getting dressed as what a traditional pipe carrier would, he’s more comfortable in jeans and a shirt. He’s not here for show, he added.
With his programs in schools, Larson said he’s seeing more and more young people getting involved and taking an interest in Native American heritage.
“It was a lost people, but it’s coming back now.”