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Academy teaches Native American traditions, culture

November 24, 2010
By CLAIRE ABENT Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - As Title VII Indian Education Director Peggy Derwin looks around the gym at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School, she can't help but smile. Before her are six Northern Michigan University students partnered with students of all ages from the Gwinn Community Schools for the Kayndahsewin Academy, all of them completely focused on the tasks at hand.

"I see them all engaged. I see happy faces," she said. "I am so proud of them."

The NMU students are completing a capstone course for a Native American Studies minor and are working with the younger students to explore college options, Anishinaabe language, native stereotypes in literature and work on writing for the Storyline project.

Article Photos

NMU student Kasi Gilbert works with fifth-grader Brittany Rzanca and sixth-grader Cory Turner, both students at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School in Gwinn. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)

Alexandra Maxwell, a senior at NMU, works with students in Gwinn on a weekly basis and was in charge of running the academy. She became in volved after Derwin came to her class asking for help.

"She came to our class and gave this very heartfelt description of what she felt they needed, which was positive role models and just someone to be there for them," she said. "It's been a really great opportunity for them to get to know the other native students in the ares and explore their culture in a consistent way. Hopefully they all feel a little more confident and a little more connected to their culture and their community."

Gwinn High School junior Tyler Radtke spent his time at the academy picking up valuable tools for his future, as well as some language skills.

"I've been learning my native language, learning about college opportunities, what I can do in the military, filling out a job application and filling out a college application," he said. "I want to go to college and become an athletic trainer or a physical therapist or go into the military and become a combat medic or a combat engineer."

Through the Kayndahsewin Academy, Radtke has had an opportunity to learn about his ancestors and culture, something he really finds value in.

"It's important for me because our culture is starting to slip away and some of us would really dislike that," Radtke said. "And I would never have found out about it by myself."

Working with the NMU students has proved invaluable for both Derwin and the students at Gwinn, native and non-native alike.

"This is fantastic for the kids," she said. "They see that they can go to college. They see what college is really like. And it teaches them to be so proud of their culture. The hands-on, the writing is so important. It's not just cultural enrichment, it's education. "

For Maxwell, there is an aspect of personal growth attached to working with the younger students.

"I know this will help me in the future. It really proves my genuine interest and that I want to help in any way I can," she said.

And for Radtke, there is much more than he has gained beyond learning how to fill out applications.

"This has really helped me a lot. The most important thing I have learned about myself is that no matter what, I'll always have somebody behind me to help me with anything."

Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is



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