Presentations at Fond du Lac Ojibwe School

On Monday, we were able to relate synthetic weed, cells, muscles, college, and turtles at Fond du Lac Ojibwe School in Cloquet, MN.

Several of us worked on presentations on those topics (minus the turtles) to present to select grades of the K-12 school. The synthetic weed presentation (topic chosen by the school, not us) was done by Ben Dropkin, Devin, and Jessica to the high school students — which consisted of about 20-25 kids. We talked about its history, what it is, its harmful effects, and had a group discussion at the end. And by group discussion, I mean a discussion between Devin and one student asking a lot of questions.

Jidi and Mai then did a presentation on everything related to college: how to get into college, what to expect once in college, how to finance college, and their own respective experiences.

Afterward, we split up in smaller groups to talk about muscles and cells to the younger grades. The highlight of that part was probably watching the fifth graders entertain themselves with reflex hammers and listening to the sound of their hearts after our “official” presentations.

And now we have to talk about the turtles. Apparently the Ojibwe School is built in the shape of a turtle. During the student-led tour of the school, we were told that we were in the “turtle’s head” or the “turtle’s butt.” I couldn’t quite visualize this until I saw the map of the school:

And how about a 3D model?

The reason the school is in the shape of a turtle is because there is a Native American legend that tells the story of how the world was built on a turtle’s back. For those interested, here’s the story I found on the internet (source):

Many years ago the world had two parts. Animals lived in the lower part, which was completely covered in water and had no land or soil. Above was the Sky World, where the sky people lived. The Sky World had lots of soil, with beautiful mountains and valleys. One day a girl from the Sky World went for a long walk and became very tired.

“I’m so tired, I need to rest,” she said. She sat down under the spreading branches of an apple tree and quickly fell asleep. Suddenly, there was a rumbling sound like thunder and the ground began to crack. A big hole opened up next to the apple tree.

“What’s happening?” screamed the frightened girl. She tried to move but it was too late. She and the tree slid through the hole and tumbled over and over towards the watery world below.

“Help me! Help me!” screamed the girl. Luckily two swans were swimming below and saw the girl tumbling down from the sky. “Come on!” yelled one swan. “Let’s catch her before she hits the water.” “Okay!” yelled the other. The swans spread their wings together and caught the girl on their soft feather backs. “Whew! That was lucky,” said the girl. “But what do I do now? I can’t get back up to the Sky World and I can’t stay on your backs forever.”

“We’ll take you to Big Turtle,” said the swans. “He knows everything.” After hearing what happened, the Big Turtle called all the animals in the water world to a meeting. He told them an old story about soil being found deep under the water. “If we can get some of that soil, we can build an island on my back for you to live on,” said the Big Turtle.

“Sounds good to me,” said the young girl.

The Otter, Beaver and Muskrat started arguing over whom would dive for the soil. “I’ll go,” said the sleek Otter, brushing his glossy fur. “No! I’ll go,” said Beaver, slapping the water with his big flat tail. “I’m the best swimmer,” said Muskrat “I’ll go.”

“Aaaachooo!” sneezed the young girl.” Guys, guys, would just one of you go. These swan feathers are getting up my nose and making me sneeze.”

“Sorry” said the swans.

“That’s alright,” said the young Sky girl.

Then Toskwaye the little Toad popped up out of the water. “I’ll go. I can dive very deep,” she said. The other animals started laughing and pointing at Toskwaye. “You! You’re too small and ugly to help.” Cried the others, laughing.

“Be quiet!” said Big Turtle in a loud, stern voice. “Everyone is equal and everyone will have a chance to try”. The sleek Otter smoothed his glossy fur, took a deep breath and slid into the water. He was gone for a long time before he came up gasping for air. “It was too deep,” he said. “I couldn’t dive that far.”

“Now it’s my turn,” said Beaver. He slapped the water with his tail as he disappeared. After a long time he came to the surface again. “It’s too far” he gasped. “No one can dive that deep.” Muskrat tried next and failed.

“Aaaachoo!” sneezed the young girl. “This is not looking good.”

“Now it’s my turn,” said little Toskwaye the Toad. She took a deep breath and jumped into the water. She was gone a very long time and everyone thought they wouldn’t see her again.

Suddenly Otter pointed at the water, shouting, and “Look, look bubbles!” Toskwaye’s small, ugly face appeared through the water. She spat a few grains of soil onto the Big Turtle’s back, then fell back into the water – dead.

The Turtle ordered the others to rub the soil grains and spread them around on his shell. The grains grew and grew, until a large island was formed – big enough for the girl to live on. It grew into our world, as we know it today. And the descendants of the Sky girl became the Earth’s people.

Today, some people say the whole world still rests on Big Turtles back. When he gets tired and changes his position, we have earthquakes.

Toad has not been forgotten either. American native Indians call her “Mashutaha”, which means ‘Our Grandmother’. No one is allowed to harm her.

Around the entire school on can see safety posters and outreach programs to youths. The schools and reservations have really been trying to increase health awareness and mental health in the past few years. Basket ball is big stuff out at Fon Du Lac, they have a shot at going to state.

Typical DMS picture of students, faces half cut. HAHA 

Today they try to instill the values that were inherent to the Ojibwe prior to the assimilation trials and boarding schools where children lost their identities and sense of community. The ramifications that boarding schools had on these people are still very alive today: chemical dependency, suicide, violent crime, and psychological pain.A fitting representation of Native Americans in their land now engulfed by the U.S.

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