An opportunity to have students learn about local Native American neighbors was given to Skowhegan area high schoolers by the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine.
“When you get to know someone, you no longer fear them,” said John Bear Mitchell, a member of the Penobscot Tribe and associate director of the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine. He was speaking to an audience of 40 students from three area high schools. “If you know somebody, you won’t fear that they have something you don’t have; you won’t fear that they’re trying to take you over personally. In other words you understand them as being equal.”
Students learned stories that have been passed down in Native American oral tradition, about the formation of land, how to be a good person, why animals look the way they do, and that no one is unimportant. These included teachings of the first storyteller, Chabalak. He also got behind the humor to tell of the mistreatment and slaughter of the four federally recognized Maine tribes – Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac.
“One of the things that happens with humor and how I try to portray what I’m doing through humor is basically not to make it as heavy, to lighten the impact, but to make a point,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got to do that because some of things are so serious, so unbelievable, that if you can’t get it across to young people, then to them it’s just preaching.
“I don’t want to preach. I want to teach.”