Virginia: Native American Group Matches Grant to Build Indian Village

Bluemont, Virginia. Community leaders Ken and Julia Falke came forward this week providing a local Native American Indian organization $7,500 as a match to state and local grants. This grant is for a new artist residency-/-preK-12 school-program called Art in Nature™ facilitated by the not-for-profit group Sanctuary on the Trail™, and involves a host of artists and volunteers teaching children to raise an Indian village in Bluemont, Virginia. The group is working in partnership with the Village Montessori School (VMS) at Bluemont, the Bluemont Citizens Association, and the Bluemont Fair Committee.

Photo courtesy of Sanctuary on the Trail™

“Children in our community are very important to us and we look forward to seeing the results of this effort. Our family’s philanthropy is dedicated to military and veteran wellness and the children in our local community,” said Julia Falke. Mrs. Falke is the co-founder of Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness in Bluemont, Va.

This art initiative, proposed by Bluemont resident René Locklear White, is based on a “discovery” model of human development, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction alone.

“We are grateful to Ken and Julia Falke for their generosity. They are helping enrich the understanding of our indigenous culture and way of life through our children and our future,” added René White, who is the Art in Nature™ founder and a military veteran.

During phase-one, the children will help prepare the village through sensory-motor activities and by working with materials that develop their cognitive powers through direct experience: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and movement.

During phase-two, they will explore the village and open it up to the public, cultivating a positive awareness of the depth of indigenous culture still thriving in this region.

“It may take a village to raise a child, but I believe it takes artists to help children raise a village,” said Mrs. White, Lumbee Indian artist who led the grant requests along with a half dozen volunteers supporting the grant writing effort.

When the village opens this fall, the general public will be surprised to find out how many things they do not know about Native American Indian people. This initiative is also an opportunity for children and volunteers to be ambassadors for this underrepresented group and their culture.

The target audience is 45 Montessori school children of ages from 2- to 12-years old, along with seven teachers.  The children will participate in building a wigwam/yahkin, erect a tee pee, build and paint drums, learn to cook food over open fires, and much more. Later in the fall, the children will open the Indian village to the public during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Bluemont Fair on Sept. 17-18, 2016.

Leading the construction for the dwellings is Chris White, CEO of Sanctuary on the Trail™, a class-A general contractor and self-taught engineer. Mr. White is of Cherokee descent and a wood and stone artist.

Debbie Johnson-Conti of the Sauk & Fox Nation will assist Mr. White with developing the blueprints and obtain appropriate materials for building the yahkin or wigwam. It was common for women to actually build the structures on the east coast, according to Powhatan oral histories and eye witnesses’ accounts recorded by early settlers in Virginia.

The children and the general public will have an opportunity to meet more than 15 supporting artists who represent a spectrum of diversity from minorities and people with disabilities to military-veterans and senior-citizens. Many are Native American Indian artists coming in from across Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New Mexico. They include bead designers, wood workers, cooks, flintknappers, dancers, musicians, singers, story-tellers, engineers, and more.

“Ken and Julia Falke’s investment in programs that promote Art and Artists in education ignites a compelling national interest,” Mrs. White added.

According to multiple reports, “a staggering 87 percent of references to American Indians in all 50 states’ academic standards portray them in a pre-1900 context.” That means students are graduating from high school without even basic knowledge of contemporary Native challenges or culture.

“At this time more than ever, we are at risk of losing the understanding of indigenous ways of life and what they stand for,” Mrs. White said, explaining that she took to heart her oath in the military to protect and defend to heart. “The impact of funding cannot be over-stressed in itsability to help us.  It provides to us the support necessary to enable the educational development for both teachers and students.  It provides the means of preserving a heritage valuable to all.”

“Native American Indian people have a rich heritage in the arts, but also in science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM,” said Michael Gress, VMS owner. “Indigenous contributions to the globe affect what we eat today, influence ecology, and inspire sustainable living. We are excited for our children to participate in this innovative program.”

VMS utilizes a unique prepared environment, indoors and out, which utilizes the sensitivity that children have to take in impressions and organize them through their senses. The approach is hands-on and child-centered.

“The Montessori-way recognizes and values the human spirit in the development of the whole child – physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively,” said Toby Gress, head of VMS.  “Our students will embrace the experience of this collaboration which mirrors and supports our current method of instruction.”

The team’s goal is to raise $27,850 for the artists, materials, and supplies needed to bring this program to Loudoun County. With Ken and Julia’s contribution of $7,500, the team still plans to raise $20,350 through community contributions and other grant opportunities. Other sponsors, partners, and donors from the community are invited to support and participate in this cultural education program. This is a 501(c)3 non-profit initiative and all contributions are tax deductible.

More than 100 volunteers help the Whites field-test Art in Nature™ and Sanctuary on the Trail™ activities outside the classroom to ensure they are well-received by students, teachers, families, and the public alike.

Last year, commuters may remember seeing a tee pee while driving along US Highway-7 between Leesburg and Winchester at Clermont Farm on the corner of Berryville Main Street. Mr. White designed the structure with help from a Navajo/Dine artist who plans to drive from New Mexico to participate in this program.

Additionally, the team hosted “The Gathering 2015” an educational celebration of agri-culture held last fall at the Clarke County fairgrounds. Close to 5,000 people attended the Native American Indian harvest festival. Next year, “The Gathering 2017” is expected to draw 20,000+ people on Oct. 20-22, 2017.

This Indian village project would not be possible without the support of Jen Stone and her Bluemont family who have volunteered their private property to create the village, the Bluemont Citizens Association, and the Bluemont Fair Committee, who incorporated the grand opening of the village into the 2016 Bluemont Fair.

“We’re thrilled to have the Indian Village as part of our rural, historic Bluemont Fair,” said Bluemont Fair Co-Chair Cynthia Morris (with Jen Stone). “The Native American heritage of our area has been underrepresented in the past. This is an exciting opportunity to remind people of those who were here long before the events that we usually talk about when we reference local history. The Indian Village will be an exciting addition to our Fair—everyone is invited to join us in Bluemont on September 17 & 18, 2016, and experience it for themselves!”

To volunteer or contribute visit www.HarvestGathering.org, or visit www.BluemontFair.org. Or, to learn more about Boulder Crest Retreat visit: www.bouldercrestretreat.org.

Ken and Julia Falke, founders of Boulder Crest Retreat

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