Mystic River Magnet School students learn about Mohegan culture, history
Groton ― A group of students and several teachers danced in a circle Friday afternoon in the Mystic River Magnet School gymnasium, as David Eichelberg, outreach and tradition specialist for the Mohegan Tribe, sang.
They stepped around the circle to the left as Eichelberg, wearing tribal regalia, sang, stood in place as he drummed, and then stepped to the right as he sang again.
Eichelberg, who visited the school for an assembly to teach Mohegan history, tradition and culture to third, fourth and fifth graders, said the round dance is a healing dance.
“All right, give them a round of applause,” Eichelberg said at the end of the round dance, as students sitting in the elementary school’s gymnasium enthusiastically clapped.
During the assembly, students listened intently as Eichelberg talked about the history and culture of the Mohegan Tribe.
He sang a song about the Mohegan Tribe’s resilience over the past 400 years and explained to students that the Mohegan Tribe is an Indigenous group of people.
He showed students how the marks on a wood turtle shell were used as a calendar and told them about how Native people in the northeast region lived in wigwams.
He asked students if they knew what the purple and white parts of the clam shell used to make jewelry are called.
“Wampum,” a student answered correctly.
He showed pieces of beadwork and explained how the crafting process is strenuous.
“So anytime this wampum is gifted, it’s an honorable gift to give,” he said.
He said traditional regalia, like he was wearing on Friday, are what his ancestors wore, and he handmade most of his.
Students eagerly raised their hands at the end of the assembly to ask him questions.
Mystic River Magnet School Principal Steven Wheeler said the school, located in Mystic, is close to two local tribes, the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, and it’s important for students to learn about the tribes’ culture and who they are.
He said that as part of their social studies curriculum, the students learn about Native Americans.
He said it’s really important for students to know the local history. He said students learn about Native American tribes and culture in books, but it’s just as important to hear from local tribes and for them to come and share their story.
After the assembly, students said they enjoyed the music and dancing and learning about wampum, corn husk dolls, and how the Indigenous people used every part of the animal and did not waste ― for example, a deer could provide meat and clothing and antlers could be used as tools for crops ― and made wampum.
“I liked how creative they were,” said fifth grade student Mishti McDonald. “They used what they had.”
Fifth graders Landon and Blake Phaiah, 10-year-old twins, said they enjoyed the assembly. Landon said he particularly liked the stories Eichelberg shared, and Blake‘s favorite part of the assembly was how Eichelberg used a wood drum for the music.
“It was really cool,” fifth grader Julian Gianacoplos, 11, said of the assembly. Julian is doing a book project about Native Americans and said it was cool to learn about them.
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