Soboba Tribal Preschool celebrates Native American Heritage Week

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Aiden Bentiste, a kindergartner at Soboba Tribal Preschool, makes pottery with the online assistance of Antonia Venegas, seen on iPad, during Native American Heritage Week studies. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Native American Day is celebrated across the United States and in lieu of Columbus Day in California and Nevada on the fourth Friday in September, but in South Dakota and Wisconsin, it falls on the second Monday of October. Soboba Tribal Preschool teachers used this event as a teaching tool for an entire week.

Dianne King, director of Soboba Tribal Preschool, said the children enjoy making crafts and necklaces to wear for the event. This year, the school is distance learning.

“During a normal school year, we explain how these activities were used by their ancestors, such as pottery-making, beading, cooking and other Native traditions,” King said. “With our distance-learning program, we sent the crafts home for the students with their weekly homework packets. This opens up an opportunity for each parent or grandparent to share their knowledge of Native history with their child in addition to the instruction from the teacher. It should be a great talking point for the whole family.”

Clover Swan puts beads on her necklace as one of many activities that Soboba Tribal Preschool students did at home during Native American Heritage Week studies. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo
Eli Pineda makes a dreamcatcher; it was one of several at-home activities that Soboba Tribal Preschool students could complete for Native American Heritage Week. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

The “Twos” classroom activities were created by teachers Anita Gutierrez and Lenora Mojado. One was the Little Bugs beading necklaces where the child takes a bead and puts it on a string which helps with fine motor skills to strengthen the small muscles in their hands. Another craft was making a small clay pot.

“We could not get into much detail of their Luiseño Native traditions like making baskets or picking out a gourd and making a rattle, but we did simple projects for the 2-year-olds to make and learn about other Native cultures and traditions,” Gutierrez said. “As a teacher at the preschool for five years, the curriculum was developed throughout previous years. I was always in charge of the pottery clay, and Ms. Lenora, my co-teacher, was a part of the necklace beading. She has been at the preschool for two years and is a tribal member from the Soboba (Band of Luiseño Indians).”

Both teachers said that it is great teaching their students about different cultures while learning more about their own.

For the 3-year-old preschoolers, teachers Ana Garcia and Melissa Arviso sent home materials for children to create their own dream catcher, make small pots with modeling clay and complete a sand art project.

“As teachers, we had to get creative and come up with age-appropriate curriculum,” Garcia said. “Normally, we would concentrate on California Natives, but this year Ms. Melissa got creative and involved tribal customs from around the entire country.”

Clementine Swan shows her “Native Self Portrait” which was part of the at-home activities during distance learning classes at Soboba Tribal Preschool. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo
Shay Razon, student at Soboba Tribal Preschool shows his native self-portrait that he made for Native American Heritage Week during at-home distance learning. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

Prekindergarten students made a dream catcher by coloring and lacing a mini-paper plate and adding feathers to the bottom of it. Teachers Amanda Vallin and Denise Acedo also provided modeling clay for the children to make their own pots and three coloring pages with Luiseño words of an eagle, turtle and bear.

“We have two Native stories we read and uploaded to a video for the children to watch,” Vallin said. “We are trying to work on teaching the children more of their Luiseño language this year by including it in their learning of basic words based on the classroom’s weekly theme, colors, shapes and numbers. We also try to incorporate Native American music and dancing.”

Kindergarten teacher Cindy Lee said the online teaching format led her and instructional aide Antonia Venegas to rethink all the activities they would normally offer at this time.

“Usually we do crafts, stories and games,” she said. “This year, we did three crafts, one game and Ms. Antonia’s sons came in to rattle for bird singing. The three crafts were a clay pinch pot, dream catcher and a woven round basket. We picked activities that represented several Native American tribes or were common among them.”

Lee said dream catchers have different origins, and she shared one during class time that was from the Lakota Tribe. She said clay was used to make pottery by many tribes but mostly woodland Native Americans. It is also a natural resource that Natives could easily find and use. She said the children used paper to make their baskets as weaving baskets is a long-held tradition among the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.