Rabbits, respect and reservations

Nov. 26, 2003, midnight | By Katherine Zhang | 20 years, 6 months ago

Native American Blazers reveal their cultures

Sophomore Sheena Campbell smiles as she reveals the details about her heritage. She describes the respect for animals and nature, the rituals and dances, the medicines and foods and the traditions and legends. With light blonde hair and an easygoing smile, Campbell does not stand out in any way among fellow classmates. However, she belongs to a group that is a vast minority at Blair; she is part Native American.

Campbell is one of a handful of Native American students that currently attend Blair. According to the MCPS website, Native American students represented a total of 0.3 percent of the 138,891 students that attended public school in Montgomery County in the 2002-2003 school year.

Sophomore Shane Campbell, Sheena Campbell's twin, says that most of the time his classmates don't realize that he is part Cherokee. "Because of my skin color, I look [more] white than I look Cherokee," he states.

Freshman Gabriel Fonte is part Apache, a Native American tribe that lives in the southwestern United States. Although he does not observe any Apache holidays or traditions, Fonte is interested in the culture. "[It's a] big part of my life, big part of my ancestors," he says. "I'm interested in how they lived."

Being part of such a minority group has greatly affected Sheena Campbell. Although she is part white, Sheena Campbell often identifies herself with her Native American culture, something those around her do not always understand. She recalls the time in middle school when she checked Native American for race on a test, and her teacher looked at her "strangely."

In high school, the confusion continued. "I was put in an ESOL class last year because they knew I was Native American, and they thought I didn't speak English," Sheena Campbell recalls. "It does make me mad because you shouldn't judge people by their cultures," she asserts. "It affects me a lot."

The misunderstandings don't stop her from loving her heritage, however. She greatly enjoys learning about her culture from her Cherokee grandmother. "She's a shaman," she says fondly. "That's a medicine woman or medicine man." According to Sheena Campbell, her grandmother tells her Cherokee legends and teaches her about plants and medicines. "She shows us how to make medicine from the plants in our front yard," she states, describing a tea made with leaves her grandmother prepares to cure a sore throat. "It doesn't taste very good, but it'll help," she laughs.

Sheena Campbell's family keeps other Cherokee traditions and beliefs, too. "We believe that all animals should be treated with respect," she reveals, explaining that it is customary to pray to God before killing an animal. "We would tell lots of stories, like how the earth was created," she adds. In addition, she performs rituals and dances such as the sun dance and the rain dance.

Native American Blazers also love the traditional foods from their cultures. Fonte enjoys the food his Apache mother prepares. "My mom makes Native American food from [what] her grandmother told her," Fonte reveals. "It's been passed down." He especially loves a corn-based dessert.

Sheena and Shane Campbell, too, have favorite Native American foods. Shane Campbell is partial to deer, cooked and prepared with sauces, spices and herbs, while Sheena Campbell also likes rabbits and buffalo. "It's really good," she says.

In addition to keeping Native American customs, Sheena Campbell also tries to share her culture with friends. "I bring in things that I make," she says, describing a vest she once made out of deerskin. "I showed it to [my friends], and they thought it was really neat."

Sheena Campbell only wishes that there were more Cherokees in the area. "I love my heritage, but in school sometimes I feel left out because there's not many Indians," she asserts.

For Shane Campbell, his Cherokee heritage has another impact on his life. "I…came from a royal tribe," he says. "I'm one of the princes." According to Shane Campbell, his great-grandfather was a Cherokee chief, a position that his uncle now holds and that one day he will be eligible to accept. Shane Campbell says that his tribe lives on a reservation in West Virginia, and he has a Cherokee name, Blue Light. However, he has not yet decided if becoming the leader of a tribe is what he wants. "It's too much responsibility after I become king," he concludes. "I have to stay on the reservation." Although he says he is eligible to become king, he is under no obligation to do so. "You can choose to step down," he says. "It's your choice."

Overall, the Campbells appreciate their Cherokee heritage. "It makes me feel good," Shane Campbell says. Sheena Campbell agrees, saying, "I love it. I really do love it."

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Katherine Zhang. Katherine Zhang likes French baguettes, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, bookmarks, fresh boxes of rosin, Brad Meltzer novels, and of course, "JAG." In her free time, Katherine enjoys knitting, playing the violin, and reading - especially legal thrillers and books about people in faraway places and long-ago times. … More »

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