Teaching Tradition: Building traditional dwelling teaches Epic students Shawnee Absentee tribal culture

by ENN Staff

Writing and photo contributors:  Georgia Arneson, Noah Baxter, Eternal Bell, Estella Bethards, Declan Buckner, Kyra Burrup, Renae Collins, Coen Conrad, Evie Farnsworth,  Ricardo Gonzalez, Immanuel Kelley, Aniyah Robinson, Alex Rankin and Chloe Thomas.

How much do you know about Native American culture?  Would you be surprised to know there are more than 500 Native American tribes, yet all of them are different with unique attributes and structures? 

Andy Warrior with the Shawnee Absentee Tribe of Oklahoma came to Epic Charter Schools courtesy of the district‘s Native American Programs to teach students about the diversity of tribes — and he did it by building a traditional dwelling.

“[The dwelling] is just one component of the uniqueness tribes have,” Warrior said.  “If I were to assume that all White people are the same, they’ll be the first to tell me, no, I’m Italian, I’m French and German, I’m Irish. That’s my descendants. That’s my uniqueness. Well in the same way, as Native Americans, we’re not all the same.”

As the Shawnee Absentee people moved into Oklahoma, they had to adapt to the resources and materials that were available — post oak grew straight; blackjack held heat to burn; willow branches were flexible to bend. The dwelling Warrior constructed on the front lawn of the Epic Logan Building was an example of adapting to use resources. Warrior said this “simple brush-up” would have been covered in willow branches and used on the hot Oklahoma days.  

“During the summer months, they would sleep out here,” Warrior said. “They had visitors. They would congregate under the dwelling like this, because it provided shade in a cooler atmosphere compared to the inside of their log cabin.” 

Warrior said this presentation to Epic students and building the Native American structure could open students’ eyes and expose them to a whole new world.

“We’re not all the same,” Warrior said.  “We’re similar to some tribes, but we have our uniqueness.”

Photo Caption: Andy Warrior of the Shawnee Absentee Tribe shows Epic students how to construct a traditional pergola structure. The tribe learned to adapt to the area’s available resources after its forced removal to present-day Oklahoma. (Photo Provided)

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