Bringing Myaamia Art to the Classroom

Co-authored by Kristina Fox and Dr. Stephanie Danker

Myaamia Ribbonwork is one of the best known examples of revitalized Myaamia artwork. Over the course of several years, a team of people researched examples of ribbonwork and created peepankišaapiikahkia eehkwaatamenki: Myaamia Ribbonwork. Along with the publication, workshops were held for the Myaamia community. As is common in teaching, a new activity emerged: a ribbonwork inspired bookmark. Karen Baldwin, Bobbe Burke, and Kara Strass developed the bookmark activity to simulate the layering and visual design created by the geometric patterns found in ribbonwork that would be useful in a number of educational spaces.

Students in a circle holding out completed ribbonwork inspired bookmarks
Fourth graders showing off their ribbonwork-inspired bookmark craft. Photo credit: Maria Jose DeSantiago Galan

One of those educational spaces is the K-12 classroom. Since 2017, over 1,000 fourth and sixth grade students in the Oxford-Cincinnati, Ohio area have had the opportunity to learn about Myaamia people and ribbonwork.

How It Started

In 2017, Stephanie Danker reached out to the Myaamia Center about ways to specifically collaborate with the junior-level ART 395 Art Across the Curriculum course. This course is part of the art education program which prepares preservice art educators to gain K-12 teaching licensure in Ohio. However, Stephanie recognized gaps in the program: there was little emphasis on how to teach about a culture that is not one’s own and how to discuss contemporary Indigenous art. She wanted perservice students to have experience developing relationships with Myaamia people and collaborating on lessons to teach about a few aspects of culture that the Myaamia community identified. As part of these lessons, the difference between cultural appreciation (learning about another culture to expand your own understanding of it) and cultural appropriation (taking an aspect of a culture that is not your own for your own interest) is emphasized.

A group of people looking at the camera
In Fall 2018, Miami University’s College of Creative Arts funded a day-long workshop on Myaamia culture and imagery that was facilitated by Myaamia educators. Art Across the Curriculum students, art education students from the University of Illinois, three art education faculty, two local fourth grade teachers, two doctoral students in educational leadership, a science education professor, art museum educator and chair of the Department of Art were able to attend and deepen their knowledge about Myaamia people.

In Ohio, state learning standards for fourth grade include learning about the Native peoples who called the land that is now Ohio home. The pilot Myaamia lessons were created and taught in Fall 2017 at Kramer Elementary in Oxford, Ohio. The following school year, the lessons expanded to include all fourth graders in the local school district: Kramer, Bogan, and Marshall Elementaries.

What They Do

Each fall, ART 395 preservice students spend half of their semester (about eight weeks) preparing to deliver two lessons and reflecting on their experiences. This time is spent learning from and collaborating with staff from the Myaamia Center. Experts from the Myaamia Center share their knowledge on the history of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and contemporary Myaamia people as well as Myaamia ribbonwork and the ribbonwork inspired bookmark craft. One highlight of these visits is a demonstration of how ribbonwork is created from Karen Baldwin.

Two university students teaching a group of fourth graders
Preservice students Cas Napier (left) and Zania Hasty (right) introducing Myaamia culture and imagery to a class of fourth graders, October 2019. Photo credit: Stephanie Danker

The preservice students then use this knowledge to work with their peers and Myaamia Center staff to develop two lessons. The first lesson is a background lesson where the students learn about Myaamia people, the history of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, and are introduced to Myaamia Ribbonwork. In the second lesson, students review what they learned in the previous lesson before engaging with the ribbonwork inspired bookmark activity. Not only does the bookmark enrich the students’ learning about ribbonwork, they are also engaged in a discussion about art concepts and appropriation.

Since 2017, the Myaamia lessons have been consistently taught every fall by the Art Across the Curriculum class and each cohort of preservice teachers has had the opportunity to make the lessons their own.

Embracing Change

The 2020 and 2021 cohorts of preservice students faced a new challenge: teaching virtually. They now had to incorporate technology in a way that previous cohorts did not. How do they teach lessons without being in the classroom? How do students create their bookmarks? In some cases, the preservice students and classroom teachers worked together to have the lessons over Zoom. In other cases, the lessons were pre-recorded. In all situations, the preservice students rose to the challenge and we all learned how frustrating and rewarding changing our teaching techniques can be.

The 2021 cohort also had a new opportunity as another school asked to be included in the lesson planning: Fairview-Clifton German Language School in Cincinnati, Ohio. This cohort of preservice students taught fourth and sixth grade students! This brings a new challenge for fall 2023 since the new class of sixth graders will have experienced the Myaamia lessons as fourth graders in 2021. The sixth graders this fall learned about a few contemporary Myaamia artists, including Scott Shoemaker, Eugene Brown and Megan Sekulich. They were able to see their work in person when the entire sixth grade class came to Miami University Art Museum for a field trip on November 7, 2022. Art education students served as gallery facilitators.

A group of people in front of a school
Myaamia Center staff, fall 2021 ART 395 students, and Fairview-Clifton German Language school staff in front of the school. Photo by Stephanie Danker

Most recently, the fall 2022 cohort of preservice teachers have taken on another group of learners. Miami University’s King Library houses a MakerSpace and the ART 395 students were tasked with creating a learning module about Myaamia culture that paired with a MakerSpace activity. Sarah Nagle and Stefanie Hilles from University Libraries partnered with us for this work. The MakerSpace event took place on November 10, 2022. Additionally, that content was shared with a UNV 101 class from the College of Arts and Science.

It’s not only the students who are embracing the new challenges. In 2020, Kristina Fox, Myaamia Education Coordinator at the Myaamia Center, began regularly working with Stephanie and her students. She has assisted the students with technology integration in their lessons and engaged them in reflecting on the pedagogical decisions they are making. In November 2021, Stephanie was invited to be a faculty affiliate of the Myaamia Center in recognition of the relationship she has built with the Myaamia Center and her dedication to the ongoing development of the Myaamia lessons with her ART 395 students.

Sharing Outside the Classroom

Even though the fourth and sixth graders are on the receiving end of the Myaamia lessons, they are not the only ones learning. The collaboration and preparation the ART 395 preservice students put into the lessons leave a lasting impact on many of them. Many of these students give presentations on their experience, take the lessons into their own classrooms, and mentor following cohorts of ART 395 students.

In January 2019, four Art Across the Curriculum students were fortunate to attend the Miami Tribe’s Winter Gathering in Oklahoma which extended their experiential learning after teaching the Myaamia lessons in the previous semester. Those students were: Shianne Baldwin, Maria DeSantiago Galan, Mackenzie Mettey and Cheyenne Wolfenbarger.

Locally, the Fall 2018 Art Across the Curriculum class collectively presented their work to the Talawanda School District – Miami University Partnership committee in Oxford. Maria DeSantiago Galan and Mackenzie Mettey presented as part of a ​​university-wide panel on “Integrating Experiential Learning in the Curriculum,” about their action research work with Myaamia curriculum at the Miami University Research Forum in April 2019. They also discussed their work in a presentation entitled, “Social Justice through Art Integration” at the Art Educator Preservice Conference in September 2019.

Two university students with their powerpoint during a presentation
Ally McLean (left) and Molly Ensor (right) present about the Myaamia lessons at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference in New York City (March 2022). Photo credit: Stephanie Danker

Several art education students have presented their collaborative work with the Myaamia Center at state and national conferences. In November 2019, Shianne Baldwin and Cheyenne Wolfenbarger presented, “Cultural Representation through Art Education” at the Ohio Art Education Association (OAEA) conference in Columbus, Ohio. Maria DeSantiago Galan and Mackenzie Mettey presented virtually at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their presentation was part of a panel on Future Orientations of Social Justice Research, with their discussion about “Myaamia Culture and Imagery.” In March 2022, Molly Ensor and Ally McLean presented “Educating Students about Native American Art through Cultural Appreciation” at NAEA in New York City. These students received funding support from the Department of Art, College of Creative Arts and Miami University Family Fund. These students are invited and encouraged to mentor younger preservice students about the content and pedagogy. Additionally, Dr. Stephanie Danker has presented about this work consistently at regional and national conferences since 2018, focusing on building reciprocal relationships.

In September 2022, Miami University’s Department of Art hosted neepwaantiinki: learning through imagery. This exhibit represents a collaboration between the Myaamia Center staff and Miami University’s Art Department. Curated by Myaamia student Megan Sekulich with help from Dr. Stephanie Danker and Myaamia Center staff, it showcased ways in which imagery is used to share knowledge with both the university and Myaamia communities. We would like to extend a special neewe ‘thank you’ to Billy Simms, Western Center Coordinator, and Sarah Nagle, Creation and Innovation Services Librarian at Miami University’s King Library Makerspace, for their help in making this exhibit possible.

neepwaantiinki: learning through imagery

  • Bookmarks with geometric patterns inspired by ribbonwork next to a poster featuring a similar design advertising a Myaamia Ribbonwork exhibit
  • A letterpress poster for a Myaamia culture and imagery workshop surrounded by smaller images of people involved in the workshop or subsequent educational work
  • A large poster with annotations connected to a black diamond, white diamond with a red circle in the center, or a red diamond
  • A wall with several posters and images with accompany text panels
  • People looking at a wall displaying pieces related to the relationship between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University
  • University students looking at the exhibit
  • Four people standing in front of an exhibit wall
  • Students looking at the exhibit wall

Images from the opening of the neepwaantiinki: learning through imagery exhibit at Miami University’s Art Building in September 2022. Photos by Jonathan M. Fox

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