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CKSD celebrates Native American heritage
Jessica and Janessa VonScheele, seniors at Klahowya Secondary School, may be overlooked as being twins because they are not identical. Often times they say their heritage also can be.
"Not a lot of people know that the people sitting right next to you are Native American," said Jessica VonScheele. The sisters are Alutiiq eskimos.
The Central Kitsap School District hosted Native American Heritage Night Thursday — a first for the district — in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. Students, parents, faculty and other community members came together and watched performances including traditional drumming and jingle dancing as well as made fry bread and dream catchers.
Although the number of the district's Native American and Alaskan Native students is small, it's just as important to celebrate and teach others about the cultures, students and event organizers said.
The event was funded by the Suquamish Tribe.
According to enrollment numbers from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for October 2010, 0.7 percent of students were American Indian or Alaskan Native in the Central Kitsap School District. Statewide for the same time period, there were 1.7 percent students that fell in that category.
"When you're only 1 percent, it's nice to share the culture," said Kathy Payne, the district's Native American Education Program liaison.
The education program is funded through federal grant money received to go toward tutoring and a summer camp for Native American students, said Payne. The district receives $200 for each eligible student. Students are eligible if they or a parent or grandparent are an enrolled member of a federally registered tribe. Payne said currently there are about 120 students in both the primary and secondary schools that are eligible and receive academic tutoring.
However, not all students need the academic assistance. Jessica and Janessa VonScheele said they are not part of the group that receives tutoring, but they stay active in Klahowya's Native American club. They helped found the club, which has about 20 members, to increase awareness of their eskimo culture and hopefully eliminate stereotypes of other students. The sisters said they have also learned more about their own heritage as a result.
The Alutiiq, from Kodiak, Alaska, are a very artistic tribe, Jessica said, adding that they have learned that intricate masks carved out of wood are thrown into fires for ceremonies.
Being part of the school's club and involved in activities such as Thursday's event are important, the sisters said.
"It gets people more into their heritage," said Janessa. She added that they have been able to teach younger students about their culture at Jackson Park Elementary School.
Angelia Nockai, of Colville and Navajo heritage, performed the jingle dancing at Thursday's event. During the month she will visit most of the elementary schools for presentations, said Payne.
Aside from Klahowya, Central Kitsap High School and Fairview Junior High School also have native clubs.
Nathan Connell, a senior at Central Kitsap High School, who is Cherokee as well as Italian and Scottish, said embracing culture is important because it essentially makes up who people are.
"Being Native American isn't just about what you look like," he said.