Unearthing the truth about Native American history

January 08, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


After a lifetime of hunting Indian artifacts, West Virginia native and former schoolteacher Joe Gambino has come to know a thing or two about Native American culture and society.

The thing that stands out most of all, the Berkeley County resident said, is how little Americans actually know about them and how much of what they know bears so little a resemblance to the truth.

"What most people know about Native Americans comes from movies and television," Gambino said. "If you ask most people, they will consider the Native Americans to be blood-thirsty savages."

In fact, Gambino said, they had a much more hands-on approach to parenting, an inventive spirit, were more-than capable craftsmen and lived in harmony with the land.


"They had such a wonderful rapport with nature," Gambino said. "They destroyed nothing. They wasted nothing."

As part of the Discovery Station at Hagerstown's monthly Saturday Plus program, Gambino shared his knowledge of Native American culture and brought with him a long table full of artifacts he has gathered on his travels, including a hand knife carved out of calcite, a 10,000-year-old limestone arrowhead and an intricately carved squall knife made from the root of an ironwood tree used to prepare foods.

Also among his collection were several Apache tears, which are black stones of obsidian carved to symbolize the lives of Apache braves who flung themselves off cliffs in the 1860s instead of being taken captive by the U.S. Cavalry.

Gambino lamented in the limited roles Native Americans have been relegated to in modern society.

"It upsets me to see the condition of the reservations and what the Native Americans are allowed to do," Gambino said. "We need a greater understanding between the various cultures of the tribes of the Native Americans."

Hagerstown resident Peggy Rohr said she and her family recently became members of Discovery Station, and brought her children to the presentation because her older son, Joe, has been learning about the subject at school.

"He's learning about Native Americans, and Native American history, this year, so I thought it would be a good idea," Rohr said. "I enjoyed it. I thought it was very informative."

Joe Rohr knew quite a bit about the subject going into the presentation, and noted Antietam Creek is among several locations in the region where Native American artifacts still can be found.

"I liked looking at the arrowheads," said Joe Rohr, 9.

Following the presentation, Gambino said after a lifetime of amassing trinkets and knowledge about Native American culture, he has sought through the presentations to share what he can with those who are interested in the subject.

"I'm willing to share with people. That's the reason I do this. It's my way of giving back," Gambino said. "I hope that they have a better understanding of what Native Americans are compared with how they are portrayed in the movies."

For more information about Discovery Station programming, call 301-790-0076 or go to

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