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Native Americans take time to share heritage

Chambersburg's Heritage Center hosts Native American Indian Heritage Day

Chambersburg's Heritage Center hosts Native American Indian Heritage Day

November 24, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Thanksgiving is the day Americans recall the feast celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth four centuries ago, but their survival and that of many other colonists depended in large measure on the generosity of the Indians who helped them adapt to an unfamiliar environment.

As thousands of Franklin Countians explored the shopping malls on Black Friday, some parents instead took their children to the Heritage Center on Memorial Square for Native American Indian Heritage Day.

The Delaware, Tuscarora and Susquehanna Indians inhabited this part of the country, Gene Niswander of St. Thomas, Pa., told visitors Lester and Phyllis Rotz of Chambersburg. An Indian artifact collector and historian, Niswander explained to them and others the long history of Native Americans in the region, dating to the Paleolithic Period some 10,000 years ago and the Woodland Period, which began about 4,000 years ago.

Niswander and his wife Connie, who is part Cherokee, brought with them part of their collection of artifacts discovered in the area - arrowheads, tomahawks, pipes and stone drills among them. Many of the artifacts are made from riolite, a stone quarried locally, but other materials such as black flint from Delaware and quartz from Virginia also can be found, he said.

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"My wife and I go around to different schools and colleges and museums" demonstrating for students and others how Native Americans lived. Niswander takes people to Indian sites in the area to find their own artifacts, he said.

In the center's conference room, children strung beads and did other crafts while sampling jerky, nuts and other Indian snacks. Lara Monroe helped her 4-year-old daughter, Aiyana, make a covered wagon.

"We're always trying to implement something at the Heritage Center that brings in kids," said Jeanne Newvine, the center's coordinator. November is National American Indian Heritage Month and schools were closed Friday, making it an opportune time for Friday's event, she said.

Elizabeth Rule, 16, and her sister, Kathryn, 12, of Shippensburg, Pa., performed traditional dances for visitors, in the end leading a group of mostly children on a friendship dance through the center.

The sisters, who share Chickasaw ancestry, each performed a pair of dances.

"It's just to show pride and beauty and grace," Elizabeth said of the Southern Women's Cloth dance. Kathryn's Women's Fancy Shawl dance is meant to emulate a butterfly, the younger sister said.

Elizabeth has performed at a number of Powwows, placing at the National Powwow in Washington, D.C., in August, said her mother, Michele. They also perform in schools to raise awareness of Native American culture.

"Native Americans are here," Michele Rule said. "They're not just part of the past."

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