Beaufort County students treated to drums, dances, stories from Lakotas

In the middle of a school gym, four men surround a drum, chanting in harmony with the humming beat while elementary school students watch in awe.

The men are members of the Oglala Lakota tribe. They traveled from reservations in South Dakota to talk to Beaufort County students last week about their history, culture and way of life.

At first, the lower-school students at Hilton Head Prep were interested in the drum.

"How is it made?" one asks.

The hides of elk, buffalo or deer are cleaned, stretched and sewn over a hollowed-out tree trunk, then left in the sun to tighten.

But after the presentation, which included traditional dances and stories, students said other details stood out.

Fifth-grader Sophia Nimmer said she didn't know the history of reservations -- that they were lands designated for American Indians by the U.S. government, for example.

The Lakotas performed two presentations at Hilton Head Prep -- one for upper-school and one for lower-school students -- before heading to Beaufort Academy.

Students at both schools said they liked the dances the most.

Hilton Head Prep third-grader Lily Perez was drawn to the bright colors and noisy chimes worn by two young girls who demonstrated traditional Lakota dances.

Beaufort Academy senior Laura Roddey said she learned that the tiny hops and quick movements mostly tell stories of battle or war preparations.

Teachers at both schools said they thought students would gain from firsthand experience with another culture. Before, American Indians were just a part of their history textbooks.

David Byrne, Beaufort Academy social studies teacher, said he hoped his high school students would take the opportunity to look at U.S. history differently.

"It was an outstanding time to look critically at our country and our country's past and our dealings with the Native Americans," he said. "It's a side of history that isn't always told."

Prep teacher Krista Hannah said that even her kindergartners benefited from the brush with a different culture. She planned to talk with them about the Lakota tribes' home and study some of their important symbols, since the students had just finished lessons on U.S. symbols like the flag and the bald eagle.

The lessons seemed to be sinking in.

"(The presentation) makes you take into account that it's actually a way of life," Beaufort Academy sophomore Jacob Hincher said. "It's not really words on a piece of paper. It's really how people live."