Gasps came from the students sitting in the room as Phyllis Stone held up a purse that was made out of a turtle shell and fox pelt.
The purse was made in a traditional Lakota-style and lay next to an assortment of other objects that Native Americans would have had before modernization.
“We made things from whatever was there, and we made them pretty,” Stone, an educator on Lakota culture, told the students.
Stone talked to the students Tuesday during the Native American Festival, an annual event at the Hastings Museum.
She was one of several groups at the museum teaching roughly 250 area kids about Native American heritage. Schools ranged from Hastings Public Schools to Rock Hills Schools in Mankato, Kansas, as well as those who are home-schooled.
Stone told the personal stories of items she had, such as a peace pipe she made from wood and stone.
After her talk, she let the students hold each object and ask questions. Stone said she wants to get kids as close as they can to Native American culture, and physically picking up a piece of history is the best way to do that.
“Kids think, ‘If you’re not touching something, you’re not learning,’ “ Stone said. “I want you to see the real things. I want you to pick something up and look at it.”
In addition to Stone, other stations at the museum focused on various aspects of Native American culture, with a specific emphasis on the Plains Native Americans.
Students in South Central Nebraska have limited access to Native American culture, said Becky Tideman, marketing director at the Hastings Museum.
That’s partially because of the nearest Nebraskan Native American Reservation being in the southeast corner of the state.
“There’s a lot of Native American history in this area, but not a lot of Native Americans,” Tideman said. “The youth in our area who go to school day-to-day and learn about it as history, kind of learn about it as an abstract notion.”
That limited access shouldn’t be an obstacle to learning about Native American culture and history, said Becky Matticks, executive director of the museum.
She said students should have an opportunity to be exposed to Native American culture because it is part of American history.
The Native American Festival offers a more immersive educational opportunity, Matticks said,
“You’re not just reading it out of a book, you’re seeing it,” Matticks said.
Kevin Connywerdy, a Native American artist, taught students how to do featherwork and prepare the feather pieces for a war bonnet.
Using glue and fabric, the students found it difficult to keep the feathers — and their fingers — clean.
“That was tough,” said Micah Bird, a home-schooled eighth-grader.
The war bonnet Connywerdy brought as an example had about 40 feathers and would take about a week to make.
He also explained that a the headdress is worn by people who have proven themselves honorable.
“We don’t let just anybody put it on. You have to earn the right to wear it,” Connywerdy said.
Students also visited visited Injunuity, a Native American flute-centric roots musical group, and the Many Moccasins Dance Troupe.
Nicole Tamayo-Benegas, a powwow princess, also spoke to the students about Native American culture.
On Wednesday evening, Injunuity and Many Moccasins Dance Troupe did a collaborative performance for the second year.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., there will be a screening of “Omónhon Íye The Omaha Speaking” followed by a question-and-answer session with the film’s director, Brigitte Timmerman, and a native Omaha speaker.
The documentary is about how fewer people speak the language of the Omaha Tribe and the challenge of keeping it alive.
The Native American Festival has been going on for 13 years and is supported by grants from Humanities Nebraska.