Dixfield students get a chance to learn about Native Americans.
Dixfield

The sounds of a hauntingly beautiful love song came from the flute played by Jesse Redhorse as dozens of Dirigo High School students listened intently.

Playing that flute and that song was a young Blackfoot man’s way of finding a wife, a tradition that continued until the 1930s.

He would enter a friendly, neighboring village, sit down, then start playing the flute, originally made from the thigh bone of a buffalo. If all worked out well, he would attract a woman he wanted as his mate.

Redhorse, part Blackfoot Native American, and part Irish American, brought some of the culture and traditions of the western American tribe to several classes at Dirigo High School this week.

English teacher Charlie Maddaus, one of the people responsible for bringing Redhorse and his wife, Linda, to the school, said he wants to expose students to as many different cultures as possible.

Along with DHS, the appearance was sponsored by the One Maine initiative and the local healthy communities coalition.

Redhorse and his wife travel to powwows, schools and concert venues to speak about Native American traditions, artifacts and spirituality.

It wasn’t until he was 12 and his grandmother moved in with his family that he learned about his Native American heritage, and not for another 25 years after bouts with drug and alcohol abuse, did he begin to dig into his Native American roots.

He explained about the use of the peace pipe and its role in trying to establish treaties with the white man, that tobacco wasn’t smoked, but used as a trading commodity.

And alcohol devastated Native American reservations.

At one time, he said, reservations had a 72 percent alcoholism rate. That has now dropped to 20 percent.

Other things have changed, as well.

Men were the only ones allowed to play the flute because it was believed that women could take the power away from the instrument if she touched it. Now, women learn to play the flute as well.

He explained the messages behind the beading on war shirts, leggings and other Native American attire. A beaded cross means the wearer is a spiritual leader. Certain beaded squares indicate mixed blood, of Native Americans and Europeans.

“Peace bonnets could be seen for miles,” he said of the red feather headdress. “If the man wearing the bonnet was killed, bad things would happen to the tribe responsible.”

Redhorse said he leads 25 educational sessions a year.

“We’re trying to build bridges between cultures,” he said.


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