Fort Mill Times

GHESclass gets authentic visitor

Monty Branham, a member of the Catawba Nation, speaks to Rebecca Benvenuto's class at Gold Hill Elementary School.
Monty Branham, a member of the Catawba Nation, speaks to Rebecca Benvenuto's class at Gold Hill Elementary School.

Rebecca Benvenuto's first grade class at Gold Hill Elementary School has been studying cultures and traditions.

Recently, they received an authentic lesson they are not likely to forget about Native American culture. Monty Branham, a member of the Catawba Nation, gave the class a presentation that included drums, flutes, handmade pottery, chants and dances.

"The kids were all on edge listening to him," Benvenuto said. "Having everything be hands on was really great for the kids- and to have a visual, for this age group, is priceless."

For about an hour and a half, Branham taught the students about Native American instruments, how they are made from all natural materials, and displayed artifacts including buffalo horns and turtle shells, Benvenuto said.

"His storytelling, the oral tradition, is a real gift," Benvenuto said. "That was the one thing that made an impression on (the students)."

Branham taught lessons about diversity and tolerance, and taught them native chants and even a friendship dance, before exhibiting his flute playing to calm the kids down at the end of the lesson, Benvenuto said.

Branham said he was happy to give the presentation.

"It's a great opportunity to educate kids about Native Americans today and let them know we're no different from anyone else. There's a misconception because of what people see on television," Branham said. "On a bigger level, through stories and through the program itself, I really try to educate them about having a sense of values and to appreciate what we actually have today."

Branham said he has been giving educational presentations since 1993.

His stepson, Jay Little is in Benvenuto's class. Branham said many of the values he tries to impart to his son, he shares during the presentations.

"As with most Native people, we appreciate life itself. We appreciate every aspect of life," Branham said. "With nature, being able to see things but also being able to enjoy them is important. We use everything and re-use what we can, kind of like recycling."

Benvenuto said her class is also in the process of putting together care packages for citizens in Haiti, a Caribbean nation that was hit by four hurricanes during the past few months.

She said this was a good opportunity to connect what they learned from Branham with another area they had been studying.

"We learned how Haitians, like many Native American tribes, have a long history of storytelling, making crafts, music and dance," Benvenuto said.

The class is putting together towels, peanut butter, soap and other necessities to send with the military to Haiti.

Benvenuto said she is hoping to expand Branham's presentation in future years so that more students, possibly all of the first grade, could have the chance to hear the lesson.

"The biggest message is diversity," Branham said. "This is a country built on gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge between different groups of people that make up the country."

Branham said the students were interested to learn how to say "thank you" and "your welcome" in his native language, as well as learning his Native Indian name, Win-Dosh-na Ki Itok-su.

"It means The Hawk Warrior," he said. "But most people just call me 'Hawk.' "