Steamboat Springs Holding hands around a Thanksgiving feast of sliced apples, popcorn and pumpkin bread Tuesday, Soda Creek Elementary School kindergartners counted to three and, in unison, said what they are thankful for.
Some said "toys." Others said "friends." But they all added "family" to the list after their teacher, Sharon Clementson, said that was what she was most thankful for.
"We are celebrating a time when pilgrims and Indians sat as a group and said they were thankful for all they had," Clementson said. The students proceeded to chow down on their snack, which was the culmination of almost a month of lessons about American Indian culture and diversity.
"We teach them that people are different and that people did things different a long time ago," Clementson said. "It's OK to be different, and some kids don't know that Native American culture still exists. They drive cars, live in houses just like their moms and dads do, but many still honor their heritage."
Soda Creek kindergartners welcomed Yampatika naturalist Elaine Sturges to class Nov. 6 for a lesson on the Yampatika Utes, who used to inhabit the areas around present-day Steamboat Springs.
"My basic message was what kind of foods the Yampatika Utes ate, what kind of clothes would boys and girls wear," Sturges said. She also taught the kindergartners a predator game Ute children used to practice stalking the animals they hunted for food.
Sturges also wore a handmade deer-hide dress - a replica of the wedding dress from the movie "Dances with Wolves" - during her visit to Soda Creek.
"The children probably had the most questions about the dress than anything else," she said. "How it was made and where did the beads come from. They had a lot of questions in general, and I hope they took a little bit something out of the lesson."
Thanksgiving lessons traditionally have focused on the story of pilgrims and American Indians, but Sturges hopes the story of the Yampatika Utes inspires students to learn a little bit more about the people who helped shape this region.
"They were our first inhabitants," she said. "The students can close their eyes and go back to a place before there were streets, cars or supermarkets to a place where the hot springs were considered sacred."
Before Tuesday's snack, Kevin Kaster sat at his desk and carefully glued feathers to an intricately designed American Indian headband as his classmates gathered to hear the story "The Night Before Thanksgiving."
Moments later, he joined his classmates in line for their holiday snack. To ensure there were no delays in enjoying the delicious spread, fellow kindergartner Liam Baxter leaned over and shushed those talking idly about the food to come.
"We have to use our manners," Liam said. "We are going to a big feast."
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