SPRING HILL — The bowl of corn mush remained mostly full; only a few potlatch attendees broke the food's surface to bravely scoop out a taste. The bison stew fared better, but the hottest choices were the popcorn and corn on the cob.
Corn did seem to be prominently featured on the menu during Wider Horizons School's second- and third-grade potlatch, because maize was a staple to American Indians. A potlatch is an American Indian festival, and it was celebrated at the school as part of the classes' cultural studies.
Beginning in August, students were introduced to Cherokees, Pueblo people, pilgrims and the Ojibwa by second- and third-grade head teacher Theresa Urbanek, assisted by co-teacher Mary Mussselman. The children wrote papers and investigated American Indian culture — foods, clothing, arts, shelter, defense and an introduction to each group. They made slingshots.
The third-grade tribe, the Northwest, invited the second-grade tribe, the Southeast, to a harvest potlatch. Besides the mush and stew, popcorn and corn on the cob, the menu had beef jerky, unshelled peanuts, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries.
The two groups chose their own chiefs. Brandon Small, 9, was the third-grade chief; Christian Jones was chief for second grade. Chief Small welcomed his tribe's visitors.
The entertainment was a shawl dance done by the girls from both grades, while third-grader Jayden Marques played a drum. The boys were dressed in decorated vests, and the girls in flowing capes, some bearing cradleboards holding baby dolls.
Settled at tables, munching on their feast, some children shared what they have learned about American Indians or what they enjoyed about the potlatch.
"The interesting thing is that I love the shawl dance," said second-grader Jaidan Prickett, 8. "I would stare at it, and the chief was really, really good, and so was the visiting chief, and they spoke loud and they spoke clear, and I really liked them."
Second-grader Jacob Small, 8, said "I learned that this is what kind of food they eat."
He liked the food well enough, but admitted that if he had to eat that way all the time, he would miss pizza.
Second-grader Robert Teeters, 7, said his teachers wanted the students to learn about American Indians, "because, if we didn't know about them, we couldn't do this. We wouldn't know what kind of food (to eat)."
Third-grader Lauren McClelland, 8, mused similarly: "So you can learn more about them, so you can eat the type of food they used to grow."
Second-graders Makena Jorgensen, 7, and Lorelei Cherch, 7, mentioned the things they learned.
"They have different kinds of designs," said Makena.
"I learned they grow many kinds of plants," Lorelei said.
Angie Thomas, 7, simplified the reason to study American Indian culture.
"So you can know what they did," she said.