RSIC artists, language department aim to increase cultural awareness
Spanish Springs, Nev. – This year, students at Jesse Hall Elementary School have enjoyed a new mural painted inside their school and on Wednesday, Nov. 6, the local artists will be honored during a school assembly.
Entitled “Leading the Three Nations into Our Future” the mural was designed and painted by Steve Nighthawk and his assistant, Steven “Jake” Moody. Both are members of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC).
“This mural has enhanced and improved our school climate and peer relationships of all the students in attendance at Jesse Hall,” said David Keller, principal at Jesse Hall. “We hope it will improve the academic success of our entire student body.”
The 20 feet by 10 feet, mural depicts major geographical sites that are culturally and spiritually significant to the over 90 Native Americans who attend Jesse Hall. Mount Rose, Mt. Peavine, and the Slide Mountain range are featured along with Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake which are connected by the Truckee River. The mural emphasizes a circular connection, which includes people, animals, and plants. The people in the mural include a Native graduate, a Native professional and a Native firefighter along with two young traditional dancers.
Besides lending a colorful flare to the school, the mural acts as an educational tool for students, staff and faculty. It depicts the challenges that the RSIC and other tribal communities face, raising children in two worlds.
“Tribal communities strive to maintain cultural identity, traditional knowledge, histories, and languages,” said Kellie Harry, language coordinator for RSIC. “This isn’t always easy for our students as they work toward academic success.”
According to Harry, empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that American Indian students who are grounded in their language and culture achieve higher academically. She said that language and culture revitalization efforts are fundamental to the sustainability of tribal sovereignty.
In the Washoe County School District, the 2012 graduation rate of American Indian students is 53 percent. However, Native students from the RSIC graduated at a rate of 79 percent, while non-Indians graduated at a rate of 69 percent.
Harry said that the mural will promote a positive cultural identity for American Indian students which can help raise the graduation rates for Washoe County School District.
“In an age of diversity, the mural’s purpose is to instill pride in the American Indian youth,” Harry said. “It will educate others through imagery by depicting real and accurate images.”
In addition, the faculty can access a culturally sensitive and accurate curriculum that includes informational history, stories, and lessons to enhance their lessons or incorporate the mural into class discussions.