Helen Frost and Dani Tippmann have been talking and teaching about the Miami Indian culture together for so long now, they almost know exactly what the other will say.
The pair dropped into Miami Middle School, 8100 Amherst Drive, on a recent chilly December morning to teach the school’s sixth graders about Frost’s recent book, and a little about the Miami culture, too.
As about 60 kids gathered in the school’s cavernous choir room, Frost and Tippman gave an hour-long presentation on Frost’s book, “Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War.”
The ladies not only talked about what was in Frost’s book, but displayed some Myaamia (Miami) artifacts, as well.
“This,” Frost lectured, as she held up an animal bone, “is a buffalo shoulder blade. Miami Indians would use this for digging in the dirt, and for scraping hides they were preparing.”
Then, Tippmann, Director of the Whitley County Historical Museum, showed the students a pair of deer antlers that had been shed. As she banged the antlers together – creating a staccato knocking sound – she explained that this was how Miami hunters attracted other wild deer.
Tippman passed them around, letting each student have a chance to touch them, but instructing them to use the Miami word for thank you (“nay-weh”) when their neighbor gave them the antlers.
The students had plenty of questions for the pair, as well, when the floor was opened. Numerous hands shot in the air, everyone eager to ask their own queries.
“What inspired you to write this book?” one student asked. “How long did it take you?” another said. “My grandfather is part Cherokee. How are they related to the Miami?” another wanted to know.
But the main focus of the morning’s talk was Frost’s book, a volume the entire Miami Middle School sixth grade had read this year in their language arts classes.
“We just thought this would be a great opportunity for the kids to learn more about the history of their city after reading the book,” said Teri Whitlock, Miami Middle School’s School Improvement Liaison.
Frost’s book was published in 2013 and has been a success around the country, even earning what Frost said was her favorite accolade, a glowing review in a native Miami Indian newspaper.
The duo has given presentations on Miami culture all around the Midwest, from several spots in Fort Wayne, to Indianapolis, to Oklahoma and Kansas, as well.
The morning assembly was just the start of the day for the ladies. Frost and Tippmann also repeated their presentation twice in the afternoon, and again in the evening at 5:30, in an appearance that was open to all the Miami Middle School families, folks from a few local churches, and families from Miami’s feeder schools, Maplewood, Waynedale, and Scott elementary schools.
Frost noted that her presentations are about more than just promoting and teaching the lessons in her book. It is about connecting kids to the Miami culture that remains all around them in Fort Wayne.
“This is important,” Frost said, “because children should know that we’re still around here.”