‘Together, we have come to understand our traditional ways through the revitalization of our arts’

Benjamin Grignon

The Department of Public Education ConnectEd newsletter this week features Wisconsin’s Teachers of the Year, including Benjamin Grignon, a teacher of traditional Menominee crafts at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena, a member of WEAC Region 3, and a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year.

In a column describing his philosophy of teaching, which uses the arts to strengthen connections between students and the Menominee culture, Grignon writes:

Keka͞ehkenohamowōnaw (We all teach): Benjamin Grignon

Neta͞esehcekanenaw (Our way of doing things; Our culture)

Within the Menominee culture, the young are expected to take care of our elders, which can come in the form of making our elders a plate during our gatherings, running errands, or doing chores – to name a few.

The quality of nurturing is ingrained in most of my students. Many of them have responsibilities at home taking care of younger siblings, cousins, even neighbors. They cook, they clean, they help teach our ways to the young, they make sure everyone is safe. My students already have the skills needed to be teachers, they just need opportunities. How do I create opportunities for my students to become teachers? Equity in the classroom.

Nātamowenaq. (Help me). The arts that I am teaching in my classroom are practiced by very few people within our tribe. I know that in order for our arts to survive, my kids need to be able to teach others and share the knowledge. The ultimate goal in my classroom is to create students who are able to carry on our arts and the language and culture that accompanies these arts. Students in my classroom naturally help each other when they have questions. I have noticed that they will seek out someone on their table, then someone they know who is very good at a particular skill, and then finally, ask me if they can’t source the knowledge among their peers. I am looking at helping to foster this. The more chances my students get to teach, the greater pride they have in themselves, our cultural art traditions, and our language.

Keka͞ehkenohamowōnaw. (We all teach). My students are given the opportunity to teach every day. They are proud to be able to share what they have learned with their peers. Ensuring that each of my students is able to help another student requires constant vigilance on my part. I make sure that I am working on the same projects that my students are working on and I move around the room on different days, working with tables of students. I constantly listen for questions that arise and how the students direct their answers. This allows peer-to-peer teaching. I also ask some of my advanced students to teach a project if they are willing.

Kemāmāwohkāma͞eq. (We all work at it together). Over the years, my students have helped me to understand what being Ka͞eyes Mamāceqtāwak (Ancient Movers, now called Menominee) means. Together, we have come to understand our traditional ways through the revitalization of our arts. My students have been my greatest teachers, and my only hope is that I have reciprocated by providing them with the teachings they deserve. Equity in my classroom is when my students share in teaching. We are on this journey together. This has to be our way. We won’t survive any other way.

Eneq taeh ‘s ām-pa͞ec-kaehkēnaman ayom Mamāceqtaw wenah nap takuah ona͞epuahkan. (And that’s almost all I know well about this Indian’s wisdom).