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Speaker brings Native American culture to life

Gary Gahreeb explans to Leonard Elementary fifth-graders how Native Americans used everything around them for survival and their way of life. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
January 16, 2013 - Reading about the past and interacting with it is two different things. On Jan. 9, Leonard Elementary Fifth Grader's got to touch and see first hand what Native American life was about through the "Native American Experience" program put on by Gary Gahreeb.

"It's neat because it's hands on learning," Gahreeb said. "Kids don't get that a lot, but they all want to do it."

Gahreeb brought various artifacts and materials including homemade Native American style jewelry, weapons, clothing and toys. Gahreeb also brought various skins, hides and furs to show what bedding and clothing would have been made out of as well as various animal bones that would have been used for weapons and tools.

"The most important thing (they learn) at this level (fifth grade) is they (the Native Americans) had to use their environment to survive," he said. "(I teach) what they had in their area, such as the kind of animals and rocks, and plants. Then I show them how they used some of those things so they get a real understanding for it."

Gahreeb, of Lake Orion, said he started studying about Native Americans as a boy after his grandmother told him there was a drop of Native American blood in his family from generations ago on his mom side.

"When I did book reports and stuff in school it was always on Native Americans," he said. "I am a big history buff."

Gahreeb said whenever he would go out hunting, he would sit and wonder how the Natives tanned skins and such, so he decided to get some books and learn how.

"I've got a library of probably 600 books and slowly over the years have taught myself to make all this stuff and learned how they did things," he said. "I started doing it 20 years ago."

A few years ago, he decided to turn his hobby into a part-time career. His wife, who is a teacher, started having him come to her class to give presentations. Next thing he knew, he was getting more phone calls from other teachers and schools. Now it's his full-time job.

"This is my second year of doing it full-time," he said. "Each year I expand a little bit and go into different areas. I am now in 12 counties in southeast Michigan."

Gahreeb also said he not only has a fifth grade program that includes all the regions and tribes of North America, but he has also started a third grade program that specifically focuses on Michigan. Both programs have proven a success.

"This is a really great opportunity for the kids to get some hands-on experience, take a look at some artifacts and just check the things that were unique to each tribe and region," said Leonard fifth-grade teacher Amy Granger, who said even she learned something new from the presentation.

"I didn't know there were so many types of housing. We had just focused on a couple (in class)," she said. "I thought it was real interesting how he reminded the kids that they (the Native Americans) use every part of the animal and in which way."

"I thought (it) was really cool learning about the past and just learning what the Native Americans used to survive," added Fifth Grader Kendall Losee.

Fellow student Scott Masterson agreed.

"I liked how we could test everything and actually get in their shoes like the guys said. I actually felt like I was going back in time a little bit because I was playing all these ancient games," he said. "It was awesome."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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