SIX NATIONS – Skaronhese’ko:wa Tsyohterakentko:wa, The Everlasting Tree School hosted a Harvest Festival and Open House this weekend. The school was bustling with vendors, craft workshops, music and food as the community was invited to tour the newly completed school building.
The Everlasting Tree school began in September 2010 as a home-schooling collective combining Mohawk language immersion, culture based practices and the Waldorf education method. School co-founder Amy Bomberry says, “We decided we were going to follow the Waldorf curriculum. Now we are working on a marriage of Haudenosaunee values and teachings using the Waldorf template for the curriculum.”
The Waldorf method bears many similarities to Haudenosaunee perspectives on childhood development and education. Both pay attention to the natural growth cycle of the individual child. Waldorf educators watch for the changing of a child’s teeth as an indicator to start schooling, whereas Haudenosaunee tradition says to look for the hardening of the fontanelle, both occurring around age seven.
“It’s a holistic model so it’s all about reaching the whole child, addressing their body mind and spirit,” says Bomberry. “We believe everything should be done at the right time, so we don’t push them too fast. We want them to be children and fully integrated into their bodies so they can fully grow and develop at their own pace instead of rushing them. It’s about protecting and preserving childhood.”
The school initially started small on her parents’ property on Sour Springs Road. She said, “We have two yurts. We just had the two classrooms. Eventually they will be moved to the [new] property and they will be used as extra classrooms. We will use them for sure, they are a big part of our beginning. We ran it completely off the grid, heated only by wood stoves.”
For Bomberry, her choice to look for another way to school her children has roots in her own education. “When I went to university I had a major identity crisis. Having grown up on the Rez I thought I knew everything about what it was to be Ongwehon:we.”
It was during her years at McMaster University that she learned about the centuries of abuse, broken treaties and displacement indigenous people in North America had endured. “It was shocking. I went through a period of being very angry at everyone: my parents and my grandparents. I was just angry that they didn’t tell me anything. Afterward I realized it was just part of the assimilation process. It wasn’t their fault.”
Bomberry’s heightened awareness of who she was naturally brought an attention to language. While on campus at McMaster she found herself surrounded daily by students from other ethnicities, each speaking a language of their own. She says, “I was a part of the McMaster Native Students Association but none of us spoke fluently. I was determined that my son would know who he was.”
Bomberry decided to study the Mohawk language herself. “My great grandmother was the last speaker in our family on my maternal line. I knew that in order for us to bring it back as a family that I had to speak it, I had to bring it into my home.” Bomberry enrolledin Mohawk immersion studies for adults and became fluent in the language.
Through the years she met up with other likeminded parents and together they began working toward a culture and language centered Waldorf education via homeschooling as an option for Six Nations children. Three years later, they have a new school building, with 27 students enrolled from Kindergarten to Grade Four.
The school’s website reads, ‘Our school will provide a safe, nurturing place to experience the wonders of nature and the beauty of expression that comes from thinking, speaking and interacting in Kanyen’keha.’ Bomberry says, “We want to keep it affordable. We want to offer the quality of a private education, without the cost of tuition. We understand it shouldn’t cost our people to learn our language and our culture.”
Parents now offer volunteer hours to offset the costs of tuition, as well as paying for the school’s nutrition program.
She says, “Because it is a holistic education, we want everything to be in alignment. We’ve put together a nutrition program. Students get their snack and their lunch. It’s organic where possible, and allergy free; so sugar, dairy and wheat free. It’s whole natural foods and as many of our traditional foods as possible.”
For more information about Skaronhese’ko:wa Tsyohterakentko:wa, The Everlasting Tree School you can contact them by email at email@example.com.