Indian education art

Students show off their art work during an online meeting with Native American artist DG House. House worked with third graders from Tom Grady’s class.

Even with school out of session because of the COVID-19 shutdown, Heck-Quaw Elementary pupils didn’t have to miss out on a special lesson this spring.

  Third-grade teacher Tom Grady said he “had a brainstorm” about virtually offering his pupils a much-anticipated lesson by Native American artist DG House. For about 10 years, House has helped with the Indian education unit at Heck-Quaw, sharing her knowledge through such art activities as pottery, ledger drawings and medicine shields.

“She’s like a rock star – kids remember her year to year. I can’t present (the lessons) as well as she does, then to couple it with art is a powerful thing for these guys,” Grady said.

When schools were shut down suddenly in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, third-graders were still missing a lesson or two from the Indian education unit, which is designed to give students “seven essential understandings” about Montana Indians’ history and culture.

“Even though it’s a weird time, what we were hoping was to put a wrap around the essential understandings and make the year memorable,” Grady said. So he approached House and school district administrators to see whether the lessons could be modified and presented online.

“I think we nailed it,” Grady said.

House and her husband embarked on five-hour project to record a lesson on painting bears, preceded by a warm welcome and video tour of her Bozeman studio. Meanwhile, the district assembled supply kits for each third-grader, including a canvas, brushes, paint, water cup and a paper plate for a palette.

Last week, the online lesson was presented to students, who watched from their homes or back yards while painting along in real time. Parents took photos of the completed works and submitted them to teachers online.

“We had good engagement and the kids had a wonderful time,” Grady said. “Our goal was to make this memorable, and it worked in our favor.”

 At the end of the lesson, House reviewed the lessons she taught during the year, covering such topics as the number of tribes and reservations in Montana, the most important animal to the Indians, and various types of Native American art.

She also reminded the third-graders of the first question she ever asked them – “Do Native Americans have iPhones?” – and of how she quickly corrected their misimpressions when they resoundingly answered “NO!”

Revisiting the question seemed an especially appropriate way to end a school year interrupted by an abrupt transition from classroom to online learning.

“It’s possible to have your traditions and live in the modern world at the same time,” House said.

Anyone can learn to paint a bear with DG House’s online lesson for third-graders, which is available for viewing on YouTube at