Louise Cornstalk and her Native American Dancers
During the past few weeks, Beaver Island has been graced by the presence of Louise Cornstalk, an elder in the Tribal Council, and her brother, J.R.. He is a story-teller, a promulgator of natural wisdom, and an excellent craftsman, as evidenced by the model canoe he recently finished on Beaver Island.
Louise was born on High Island in the early 1920s, near the beach a mile south of the school. The school, with a mixture of Indians and Israelites, was only open for five months. She walked along a sandy wagon road, when her mother could spare her from the household duties. One of their objectives was to get over to High again, which they haven't visited in three years. They didn't make it, although yesterday others did: Lee Olsen, the ethnobotanist, in Jon Bonadeo's Rambler (on the trip, he realized that Jon was the one who had saved his life ten years ago when he'd suffered severe heat stroke on Garden Island), and the son of Warren Townsend in Bud Martin's boat. (Townsend tried to raise cattle there after the Israelites had lost the land.)
When Louise was ten, her family moved to Beaver Island's harbor, where J.R. was born. Their father was a boatbuilder and fisherman, and worked two boats from an area near Red Rowley's seaplane hanger. They remember spearing sturgeon through holes cut in the ice, and selling them to a specialized buyer on the mainland.
After being sent to the Indian School in Harbor Springs, Louise continued her education and became a counselor. She's done graduate work in Salt Lake City, toured reservations all over the country, and represented her nation in Washington DC in its negotiations with the federal government. Lately she has helped create a model "Title IX" program in the Sutton's Bay School, in which students can choose between Native American Studies and the standard curriculum. The terms of the program's funding prohibited enrolling non-Indians in Native American Studies, but the Sutton's Bay Parent's Group voted to open it to any student who was interested. A few whites are currently enrolled.
The teachers in the Native American program have had great luck with such conditions as Attention Deficit Disorders. They prepare some of their students for college, and conduct tours of potential colleges. Teaching their students about their rich cultural heritage, they have been rewarded by seeing a generation grow which is better grounded, more stable, and able to cope with the demands of the modern world --to which they bring a welcome and necessary element of conscientous spiritual naturalism.
One of Louise's efforts has been to start and coach a Native American Dance Troupe, which has now achieved almost professional status. These students have designed and made their own costumes, which show a veritable explosion of color, vitality, and unique symbolic expression of their past. The pride, sensitivity, and self-assurance that Louise, through much hard work, has instilled in these bright and buoyant Native Americans allows us to hope they will create a stronger community for us all.