Fifth-graders Logan Bisconer, left, and J.P. Pickens stand in the art room at Iduma Elementary School in Killeen. Both worked on the “beaver-gnawed” sticks Pickens is holding alongside one of the beavers to be used in a totem pole-raising ceremony at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald

What began as a second-grade art project at Iduma Elementary School blossomed into a cultural study that will culminate Tuesday with a public totem pole-raising ceremony.

The Potlatch, a ceremonial totem pole-raising common to indigenous Northwestern Native American tribes, begins at 6 p.m. in the Iduma school cafeteria at 4400 Foster Lane in Killeen.

Iduma art teacher Amelia Rabroker decided to lead her students in a study of art of the Americas. Second-graders created button blankets, a blanket-like coat people wore to feasts.

Next, Rabroker led fifth-graders to build totems from shoeboxes that resemble frogs, beavers, eagles, bears, wolves and ravens. They used a book called “Totem Tales,” which retells an ancient story about working together.

The totems measure 18 to 20 inches in length, with six — one of each animal — making a totem pole.

Kindergarten aide Helen Mathes, a woodworker, offered to build wood cases to hold the student-made images to form actual totem poles. Regina Plummer, another classroom aide, is sewing costumes.

During the project, Rabroker decided to conduct a ceremony in the spirit of an authentic potlatch, a rite of passage event practiced by many tribes of the Northwest.

Communal dinner

Those who wish to take part in a communal dinner should bring a dish to share. The meal is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Music teacher Paula MacDonald arranged dances and rhythms for students to perform along with their specific totems — each animal has a dance. Students also built drums and shakers to accompany their performance.

By ceremony time, there will be 12 nine-foot totem poles, which students will raise in ceremonial fashion as second-graders perform their dances and fifth-graders conduct the drumming.

“I think it’s cool,” said Logan Bisconer, one of the many fifth-graders who worked on aspects of the huge art project. “It’s awesome and creative. I never would have come up with this.”

J.P. Pickens, another fifth-grader, helped develop a technique to paint cardboard roles to create a texture to suggest a beaver-gnawed stick.

“We built totem poles, and we will raise them to show them to the whole school,” said Pickens.

Three Shoemaker High School students in a teacher preparation course got involved by painting elements of the totem poles.

Looking around her packed art room, Rabroker said she hoped the community would embrace her students’ creative totem poles and provide temporary homes for the pieces.

“I would like them to visit community sites like libraries,” she said.

“They are so amazing and beautiful, how great would it be for them to travel through the community.”