Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Our Heritage Celebration Memories

     The "Our Heritage Celebration" was a year-long study of local and personal history and culture by students at schools throughout the St. Tammany Parish School System. 



Its theme was "Linking Learning to Life Through Multi-Sensory Experiences." The reason for the event was simple: St. Tammany is a fast-growing parish, but one that is rich in culture, history and folklife. "With the expansion and growth taking place today, more attention is now being focused on maintaining a balance between the thick pine forests and the fresh ozone air contrasted against the rise of buildings and new shopping centers."

The "Our Heritage Celebration" in 1993-1994 was a major curriculum project involving 30,000 students in 43 different schools, with an emphasis on developing a sense of self-identity, research and writing skills, and creating a curiosity and excitement about history.

The year was culminated by a two-day festival of old fashioned arts and crafts, pioneer skills, and history appreciation for the children of St. Tammany Parish. Activities included doll-making from corn husks, weaving, water color techniques, local culture exhibits, storytelling, music, drama and dance. There were performances by area musicians and choirs, cooking demonstrations, and presentations on blacksmithing, quilting, boatmaking, chair caning, pottery, woodworking, etc.


A number of art exhibits featured photographs, paintings, pottery and jewelry, along with seminars on a variety of topics given by regional historians.

It was held every four years by the public school system, usually at the parish fairgrounds in Covington, with hundreds of school students brought in by bus to learn about the way life used to be, by viewing exhibits, by talking to community elders, and even by dressing in costumes.

 Click on the images to make them larger.


CLICK HERE to see a number of pictures from the Our Heritage Celebration


     A major feature of the event was the collection of "oral histories," where students fanned out across their home communities and talked to (and tape recorded) interviews with the folks who lived in St. Tammany Parish when it was still young and unsure of its direction.


Some of the goals of the event were (1) to enable students to realize that they are an integral link in the chain of traditions, (2) help students create a meaningful future, strengthened by an appreciation of the role and importance of heritage, and (3) help students broaden their understanding of human behavior and culture, not only in our society but in the world as a whole. 

Local bands playing old-style music were on stage most of the day, and talks about history were given by Dr. Allen Saltus, "Maritime Archaeology on the Tchefuncte;" the Northlake Museum and Nature Center; Dr. Howard Nichols "St. Tammany Homes and Gardens;" the National Wetlands Research Center; Mayor Keith Villere of Covington "Wildflowers of St. Tammany;" and Lavergne Kilgore "Appreciating St. Tammany's Multi-cultural Heritage."

    
 The "Our Heritage Celebration" was held a few times, but was eventually phased out as other year-long history recognition efforts were set up in the schools. Although it was a lot of fun and gave students new opportunities to make friends, old and young, across the parish, putting the event together proved to be quite a challenge as the years went by.


  I was a guest speaker for the opening ceremonies at the Our Heritage Celebration Museum in 1986, due primarily to my work with the St. Tammany Historical Society and other community history projects in which I had been involved. It was a great experience, so much so that I felt I had to share with the School Board, at its next meeting, what a great investment the "Our Heritage Celebration" was in the building and encouragement of upcoming St. Tammany citizens.

     Here is the text of my presentation to the School Board about the impact of the celebration.


   "The most significant impact of the Our Heritage Celebration, the one which will most affect young and old alike, will be the change in attitude of the students towards older people. Several times during the course of getting ready for the celebration, students visited with and talked to the older members of the community, interviewing them for their knowledge of days gone by.
  The kids gained an awareness that, at one time, the older folks were kids, too - that they went to school and played with their friends and had parents who watched over them. This information helped the young people realize that not only were the elderly at one time young, but that they, the students, will also become old one day. That fostered a sense of respect and a new sense of understanding toward the older citizens.
  It turns out that time is not really measured in years, but in memories. It turns out that "heritage" is really just the collective community memory. All the interviews, the oral histories, the books, letters, exhibits.... they all prove that while technology changes the way things look, the basic things stay the same. The enduring qualities of life in this parish, its strengths and weaknesses, are the same today as they were 100 years ago. People are motivated by the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and dreads, today as they were a generation ago. 
  Studying their own heritage helped the young people appreciate where they came from, and perhaps it will help them understand where they are going. The mere examining of years gone by should definitely have a positive impact on a person's ability to face the years to come.


  Studying their heritage helps young people realize that all the negative aspects of life they currently experience have always been with mankind, one way or another. That the way things are today was the way things were and will probably be the way things will be. Heritage shows that the trials and tribulations of living, while they have changed in specifics, were just as threatening 100 years ago as they are now.
  The young people of today will probably continue to grow up, get a job, have a family, and pay the same food bills and taxes that every other person has had to do since the beginning of civilized society. The distinct possibility of death by war and disease doesn't eliminate the distinct possibility of "life as usual" with its commitments, responsibilities, pleasures and disappointments. 
  The human mind is really nothing more than a collection of memories: memories of what is learned in the classroom, memories of what is learned from experience. Good memories, bad memories, recollections of babies being born, recollections of going to the funerals of old friends and relatives. Happy memories, sad memories, pleasant memories, bitter memories. 

  Studying one's heritage and showcasing it in the "Our Heritage Celebration" produced a wonderful memory, one that will stay with us. The event known as the "Our Heritage Celebration" wasn't just a one day affair, however, it wasn't even a year long affair. It's still going on and will continue to go on in the minds and hearts of the students of St. Tammany Parish. "

Click on the images below to enlarge the view.