PABLO – Did you know the Gros Ventre Indians of Montana call themselves the A’aninin?
As Luke Mills, a Salish Kootenai College elementary education major explained it to Native American students from C.S. Porter School in Missoula Friday, the Gros Ventre name came from a serious communication problem.
“The tribes all had their own language,” Mills told the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. “They used a sophisticated form of sign language” to communicate with other tribes.
The A’aninin people lived by a waterfall, so to identify them, members of other tribes would put their hands palm-down in front of their chests, then push them forward and downward to mimic water going over a cliff.
But when French explorers got the same sign language when they asked to what tribe the A’aninin belonged, they didn’t interpret it as “the people who live by the waterfall.”
No, Mills said, what they saw, as the hands curved outward and downward over the Indians’ stomachs, was “big belly.”
So they named them the Gros Ventre (say “grow-vaunt”), which literally translates from French to “big belly” or “potbelly.”
There was a lot of cool stuff to be learned on this, C.S. Porter’s second annual trip to the SKC campus – and a lot of cool ways to learn it.
Thirty-three of the 44 C.S. Porter students who are Native American, or of Native American descent, made the trip.
The collaboration between the Missoula middle school and Flathead Reservation tribal college initially began when SKC brought education majors to C.S. Porter to observe classrooms, according to C.S. Porter teacher Maeta Kaplan.
But when Kaplan met Doug Ruhman of the SKC education faculty while both were on a Fulbright-Hays teacher education trip to China, Ruhman suggested they switch things up.