If you've admired a petunia, eaten a squash or smelled a skunk recently, you've participated in a cultural experience.
Those are all Indian words - the kind that should remind Utahns that this was the place for many interesting cultures long before Brigham Young proclaimed it was the place for westering Mormon pioneers.Timpanogos, Kamas, Uinta, Kanosh, Tintic, Oquirrh, Kanab, Wahweap, Piute, Kanarraville and - yes, Utah itself - are words Utahns use frequently without giving any thought to the Indian peoples who first spoke them and left them as part of their legacy to the state.
Wil Numkena, director of the Indian student program in the State Office of Education, wants Utah schoolchildren to be aware of the Indian heritage that provided a solid base for the modern veneer applied only in the past century and a half.
There is a national heritage as well, he said, recounting little-known facts about Indians in American history: The last unit to surrender in the Civil War was an all-Indian contingent. The Iroquois Indians had a form of representative government before European colonists ever hit American shores. During World War II, a unit of Navajo servicemen provided a code based on their language that couldn't be cracked by the Japanese, contributing to a turning in America's favor.
In Utah, Indian heritage goes back about 14,000 years, Numkena told two dozen teachers attending a seminar at Fremont Indian State Park. The seminar was one of a series held this summer at the park, Utah's newest. The daylong sessions have been so popular they may be expanded to a day and a half or two full days next year, Numkena said.
"Break tradition," he told the group. "Don't study Indians just once a year at Thanksgiving time. They are an integral part of American history and we feel their impacts to the present and will continue to do so. Teachers can help preserve that heritage."
Numkena's division in the State Office of Education is making it easy for teachers to incorporate Indian culture studies into their curricula. A series of posters suggests areas that can be used to enrich courses in communications, social studies, natural sciences, history and others that are routinely taught. They are available in school libraries or through the state office.
The guidebook issued to the teachers attending the summer workshop is filled with ideas for classroom activities - such items as a "trash bag archaeology" exercise. Children are asked to reconstruct something about the culture of a people based on items found in a trash bag, in the same way archaeologists determine from the artifacts they find how ancient peoples lived.
For the teachers attending the summer seminars, Fremont Indian State Park is a natural lab for learning more about the culture of a native group that lived in central Utah from several hundred years before the beginning of the Christian era to about 1,200 years after.
A short walk from the handsome visitor center and museum takes them to several samples of rock art that preserve cryptic messages from hundreds of years ago. Many of the designs indicate a relationship between the Fremont and Hopi, said Numkena, who is Hopi himself.
Similar glyphs show up in the two groups, said Numkena, pointing out a cliff drawing that represents emergence of the Indian peoples from a third "world" into a fourth. The same legend is told by the Hopis, who have been more faithful in preserving their legends and traditions than some tribes, he said.
A typical hogan has been built near the museum and a granary is just a stone's throw away, adding to the feeling that time has taken a leap backward. Across the highway, the remains of Five Finger Mountain are a concrete reminder of a native village that was abandoned in the 11th century A.D., apparently when prolonged drought drove the Fremonts from the area.
Archaeologists hurried a project two years ago to unearth the village while a construction project through Clear Creek Canyon was delayed. More than 150 structures scattered across the five fingers of the hill were studied before bulldozers ate away the bulk of the site.
Many of the artifacts from the dig are preserved in the state museum, and teachers were invited to borrow from the store to show their students how the Fremont Indians lived and contributed to Utah's history.
Before leaving the workshop, many of the teachers had availed themselves of the offer, taking with them little bags of pottery shards, arrowheads, manos and other items - all carefully catalogued by museum Curator/Archaeologist Kenneth O. Kohler, of course, so they can be returned to the collection after temporary display in a classroom.
Kohler also escorted the teachers to several canyon sites where rock art and other evidences of Indian occupation have long outlasted those who put them there. Occupants of cars whizzing past on the modern freeway fail to note intriguing ancient art that tells of a more slow-paced society.
Kohler said the teachers could assist in helping to preserve the fragile artifacts by telling children about them and emphasizing their worth and the fact that, once gone, they can never be replaced.
"A person with a gun can destroy in minutes what has been here for centuries," he said, pointing out bullet holes in the cliffs where fanciful Indian figures have silently told their mute messages for hundreds of years.
Capping off the day of instruction, the teachers spent the evening in the Tushar Mountain Village and Campground as the guests of the Sorenson family.
Franzez Sorensen, an Osage Indian, has steeped her children in the lore of her own tribe and that of Utah's Paiutes. The adolescents in the family - some of them sporting the red hair that is a manifestation of their father's Scandinavian contribution to their genes - hosted tours of the village.
Teachers sitting cross-legged in the king-size teepees set up in the village learned about the arts of leather tanning, beading and flute-making from Danyiel, Dustin and Tymera.
They also learned the fundamentals of teepee etiquette: If the flap isn't open, the family is not receiving callers. If you have urgent business, you must scratch lightly on the buffalo-hide walls of the teepee to get attention. Enter the teepee counterclockwise and never NEVER walk between occupants who are already seated and the fire.
Eating campfire chow prepared by the Sorensens and watching the youngsters gyrate in the native dances that have earned them a reputation at powwows all around the West, one of the teachers summed up the day's experiences.
"This is without doubt the best workshop I have ever attended."