As a child, Lippman School's Sam Chestnut spent time on Montana's Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation while his father served as a general counsel for the tribe. Last May, the now head of school at Lippman returned with a group of seventh- and eighth-graders, visiting the battlefields at Little Bighorn and Rosebud alongside children from the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School.
"It had always been a dream of mine," says Chestnut. The reciprocal learning experience between the communities will continue in October when several tribal school students will visit Lippman, which has a primarily Jewish enrollment.
Holding on to traditions while living in the modern world has not been easy for the Cheyenne. The nine Lippman students who traveled to Montana experienced tribal history, culture and spiritual traditions.
"For our kids, the most powerful thing was experiencing life on a reservation with students their own age and putting that in a contemporary context," says Chestnut. "This was a way to see who the Cheyenne are and what they have gone through historically. Their students were impressed that a diverse group of kids from Northeast Ohio were interested in Cheyenne history and how they are keeping their traditions alive."
Chestnut says the experience proved to be uplifting as well as educational.
"It's impossible for the Jewish people and the Cheyenne to ignore many years of persecution," he says. "What we all struggle with is how to maintain a cultural or religious identity in a country that promotes assimilation."
Although this year was the first for the partnership between the two schools, Chestnut says it's something he expects to continue growing in the future.
"The most validating thing is how these two communities have embraced each other."