Horses on the Prairie Camp

Butch Thunder Hawk and his pupils collecting from and studying a Nokota® pasture in its entirety, from microorganisms to 17 hand horses. June 24, 2004.

After the great success of and interest in the Horses on the Prairie Camp last year some of the same students and a handful of new participants are back once again this year. This educational opportunity, provided through United Tribes Technical College and funded in part by NASA, offers children the opportunity to study entire prairie ecosystems from the very smallest elements of existence through the largest Ranch type Nokota® horses. The camp spans a four week period and this year included three long visits to Nokota® pastures and two nights of camping in Seeman Park, located just east of Linton. The Horses on the Prairie Camp, whether in the classroom, in the field, or during additional individual time, manages to combine culture with science in a way that makes them seem all the more significant, holistic, and interesting. The participants learn about Native American culture and art and the significance of horses and other animals, various plants, and other phenomena like weather and religion. Meanwhile, they meld these with technologically advanced studies by taking soil and water samples which are then evaluated both on site and later in the labs and by plotting Global Positioning Systems (GPS) readings of points of interest, like medicinal plants.


The participants are then allowed to follow their own interests and helped to pursue their own individual projects, whether they concentrate on art, horse behavior, or genetics. Everyone involved, from the children through the teachers and chaperons and presenters, had a blast, and we hope that this program finds the additional necessary funding to continue next year.

Classroom in the Pasture 2003

Both Native American and non-native children from various Bismarck elementary schools got a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in "Horses on the Prairie: An Equine Science, Math, and Culture Camp" funded in part by NASA and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. United Tribes Technical College and United Tribes Rural Systemic Initiative (UTRSI) presented this new two-week camp, offered twice during the summer to school age children, grades 4-8. UTRSI director, Jen Janecek headed the program and partnered with the Nokota® Horse Conservancy, of Linton, ND, to give the kids a chance to go out into pastures with wild horses and examine the horses' general behavior, as well as the pastures' water, soil, plants, and rocks. The camp used the horses to pique the kids' interest enough to teach them math and science. The campers learned to use scientific equipment, such as GPS systems; they also investigated water temperature, PH level, and conductivity. In addition, they learned about different kinds of rocks that exist in the pastures, the PH level and temperature of soil, as well as how the soil affects plant and crop growth in the area. This summer camp gave kids a chance to act as scientists by taking field samples, bringing them back to the "lab", running tests on them, and analyzing the data.

Butch Thunder Hawk with one of the students. Photo by Lindsay Werkmeister.

But, these "scientists" learned not only about the scientific aspects of the pastures, they also learned about the cultural aspects of the horses. Butch Thunder Hawk focuses on this part of the camp. Butch belongs to a Lakota tribe, and teaches art at United Tribes Technical College. When he was a child, the horse was considered a gift from the Creator, and was a very important part of their culture. Today's Native American kids do not have such close relationships with horses as was customary in the old days; horses are almost forgotten now. Butch attempted to reintroduce the historic horse culture to native children; but at the same time, he was also enhancing cultural awareness of non-native children, exposing them to differences that exist between cultures. Butch also concentrated on plants found in the pastures and their cultural use (as medicine, food, or other purposes) to the Native people. He taught the children to be able to identify them by sight, recognizing them to be medicinal, edible, or poisonous.

This camp was not only educational for the children; it was also a lot of fun. They enjoyed getting to use high-tech equipment and spending time with the horses. Shanna Carlson, of Lincoln ND, said that her favorite thing about coming out to the Kuntz pastures was, "Seeing how the horses are doing. Making sure their water is okay, and getting up to them, and seeing how they act". Zachary's favorite part of going to the pastures was using the GPS, and getting to pet and see the horses. Another student stated that the most interesting things he had learned were how to use the GPS and the lab pro (a calculator and computer), and how to check the water. And yet another camper enjoyed finding out which plants were edible. Most of the information couldn't be found until the tests were run in the lab, but the kids did find out that the water in one of the pastures was a little too cold. The kids were also required to complete a project related to the horses or the scientific research they did in the pastures. Zachary (10) did a stallion study. So far he had learned that when a stallion has his head down, and ears back that is called "snaking", and is used by studs to move their mares away from a threat. He also learned that the stallion is not the leader of the band, the lead mare is, and social order is very important to horses. The kids spent a few hours out with the horses examining the surroundings, and observing before heading back to Bismarck.

The kids ran tests and found out information about the content of the Kuntz pastures, and upon returning to the ranch the following week explained their findings to the Kuntz's. The camp only ran for two weeks, but it gave the kids a great opportunity to exercise the scientists inside themselves, and to expand their horizons by enhancing their cultural awareness of Native Americans.

Christian's prayer for the Nokota

"FATHER, in the name of JESUS, your creation is in need of YOUR intervention, YOUR power and YOUR help. I ask for a new home for the Nokota® Horses, a new place, a place of freedom, a place of life, a place of sustency, a place of peace. YOU are our sanctuary and I ask that these horse be given an earthly sanctuary for YOUR GLORY!"

Love and Blessings,
Jennifer Joy