Tag Archives: student activities

The Norwottuck People of the Connecticut River Watershed

This story is a part of a Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage Month.

During the peak of fall in September, visitors to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge time-traveled to the ancient Native American heritage site of the Norwottuck people (who belong to the Algonquin Native American culture). Travelers stepped back 8,000 years to discover that many Native tribes lived and thrived in the Connecticut River watershed for thousands of years. Guests excavated in a sand-box archaeological dig, viewed projectile point arrowheads used for subsistence hunting and fishing by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and learned about the 1630’s contact period of European settlers. Visitors finished their journey into current day, knowing that Native American Nations still embrace their culture and practice their sovereignty in Massachusetts and across the United States. Walking along the bridge, visitors realized that beneath them lay thousands of years of important history that lives on in the culture of Native American Tribes today.

As the Jr. Native American Liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was able to tell this story and share my Native culture in the process. In late May, I joined the Student Conservation Association internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having never been to the Northeast before. Coming from the prairie and Black Hills of South Dakota, Massachusetts was a long way from home. However, I was passionate to serve Tribes in whatever capacity I could. I now work with Southeastern and Northeastern Native American Tribes through my position.

As an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Native American, I sought the opportunity to learn more about Tribes closer to the Atlantic. Researching technical reports of the Fort River Division creation (containing archaeological information), New England Tribes encyclopedia (Bruce, 1978), and “Historic and Archaeological Resources of the Connecticut River Valley” (Galvin, Massachusetts Historical Commission), I learned the rich past and present of Tribes along the Connecticut River. Using creativity, passion, and accredited resources, I designed a Native American Storybook of the Norwottuck, Algonquin people. The 28-page story was displayed on kiosks along the Fort River Division 1.2 mile loop trail throughout the month of September.

On Saturday, September 16th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited the public to join them in activities to go along with the Storybook. Through partnership with Tim Binzen, the Service’s Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast, and Eric Johnson, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Archaeologist, projectile point artifacts were on display for visitors. Children, parents, students, and trail-walkers alike, got to hold an arrowhead dating back 8,000 years.

EA at Fort River Trail

Later in the month, the External Affairs office of the Northeast Regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service also visited the Storybook Trail at Fort River and each individual had the opportunity had to read a page from the story of Keme and Sokanon.

I hope that reading that storybook on that sunny day in September changed Fort River visitors, including my own colleagues at the agency. Student Conservation Association intern, Ben Whittlebee, remarked, “When I hold this arrowhead, I feel a little bit closer to the people who lived here before me. It’s like having a piece of them with me.”


Tim Binzen, Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast and former Refuge Archaeologist led the walk and discussed the importance of projectile points in Native American culture. Photo Credit: Leah Hawthorn

Tim Binzen mentioned that all projectile points tell a story of the people. These points were shaped differently and specifically for different uses and those methods were passed down from generation to generation. Christine Eustis, also a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and visitor to the Storybook, mentioned that she had learned so much. She looks at wigwams and tepees with a different perspective and she understands more of the Native Americans of this area. Several visitors can now identify jewelweed and pokeberry, plants that were and are important to New England Tribes.


Keme (thunder in Algonquian language) and Sokanon (rain in Algonquian language) are fictional brother and sister from the Norwuttuck Tribe in the Storybook, who explain their story of seasons, cultural activities, and timeline events of their home.

The Storybook concept is designed for children, but we can all learn from it.  At the end of the story, Sokanon and Keme discuss the sovereign nations recognized in the United States today. In fact, there are 567 federally recognized Tribes in the United States.  including nine Tribes in Massachusetts, seven of which are state-recognized.

The story says, “Communities are led by a Sachem (similar to a Chief, President, or Chairman). In 1885, English colonists mentioned that it was common for a woman to lead a village by virtue or hereditary descent as sachem. This holds true today for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, as Cheryl Andrews-Maltais is the Chairwoman, leader of the tribe”. The sister, Sokanon, goes on to say, “I’d like to be Sachem when I grow up”. The brother, Keme, responds, “I think you’d make a great leader, numis (sister in Algonquian)!”  

I enjoyed learning about the Native Tribes of the Connecticut River watershed. My experience sharing the story with children and adults in Hadley was so incredible. If you missed the Storybook walk, you can still read Keme and Sokanon’s story through this download: Norwottuck Storybook

The Fort River Division of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is open throughout the year. You may plan your to Hadley, Massachusetts anytime! https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/about/ma.html#fort

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

That's me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

Migration — It’s risky business!

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

Have you ever wished you were a bird, just to know what it would be like to truly fly? Do you like to “migrate” from the cold New York winters to warmer southern weather?

If you answered yes, then you would have enjoyed spending the day with me and over 270 sixth graders who learned about bird migration at the Cortland Conservation Field Days at the end of September.

The event pulled in 15 different conservation educators to prepare 20-minute programs for student groups at the 4H Camp Owahta in McGraw, N.Y.

Students from 10 Cortland County schools spent the day cycling through stations listening to presentations about topics like wetlands, food, wildlife, forests, orienteering, composting, and much more.

At our New York Field Office station, students learned about the “helps and hazards” associated with migration in an activity called the Great Migration Challenge.

Students thought and acted like birds by following a series of cards that took them on a migration route of their own.

That's me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

That’s me, Bethany, giving the Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Credit: USFWS

Here’s how it worked:

The Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Photo credit: USFWS

The Great Migration Challenge activity instructions. Photo credit: USFWS

  • Each student selects a partner and a bird as which they’ll act.
  • Students start their migration journey by rolling a die to direct them to one of the 24 stations set up around the room, each with a different activity card. Each card explains a scenario, and then directs students to the next stop on their migration journey. One card read, “You get tangled in fishing line and can’t eat. You are weak from hunger. A wildlife rehabilitator cuts the line and feeds you. Hop on 1 leg in a circle, count to 40, then move ahead 4 stations.”
  • Students continue selecting cards and moving to the appropriate station until they reach a station that either kills the bird (disease, guns, cats, etc.) or sends it to the finish after reaching the migration destination.
  • After, students rejoin the rest of the class and discuss the factors that helped them on their migration journeys, as well as others that were hazardous to their journeys.

The kids enjoyed the program because they were able to jump, run, and act silly, while the teachers enjoyed the program because it provided students with a hands-on way to learn (and get their energy out!).


Students picked one of the bird cards, and when they were finished with their journey, an instructor helped fill in the results chart shown here.

Interested in the activity? Find the instructions and all necessary materials in the attached PDFs from the Flying Wild Educator’s Guide. Visit the Flying Wild website to find additional resources.

Great Migration Challenge materials: