Panoka Walker shows the underside of a drum at her home in LaSalle Township. She will share her knowledge of Indian lore Saturday at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe.
LaSALLE — Panoka Walker’s roots explain her lifestyle. She is at one with nature and thoroughly versed in the ways of her ancestors, who were American Indians of the Anishinabe tribe that once populated areas now including Michigan and Ohio.
Her first name, she explained, means “white doe,” which is appropriate, given that she prefers the outdoors, where she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the plant and animal life on the extensive grounds of her home in LaSalle Township.
“Go for a walk with her sometime. You’ll find she knows all the plants,” said her friend, Dean Cousino of Monroe. “I don’t think she’s a very good hunter, though,” he laughed, “because she’s a vegetarian.”
He recalled the time he and Ms. Walker tanned deer hides. “She worked me to death. I hunt deer, and with her there is nothing that goes to waste on the deer. She uses the hooves, the horns, everything.”
Such are the venerable practices that Ms. Walker embraces. “They are worth preserving,” she said.
This Saturday, Ms. Walker will be be at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park as the star of an event called Native-American Stortytelling and Games. She’ll share her knowledge of Indian lore and history, tell stories, and conduct children’s games as they would have been played by her ancestors. The day starts at 11 a.m. and will end when it ends.
Park Superintendent Scott Bentley said the event is intended to connect the public with Native Americans as they related to the area that now is the park and its history.
“Panoka is absolutely wonderful,” he said. “She’s helped us with a lot of projects, from building wigwams and hosting Native Americans to helping us with games.”
Ms. Walker, 54, grew up in New Matamoras, Ohio, near Marietta, and learned the Indian ways from her parents. She lives in LaSalle Township with her husband and two daughters.
She has done presentations in schools, libraries, museums, and repeatedly at the National Battlefield Park, which is at 1403 E. Elm St. in Monroe. A lot of her performances are symbolic of the old ways.
“I begin my programs with a welcome song,” she said, “and I knock together sticks called ‘ricing sticks,’ which were used by my ancestors to knock the wild rice into the canoes as they were paddling.”
Children’s games are a popular part of her presentation, she said. They employ animal furs, corn husk dolls, moccasins, and a homemade drill with a flint bit that really works.
She said she’ll also tell the Indian story of the New Being, which was man, and how the animals helped him build shelters and find food. She also takes questions, one of the most common of which is “Do you make your own clothes?”
The answer, she said, is “Yes.”
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