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Visions of diversity

Husband-wife team play songs on flute and dance to introduce Native American culture to students.

December 15, 2008|By Veronica Rocha

Bret Harte Elementary School students leaned back in their chairs Friday morning, closed their eyes and listened to Rey Ortega play the flute.

They opened their eyes when the music finished and released deep breaths.

Ortega asked the children what they had imagined and saw when their eyes were closed.

“I saw an eagle transforming as a human,” fourth-grader Natalie Hernandez said.

For thinking out of the box and being original, Ortega awarded Natalie a flute.

Ortega and his wife, Kiyomi Ortega, of Joshua Tree, were invited to the school Friday to teach the students about their heritage during the national Native American History month.


“We have been wanting to get them here at Bret Harte,” PTA Vice President Gabriella Platten said.

The couple — who had their 5-year-old son, Sage, with them — have traveled throughout California for about 10 years as the Wisdom Family Tree group, going to different schools to perform Native American dances, stories, music and ventriloquism.

“This is a way to enlighten,” Rey Ortega said.

Rey and Kiyomi Ortega decided to start showing their cultural traditions and teaching children about Native Americans because they were discriminated against as children due to the color of their skin.

“It opens them up,” Rey Ortega said. “You never know who you are going to affect.”

The couple’s show was designed to give students and teachers the opportunity to be imaginative and inquire more about other cultures.

And some of the students he’s given flutes to during his performance have gone on to be skilled in flute playing, he said.

He hoped Natalie also would learn to play the flute he gave her.

Her imagination, he said, was distinct from other students’.

“No one has ever said anything like that before,” Rey Ortega said.

Natalie, 9, said she was inspired to tell her fellow students about what she had imagined after hearing Rey Ortega’s flute playing.

“I just showed my imagination,” Natalie said. “I am really proud that I showed it.”

Rey Ortega, who also goes by the name Wind Spirit, also performed a ventriloquism act with a wooden puppet and taught the children how to speak the Navajo language. And Kiyomi Ortega, who goes by Running Deer, told a story to the students.

Fourth-grader Lindsay Erisman enjoyed the storytelling and music during Rey and Kiyomi’s performance.

“It was beautiful,” the 10-year-old said. “I pictured everything in my head.”

Lindsay learned about diversity from watching the show.

“Everyone is the same, no matter what color or tradition they are,” she said. “They taught us the most important lesson in life.”

 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at

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