Morgan Jay

Apache teacher shares meaning of Thanksgiving with students
Posted on 11/26/2019
Morgan Jay

Eugene Field first graders were provided a special opportunity to learn the meaning of Thanksgiving this holiday from the perspective of a full-blooded American Indian. 

Morgan Jay, a third-year teacher at the elementary school, happens to be a member of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma and relishes the occasion to share his proud heritage. 

“Pilgrims came over here and had the misfortune of being sick, with a lot of them dying, until they encountered the Indians and synergized,” Jay told his students on Friday, Nov. 22, while wearing a headdress and turquoise jewelry as part of his Native American ensemble. “The Indians shared their land and made food, while the pilgrims built shelter. 

“That became the first Thanksgiving, which many don’t know was actually a three-day event,” Jay continued. “The original Thanksgiving [represented] a time of peace between the government and the Indians.” 

Jay has tracked his Native American lineage back to his grandfather Apache Nasahkluah, who was born in 1852, and became a United States citizen at 91 years old, receiving the surname Jay from the government. Morgan Jay’s father Paul, who was birthed when Nasahkluah was going on 73, worked as a Native American ceremonial clown, according to the educator. 

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, powwows were big, almost like a traveling rodeo, with hundreds of people, and my dad was known as one of the best dancers around,” Morgan Jay recalled. “It was mesmerizing, even as a kid watching, listening to them play the drums.” 

Paul, nicknamed ‘Crazy Legs,’ married Juanita and had Morgan Jay when he was 40 years old. Procreation at an advanced age across a line of patriarchs within his family tree has allowed the instructor to trace his descent further back than many, since Native American ancestry has largely gone undocumented, according to Morgan Jay. His wife, Rhea, for instance, is one-quarter American Indian, and believes to have family ties to the Blackfoot Confederacy, but lacks the firsthand account like her husband, who grew up speaking Kiowa Apache. 

“According to the last Census, there are less than 2 percent full-blooded Indians in the U.S., and 501 different tribes,” Morgan Jay stated. “Maybe one of two can actually trace back to the register.” 

In addition to discussing his nationality in the classroom each Thanksgiving, Morgan Jay has dressed up for other occasions depicting characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi during “Star Wars” Day as well as Johnny Appleseed. Eugene Field Principal Jennifer Taylor says his colleagues and students have come to expect homemade costumes during school spirit days. 

“Mr. Jay has naturally integrated very well with our [campus community] because of how he recognizes and honors diversity in all of our students,” Taylor said. “He has excelled in the area of relationship building and classroom management, maximizing teachable moments through hands-on activities, visible learning and bringing props into the classroom. 

“A visitor in his classroom would be shocked to know he is just beginning his teaching career,” Taylor added. 

In fact, being employed as an elementary teacher is the third act of Morgan Jay’s career. He is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, having served the U.S. Navy for eight years before he started a family of six children, while working two decades for the Missouri Division of Youth Services at Sears in Poplar Bluff. Around age 50, he said, Morgan Jay began his higher education to become a teacher, with funding provided in part through his tribal affiliation. 

Taylor served as one of his adjunct instructors through Hannibal-LaGrange University when the initial connection was made. While Morgan Jay is currently working toward a master's degree in elementary administration, he said he would likely finish out his career teaching the first grade where the “kids make me feel like a rock star,” due to his engaging “impromptu” lesson plans. 

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only male [classroom] elementary teacher in the R-I school district, which provides a different dynamic,” Morgan Jay explained. “Teachers come to me as an authority with my skillset, and I look to them for a bunch of things I don’t know, being new to this. It’s a marriage made in heaven.” 

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Cutline: Morgan Jay of Eugene Field is greeted in the hallway by his students following recess.

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