Since CSU junior Sky Medicine Bear could walk, he has celebrated his Native American heritage with music and dance, food and folklore and — in a true culmination of Native American cultural arts and traditions, he said — at traditional pow wows.
On Saturday during the 26th annual CSU POW WOW, Bear shared hundreds of years of Native American culture and tradition with his family, members of Native American tribes across the Midwest and members of the Fort Collins and CSU communities. The event was held in the Main Ballroom in the Lory Student Center, and it signaled the start of Native American Month celebrated in November.
Bear learned the modern style of dance known as the Mens’ Fancy Dance as a young child. Now a member of both the Native American Student Services and the American Indian Science & Engineering Society, two of many CSU organizations that sponsored the culture-rich exhibition, he shared it at the event.
As a child in Aztec, N.M., Bear grew up celebrating the traditions of the Navajo and Sioux tribes, to which he claims kinship, and learned the art of dance from watching other performers at pow wows.
Two years ago, Bear was asked to share his talents and dance traditions, which he said, “will always be a part of (his) life,” with American soldiers stationed in Iraq.
Traveling from base to base for 10 days, Bear eventually performed in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad.
Calling the experience “freaky” at times, Bear said he could not fully express his feelings about the “awesome” privilege of sharing his culture with the American soldiers.
Now studying electrical engineering at CSU, Bear performs across the country at Native American pow wows as a traditional dancer and member of the Grammy award-winning, northern host drum group Young Bird.
The drum group from Pawnee, Okla., boasting more than 20 members, performed at the all-day CSU event Saturday and sang the Grand Entry song in the afternoon.
Bear and other officials said that the pow wow has been a part of the Native American culture “forever” — since before Christopher Columbus set foot upon American shores more than 700 years ago.
Throughout the daylong event, which ended at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, attendants were treated to Native American music and art, a selection of jewelry, clothing and goods sold by visiting vendors and food that varied from Native American fry bread to Indian tacos.
Master of ceremonies Bruce LeClaire of the Lakota tribe in Durango encouraged event attendees to put reservation aside, “meet someone new” and shake a hand in honor of the celebration of friendship the Native American culture emphasizes.
“The pow wow is basically for singing and dancing,” LeClaire said and explained that the pow wow serves as a way to honor Native American people, “build a sense of community” and share the time-honored Native American history with people of all diversities.
Bear said that he felt “honored” to be in the company of the diverse collection of people visiting from the Navajo, Cheyenne and Sioux tribes, among many others.
He said that the pow wow was “for everyone,” not just the natives, to come together to “celebrate life” and “keep the tradition alive.”
Young Bird and several dancers dressed in richly colored sashes and with salt and peppershaker rattles in hand, performed a series of gourd dances at the start of the pow wow, which originated from several southern plains tribes.
Eagle Boy Whiteshield, a sophomore farm ecology major at the CU-Denver, and member of the Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was honored as the head gourd dancer of the ceremonial dance that Whiteshield said has “been around for centuries.”
“I’m here to share this song with the people,” Whiteshield said, reflecting on the historical meaning and origin of the song that he learned from his uncles and grandfathers. “It’s about preserving the culture to let it carry on.”
At 1:15 p.m. Saturday, hundreds of attendants sat witness to the Grand Entry ceremony, in which dozens of dancers representing numerous tribes and dance styles; from small children to veteran dancers circled around the center of the ballroom.
With huge headdresses swaying, feathers and glitter adorning every surface of their regalia and moccasins tapping complementary beats to the host drummers, spectators said the artistic showcase illustrated the colorful presence of all the tribes.
Shelly Reush, a senior geology major said that she “absolutely loved it” and thought it was “neat to see how much (the performers) enjoyed what they’re doing.”
Other spectators agreed that they thought the Native American culture was beautiful and hoped that they continue to keep the traditions alive.
Kelly Hancock, a teacher in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, said that she will talk to her students about what she learned at the pow wow, and that she and her husband admire the culture and work to expose their son “to as much as they can.”
“(The Native American culture) is a very powerful tradition,” said Chuck Hancock, Kelly Hancock’s husband. “It’s important to keep it going and carrying it on.”
Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at email@example.com.