Oct 302008
Authors: Madeline Novey

Ever since CSU junior Sky Medicine Bear could walk, he has celebrated his Native American heritage with music and dance, food and folk lore, and most importantly, at traditional POW WOWs — a true culmination of Native American cultural arts and traditions.

On Saturday, Nov. 1, Bear shared hundreds of years of Native American culture and tradition with his family, members of Native American tribes across the mid-west, and members of the Fort Collins and CSU communities, during the 26th annual CSU POW WOW. The event was held in the Main Ballroom in the Lory Student Center, and officials said it signaled the start of Native American Month celebrated in November.

Throughout the daylong event, which ended at 12:30 p.m., attendants were treated to Native American music and art, a selection of jewelry and goods sold by visiting vendors and food, from Native American fry bread to Indian tacos.

Bear, 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, learned the modern style of dance known as the Mens’ Fancy Dance as young child.

As a child, Bear grew up in Aztec New Mexico celebrating the traditions of the Navajo and Sioux tribes, to which he claims kinship, and learned to 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, and eventually performing in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Bear said that the experience was “freaky” at times, and while it was “awesome,” he could not fully express his feelings about the sharing his culture with the American soldiers.

At the present, 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, originating in Pawnee, Oklahoma, performed at the all-day event and sang the Grand Entry song in the afternoon, the dance which combined the talents of performers from across the country to honor the start of the POW WOW.

Attendants of the event were encouraged by the master of ceremonies, Bruce LeClaire of the Lakota tribe in Durango, Colo., to put reservation aside, “meet someone new,” and shake their 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 and other officials said that the POW WOW has been apart of the Native American culture “forever” — before Christopher Columbus set foot upon American shores more than 700 years ago.

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, and 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 donned 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 University of Colorado 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.”

At the time of its origin, when the Kiowa tribe created the song to mimic the beautiful song of the red wolf, the performers used rawhide and gourd shakers, which were later modernized and replaced with the plastic shakers.

“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., hundreds of attendants sat witness to the Grand Entry ceremony, in which dozens of dancers from numerous tribes and dance styles — from the Men’s Fancy Dance, to the Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance — circled around the center of the ballroom, each in a way that spectators said illustrated the colorful presence of all the tribes.

Bear said that the men performing the Fancy Dance wore the costumes that people recognized most often for their ornate, feathered headdresses referred to as head roaches and most commonly made out of porcupine quills. Both the men and women wore brightly colored regalia adorned with elaborately beaded head pieces and bells, which created a rhythmic cacophony that synchronized with the seven host drum groups that played.

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 news@collegian.com

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