Tag Archives: Native American culture

Viejas Keeps Native American Culture Alive

The 20th anniversary celebration of Viejas Casino on September 17 was a community event that heralded the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians’ pride and accomplishment. The premier gaming facility in San Diego County has birthed economic success for Viejas and the community at large.

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Waiting for the official cake cutting are, from left, Viejas tribal council member Victor E. Woods, vice chairman Robert Cita Welch, chairman Anthony R. Pico, secretary Anita R. Uqualla, council member Raymond “Bear” Cuero, treasurer Sam Q. Brown and council member Greybuck S. Espinoza.

The Viejas Band, one of the 12 remaining bands of the Kumeyaay Indian Nation, envisioned that their casino in Alpine, California could open doors to success, and it has. They give an estimated $2 million a year in philanthropic donations to community groups, schools, service and civic organizations, and charity events, and employ more than 12,000 people in their casino, bank, hotels and outlet center.

The Viejas Band endeavors to uphold its traditions and several of them were incorporated into the week of celebration festivities. The tribe’s philosophy of giving back was put into action on September 13. Over a 14-hour period more than 4,000 Viejas Casino guests were treated at the Harvest Buffet to a free meal in thanks for their patronage throughout the years. Viejas tribal members and council members showed their sincere thanks by serving the meals themselves.

“Viejas Casino was one of many firsts,” said Robert Scheid, Viejas public relations director. “It was the first casino in California, formally established on September 13, 1991 and ushering in an exciting era of tribal government gaming in California, which has provided world-class gaming, entertainment and dining to hundreds of thousands of people from California and beyond.”

On September 17 there was an official ribbon cutting ceremony at the front doors of the casino to commemorate the 20 years. Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony R. Pico’s welcoming comments substantiated that the band’s heritage, tradition and journey to this moment was as vital as their business aplomb that has brought 51,346,910 casino visitors over the years.

“There was a time when we were steeped in poverty, and we were stunned at the compassion and love that you all gave us,” Pico said. “Because living in poverty you’re removed from the rest of society. We had a feeling that everyone was against us until we created our own destiny, and when we did you stood abreast with us and walked with us into the sun. For that we are forever grateful, and with your help we’ve been able to pull ourselves out of poverty, send our kids to school and again be the proud people we were thousands of years ago.”

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Virginia Christman offers the smudging blessing at Viejas Casino’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Next was the traditional sage smudging by Viejas’ former vice chairman and tribal culture leader, Virginia Christman. Pico explained the ritual. “The smudging blessing is a cleansing ceremony that rids us of negative emotion and negative energy. From our perspective the joy and electricity it creates causes us to be in the frame of mind of goodness and forgiveness of one another.”

After the smudging blessing several Viejas Bird Singers began their chants. American Indian nations of Southern California have continued to embrace bird songs that started with early tribes as a part of Native American religious and spiritual ceremonies and events. Drawing from the world around them, the bird and its activity became the symbol of social gatherings to sing and dance and also mark the importance of rituals. Males of the tribes sing and shake their rattles while the women dance to the rhythms.

Pico said this is an important tradition of the band. He recalls how he, tribal members John Christman, Ron Christman and Leroy Elliott, chairman of the Manzanita Band of Kumeyaay Nation in Boulevard, California—24 miles from Viejas—sought to learn the songs as young boys.

“I remember bird singers from the Quechan Nation in Yuma would come to Viejas and sing all night at wakes,” Pico said. “I knew this older man, George Hyde, who lived on the Manzanita reservation and asked him to teach me the songs, but for years he would say, “No more Indian, no more bird songs, no more Kumeyaay, all gone.”

Years later Pico figured a way to get Hyde to record some of the songs. Pico then gave Ron Christman and Elliott discs of the songs for them to learn. The three of them were often asked to do the bird singing at other tribes and were instrumental in keeping the tradition alive. John Christman was 8 years old when he started learning the songs.

“He was a genius in music,” Pico said. “He learned to speak Spanish, is fluent in the Kumeyaay and Cocopah languages, and I believe is the last of the bird singers who knows the songs all the way through.”

John Christman said bird songs helped him learn a lot of other languages. He also understands that the tradition of singing—whether at funerals or weddings—is definitely connected to the business side of the Viejas Band. “The songs tell us where we were and why; and their strength has helped us stay together as a family that’s turned our lives around for a better future for us all,” he said.

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Viejas tribal member Charlie Brown happily serving guests at Viejas Casino’s free meal event.

Ron and Virginia Christman’s son Ral is yet another generation learning the songs from his father. “To me these songs are the best forms of music,” said Ral, who earned a college degree and now teaches history at a local high school. “And I can learn these songs because of the success of our casino. Before gaming, our tribal members who had jobs often didn’t even have cars so many had to walk long ways to get to work. Our gaming success now gives us the time to practice our culture, and not lose it, but pass it on to future generations. For that I say thank you to my tribe, and now I can teach my three sons the songs of their ancestors.”

Once the bird singers finished, the ribbon across the Viejas Casino entrance was cut and the tribal council officiated the cake cutting. The Viejas’ Kumeyaay traditions of giving back, sharing with their neighbors, the smudging blessing and Bird Singing were only part of the anniversary festivities that continued throughout the night. There were VIP receptions, dessert treats for everyone at the casino and a giveaway of a 2012 Corvette, won by Maria Teresa Magpantay Dull of San Diego.

Miss Indian Arizona Crowns Winner and Celebrates 50 Years

While some years have felt like two-steps-forward, one-step-back, members of the Miss Indian Arizona Association keep pushing forward with a strong will as printed in this year’s scholarship program: “The challenges of our journey over the last 50 years, sometimes in the face of insurmountable odds, have only increased our efforts to enhance and improve recognition of the contributions of young Indian women.”

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These eight young Native American women competed for the title of Miss Indian Arizona 2011-2012.

It was half a century ago that the Miss Indian Arizona program was introduced during Indian Day activities at the Arizona State Fair. The annual event stayed at the fairgrounds for five years until 1967 when the Arizona Republic newspaper graphically reported the program had been “scalped due to the lack of wampum.”

The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona tried sponsorship for a while, as did the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the nonprofit Irataba Society until interested parties established the Miss Indian Arizona Association and the scholarship program began in 2000 with a focus on academics and community service.

In those intervening years, between 600 and 700 young Native American women have participated in the program—with 55 of them eventually holding the Miss Indian Arizona title. While all titleholders have represented Arizona Native American culture, heritage, and spirituality at it’s finest, three have gone on to hold the Miss Indian America title as well including Maxine Norris, Tohono O’odham, in 1973; Gracie Welsh, Mohave-Chemehuevi, Colorado River Indian Tribe, in 1977; and Vivian Juan Saunders, Tohono O’odham, in 1981.

“One of the major goals of our association is to increase the number and amount of educational scholarships it presents to program participants in order to meet the full annual financial needs of a student,” says events coordinator Yvonne Schaaf, Quechan-Mohave-Salt River Pima, the 1989 Miss Indian Arizona title holder.

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Miss Indian Arizona 2011-2012 Jaymee Li Moore is seen here with her first attendant Martha Martinez (left), Salt River, and her second attendant Edith Starr (right), San Carlos Apache.

This year, the 50th anniversary of the scholarship program, found eight contestants vying for title honors and a first place check of $4,000—$2,000 for first runner-up and $1,500 for second runner-up—to be used as-needed for higher education expenses, anything from tuition to books to a laptop.

“No contestants go home empty-handed as each receives some kind of scholarship check to help further her education,” says Miss Indian Arizona Association executive director Denise Homer, Mohave-Shasta (Colorado River Indian Tribe).  “The program is possible through the efforts and generosity of Arizona tribes, tribal and private entrepreneurs and enterprises who contribute their financial support.”

Following a parade of former titleholders and an introduction by Sweetie Cody, Navajo, Miss Indian Arizona 2010-2011, judges and contestants got down to the business at hand. Competition was both friendly and fierce with participants working to make the best impression by sharing their tribal culture through traditional dress, song, dance, humor, oral presentations, and a Q&A session with judges. The participants competed on October 8 at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Chandler, Arizona in six different categories including evening gown and traditional dress as well as a display of talent, either contemporary or traditional.

Participation is open to enrolled members of Arizona Indian tribes between the ages of 17 and 24 who are in school—high school, trade school, college, or who are employed and wish to pursue further education.

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The title of Miss Indian Arizona 2011-2012 went to Jaymee Li Moore, of the Colorado River Indian Tribe.

While the numbers of competitors has varied from year-to-year among the 22 federally recognized tribes in the state—each tribe is allowed one entrant—this year’s challengers represented Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, Colorado River, Hualapai, Salt River Pima-Maricopa, Tohono O’odham and Gila River.  Although all were winners, Jaymee Li Moore, Colorado River Indian Tribe, ended up wearing the 2011 top spot tiara; serving as her first attendant will be Martha Martinez, Salt River, and serving as her second attend will be Edith Starr, San Carlos Apache.

Moore says the scholarship money will come in handy for everything from books to rent to tuition for summer classes. “Scholarships are vital because the quest for higher education is not a simple path. The organization awarded the scholarship believes in me and is playing an active role in my future and my ability to succeed by translating that support into motivation for success.”

Last year’s winner, Cody, congratulated the new title holder and as she relinquished the crown and took her farewell walk, noted: “It has been an amazing year since I was bestowed the honor and blessing of representing the tribes of Arizona, the many beautiful people and cultures throughout the state, and I encourage my proud Native Americans to dream big in their future endeavors and to shine their light on the world.”

In a moment of quiet reflection after the event, Homer noted: “The 50th Miss Indian Arizona Scholarship Program was a huge success—again providing participants with an opportunity to build self-confidence and enhance pride as they realize the importance of educating others about Arizona Natives and their diverse culture.”

Native American Heritage Day at MSU

A video posted by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle highlights a Native American dancing exhibit held September 23, 2011 at Montana State University’s Native American Heritage Day celebration. While National Native American Heritage Day is held November 25, the Friday after Thanksgiving, many schools and communities hold their own events to celebrate Native American culture and educate others.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Professor Earns National Research Award

Michael Salvador WSU Award Professor Earns National Research Award

Michael Salvador

Michael Salvador and Tracylee Clarke spent several years studying the Nez Perce management of gray wolf introduction in north Idaho for their article titled “The Weyekin Principle: Toward an Embodied Critical Rhetoric,” which won them the 2011 Christine L. Oravec Research Award in Environmental Communication.

The award is given by the Environmental Communication Division of the National Communication Association to one published article each year that: “addresses significant scholarly questions about the relationship between communication and the environment; demonstrates intellectual rigor appropriate to its mode of inquiry; is forward-looking in its contributions to the field; has the potential to influence future research in the field; and is clear and compelling to its intended audiences,” reads a release.

Salvador is an associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University (WSU), and Clarke, a former graduate student of his, is now an assistant professor at California State University Channel Islands.

The WSU press release notes how the article breaks new ground “in the study of environmental communication by linking phenomenological inquiry with Native American cultural perspectives on the relationship between humans and nature. The term ‘weyekin’ comes from the Nez Perce language and expresses a particular connection between human experience and natural surroundings.”

Salvador said he winning the award was “gratifying and humbling,” and hopes their work “contributes to improving the ability of people everywhere to communicate effectively in understanding and solving the critical environmental problems we face.”

New York City Fourth Graders Study Lenape Culture, Learn Respect

If most non-Natives know only Tonto, the local sports mascot, and a full-voiced “Geronominoooo!”as their key Indian country reference points, that’s partly because television and film have been their primary educators when it comes to all things Indian. Schools rarely teach Native American life in a pre-European historical context. Too often, school textbooks reduce the original people of this country to naïve pacifists who rescued the Pilgrims, who were violent impediments to Western expansion, and victims of the Trail of Tears.

According to New York City teacher Michelle Owens, who has taught at PS 87 William T. Sherman School for 11 years, a more thoughtful critique of “what they think they know about history and what the true history is” comes up every year. Before learning about Henry Hudson, the young Manhattanites she teaches learn about the matrilineal, communal Lenape groups who lived throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and parts of Delaware and Connecticut, as well as southeastern New York state. Students also learn how the Lenape were displaced by European settlers. In Owens’ class and in fellow fourth grade teacher Joy Franjola’s room, students present work on the Lenape to parents in a two class museum they create to honor, celebrate and understand Lenape life prior to—and independent of—European life in America.

This year, one of those students, 9-year-old Max Jacobs, created a video installation examining Lenape farming and fishing because he says he, “thought a video would be kind of interesting.” He learned much more than ways to hunt, trap, and gather more than 100 wild foods. “The white man took their land,” he says, and they ended up in Oklahoma. I don’t think it’s really fair, because the Lenape couldn’t read what they were signing, and the Lenape didn’t believe in owning the land.”

For Charlotte Seifert, 9, studying the hunting, fishing, and farming techniques of Lenape people enabled her to have some rather sophisticated fun with her family. “My dad’s a vegetarian,” she explains, “and I thought it would be fun for him to learn about killing animals.” She laughs, then grows thoughtful and adds, “They only killed as much as they needed, and the extra food they would store.” People who now dominate the area that once belonged to the Lenape, she says, “consume way more, and then our food goes bad and is thrown away.”

Both classes were working on their museum during Thanksgiving, which presented an opportunity for them to reflect on the holiday. Erik Fatzinger, 10, studied Lenape tools and weapons and says that now, when he thinks about Thanksgiving, “I think, not about the Lenape, but, thank God the Pilgrims were able to live, thanks to the Indians, or we wouldn’t be here. I also think about people trying to wipe out the Indians because they thought they looked like savages, but they saved this country. But they still wiped them out. It’s sad.” Classmates Hannah Turner, Layla Shapiro, and Remi Williamson, all of whom are 9 years old, nod in agreement as Erik speaks.

The young learners are also excited about lighter topics, like budding 10-year-old fashionista Emily Hobbs’ interest in fringe since studying Lenape clothing. Isabel Podolsky, 9, also enjoyed the process of learning, saying, “It was fun to go to research sites. I was able to write a full report that helped me learn a lot about Lenape Indian culture.”

One thing Isabel says she learned is that, “The English drove them out to reserves in Oklahoma and Canada. There’s not that many in this area anymore.” She and the other students have developed a better appreciation of contemporary Lenape life through their study of the past. Isabel shares that many Lenape live in Pennsylvania today and adds, “I think we should give them respect, but not enough other people do.” Emily agrees with her and says, “Yes, they’ve given us their land so we can survive. I think more people should know. Only the fourth grade knows about it. Not enough parents know about the Lenape.”

Daniel Eyny, 9, nods as his classmate speaks. Then he says, “I think not enough people respect or learn about the Lenape Indians. I think the parents need to go to school to learn that.” Then he says the one thing that all these young learners seem to have grasped: “We should be thankful to them.”

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Max Jacobs created a video installation examining Lenape farming and fishing.

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Isabel Podolsky enjoyed learning about the Lenape and gained a new respect for Native culture.

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Daniel Eyny and his Lenape village diorama.

Student Video Discusses Preserving Native Culture

A YouTube video titled, “The Enduring Native – How Native American Culture has been Preserved,” by Dartmouth College students Jesse D.L. Beamish, John A. Steward and Thomas A. Cheese, discusses how the Apache culture has endured the many challenges it has faced.

In the video they discuss how Native cultures are not identical and show a National Geographic video of a Mescalero Apache 13-year-old girl’s passage into womanhood.

The four-day ceremony, which culminates in an all-night dance to test endurance, is meant to prepare girls for the trials of womanhood.

The group then interviews a Native American student who also attends Dartmouth. Elijah Moreno, a member of the Chiricahua Apache Nation, shares his views on preserving the culture.

When they ask him what is most valuable to Native culture, he says, “I think language is a really important aspect of tribal identity because it’s one of those things that theoretically isn’t tainted or altered by Europeans.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Lewis-Clark State College Celebrates Native American Awareness Week

Today marks the beginning of the 25th Native American Awareness Week at Lewis-Clark State College, in Lewiston, Idaho. The week will be full of activities and explorations into Native American culture.

“The purpose of Native American Awareness Week is to promote an understanding of Native American cultures and peoples, along with promoting multiculturalism, with a focus on tribes from the Northwest,” said Bob Sobotta, director of LCSC Native American/Minority Student Services, in a press release. “Native American Awareness Week also provides participants an opportunity to learn from Native peoples about different aspects of tradition, leadership, education and history which they may not have been exposed to otherwise.”

Events include a mini powwow on March 6 and a performance by Native American Music Award-winning musician and writer Arigon Starr on March 7. Starr, a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, will perform at 7 p.m. at the Silverthorne Theatre. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth and will be sold at the door.

The week of awareness culminates Friday, March 9 with the 25th Annual LCSC Pow Wow at the Activity Center from 7 p.m. to midnight.

For a full agenda visit the Lewis-Clark State College website.

Maintaining Culture Is Not an Act of Violence

One of the arguments against indigenous self-government is that it requires special rights and stokes the flames of cultural, political and identity difference. Nation states are built on concepts of individual equality in political and economic life, and uphold consensual commitments to common political institutions and laws.

For example, the United States Constitution and party political systems sets the basic laws and political processes of U.S. society. The indigenous position, however, asserts that Indigenous Peoples existed culturally and politically for thousands of years before the formation of contemporary nation states. Indigenous Peoples are not parties to the formation of nation states, and are not generally consensual citizens of nation states.

Most indigenous peoples maintain their own cultures, communities, and political forms, while outwardly conforming to nation state power. The resistance to full social and political assimilation looks extremely radical to nation states, who fear that the absences of strong and primary political loyalties to the nation state may be a sources of political separation, ethnic violence, and destabilization. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) clearly prohibits Indigenous Peoples to separate from the nation states that currently surround them and enforce their laws and institutions over them.

The indigenous position of maintaining culture, identity, land, and self-government is not an act of violence toward nation states, but rather are acts of cultural continuity and defense. Nevertheless, the strong assimilation trends in contemporary democratic nation states seeks to individualize, detribalize, racialize, and ethnicize Indigenous Peoples. Nation states are better equipped to deal with individual citizens, and more recently better equipped to deal with issues of race, and different cultural and ethnic group identities.

Indigenous Peoples, however, seek to preserve land, economy, political self-government and cultural identity in ways that are significantly different than racial or ethnic groups. Nation states do not have the intellectual or political tools to manage relations with Indigenous Peoples on their own grounds. Nation states are not equipped to democratically manage relations with indigenous communities that do not share the same visions of individual citizenship, separation of church and state, and private economic accumulation. Indigenous Peoples seek to preserve a way of life, a way of being, and want to control their own decisions for the future, their way of becoming.

From the mainstream point of view, having such “radically” different communities within nations states not only stokes fears of separatism but also of ethnic violence. The current version of creating world peace is to develop a world government or confederation with citizens of the world, who all have equal human rights. Such a vision is a generalization of the current modern nation state applied to the entire world. This vision of world peace, however, does not fully account for the religious, culture, indigenous, and institutional diversity of human groups. In this new proposed world, modern world citizens will share in a common civilized cultural order. More recently, U.N. diplomats have proposed that the 21st century will be a period for the emergence of multi-cultural nation states where cultural diversity will be honored, within common agreements of democratic political process and institutions.

The indigenous conception of world peace calls for mutual respect, understanding, and relations between all nations of the world, including indigenous nations. Indigenous Peoples are willing to participate in nation states and world relations as citizens, but not in exchange for sacrificing self-government, land, and cultural identity.

The multicultural view of moving toward world peace does not include Indigenous Peoples, or includes them only as a group of citizens with an ethnic identity. Such a position is resisted by Indigenous Peoples. Any new world order or nation state that does not understand, respect, and create peaceful democratic relations with indigenous nations will have failed to develop a consensual peace, or uphold collective human and indigenous rights. And Indigenous Peoples will continue to seek world peace, beneficial reciprocity, and self-government.

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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) clearly prohibits Indigenous Peoples to separate from the nation states that currently surround them and enforce their laws and institutions over them.

Indian Country Writer Wins Human Rights Award

Indian Country Today Media Network’s own Vincent Schilling spent some time in the spotlight recently. He was honored with a Human Rights Award, presented by the City of Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission.

The award was presented to Schilling at a March 15 event by Virginia Beach Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr., who thanked him for his efforts: “Seriously Vincent, thank you very much for what you do for Native American people and your community.”

Vincent, an enrolled member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, is not only a writer for ICTMN but he also is the executive vice president of Schilling Media, Inc., which he co-owns with his wife, Delores Schilling. The team holds events to promote awareness of Native Americans in Virginia.

Vincent also hosts Native Trailblazers, a blog talk radio program on Fridays at 7 p.m. and has authored four books on Native American heroes.

He was “thrilled” to win the award that is given annually to “individuals (including youth) and organizations who advocate for the human rights which benefit the residents of Virginia Beach,” says a release.

Schilling’s speech at the awards presentation noted how glad he is that Native American people are being recognized, read an excerpt from his speech below:

“When I was about 10 years old, I remember dancing in my room listening to my record player excited that one of the members of The Village People, Felipe Rose, was an Indian. I also remember looking up to the Native American character on TV commercials that cried at the sight of garbage. But I later learned that Iron Eyes Cody—a man that surely loved Native American culture was not Native American, but European.

My entire life, people have asked me, what are you? I remember being ridiculed by my friends in college and was called a drunk, a boozer and that I was just an inferior race that couldn’t stand up to the encroachment and power of a superior race.

I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed and that I did not speak up. Instead, I shook my head in agreement even though I didn’t want to. In Native culture, we are taught to be quiet and humble for fear we may suffer our historic fate once again.

But today I feel different. I am proud of who I am. And even though Native American reservations are the poorest communities in the United States I am proud of who I am. Even though Native American people suffer from the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, suicide, alcoholism and unemployment. I am proud of who I am.

Native American people are much more than a coat drive in December.

Today, Native people are here and alive and well. We are not dead… We are still here. I have written books on Native heroes to show that we as Native people are not just living in a forest or in a reservation—we are senators, firefighters physicians, artists, and schoolteachers.

Today, the man I danced to and listened to on a record player that was smaller than the record—Felipe Rose he is one of my dear friends. For all of these reasons, I work tirelessly. I work as hard as I can so my nations youth won’t have to dance alone in their bedrooms frantically holding on to the only Native American role model that they know of in the world. I want them to know: They Are Not Alone. Thank You.”

Follow Vincent Schilling on twitter.

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Vincent Schilling, right, with Virginia Beach Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr.

Last Chance Community Pow Wow: A Celebration of Native Dance and Culture

Today is your last chance to experience the splendor of the 14th Annual Last Chance Community Pow Wow. Grand Entry is at 1 p.m. at the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall in Helena, Montana. The pow wow is free and all are welcome.

More than 100 dancers from nine tribes, coming from five states including all over Montana, and also from Canada are taking part in the pow wow, said Cary Youpee, Fort Peck Sioux, this year’s chairman.

The Last Chance Community Pow Wow Committee, a grassroots organization in Helena, Montana, was formed in 1998 to create awareness and understanding of the Native American culture. The Committee basically started out of deep respect of our Indian culture and a strong desire to share their Native culture and traditions with relatives, friends, and local residents through a community pow wow celebration.

The theme of the pow wow is “Honor The Children.”  One of the pow wow’s missions is to help teach our youth the many traditions of Native American culture and to share this with their peers to create a better understanding between Native and non-Natives. Children are involved in all functions which include drumming, singing, dancing, regalia making, and fund-raising. It is important for them to participate in cultural activities so they stay in touch with their heritage and can share with others and pass the traditions on to their children.

American Indian traditions are being kept alive at the Last Chance Community Pow Wow, Youpee told the Independent Record. “We probably have the most tiny tot dancers of any pow wow. That’s our theme — honor the children.”

For information, call 406-439-5631.