With the Dreamstarter grant, I recruited 10 Northern Cheyenne youth to the Powwow Project over the summer and helped them begin their journey to the powwow circle. In the middle of May, my students started the construction of their powwow outfits. Some of them were as young as 10 years old, and the eldest of the students was 18 years old. My group was diverse in terms of age and experience. Some had danced as toddlers or during their elementary years, but were never able to keep up with it because their families could not afford to keep buying them new outfits to fit their growing bodies. Some students on the other hand, had never even danced before. Since the students were different ages and had different levels of experience, some finished their outfits early, and some are still working on their outfits today.
On the first day of class, I invited a respected elder named Jennie Parker to come in and talk to the kids about traditional Cheyenne designs, colors, and their special meanings. I also invited Philippe Franquelin, a respected Frenchman with extensive knowledge on Cheyenne craftsmanship and history. I felt that it was important to bring these people in to share their knowledge because all those special Cheyenne designs and colors are starting to disappear and you rarely ever see them anymore. I always felt that it was important to teach these things and bring it back because it’s a part of our identity as Cheyenne people.
After teaching these young people the meanings behind the designs, many of them began to show even more interest than before. They found something with meaning, and were eager to wear those meaningful symbols. It captured their attention. Some even started asking if they could work on their outfits all day long instead of the original two hours a day schedule. They were determined, and I supported that motivation the best I could and would stay up to two hours later than usual sometimes to help students work on their outfits.
It’s been an amazing experience so far. Some of these young people have never even danced before, but they look like a natural when they practice dancing in their new outfits. I think it must be that drumbeat. Their hearts know the drumbeat. All they have to do is listen, and the rest comes natural.
So far, one student has taken first place in his respective dance category at our local Labor Day Powwow in Ashland, MT and another entered a powwow princess pageant and walked away with the title. All these students are so talented, and I am so glad that the Powwow Project and the Dreamstarter grant is helping these students realize their potential.
Overall, the most rewarding aspect of this whole process has been the look of happiness on the faces of the young people I have been privileged to work with. Every time one of them completed their outfit, they would have the biggest smile and be so excited and proud to show it off to their family. Their smile and their happiness make this whole project all worth it.