Native American culture shared

By JENELLE JOHNSON
Family Living Editor

Register/Jenelle Johnson
Charlie Lewis, at left, has performed the “Chicken Dance” for about four years. He began dancing as a youngster at tribal powwows. He and other dancers performed tribal dances for SAFE BASE youngsters at Haskell Indian Nations University Thursday.

“Don’t call us Indians,” Micah Swimmer told SAFE BASE youngsters visiting Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. “We are indigenous to the country. Indians are from India.”
Swimmer was one of several who performed a variety of ethnic dances for the children.
Dressed in colorful tribal regalia embellished with intricate bead work, Swimmer was first to perform a “Grass Dance.” He is a member of the Eastern Cherokee Tribe and came to Haskell from Cherokee, N.C.
He told the youngsters each dance is designed to tell a story.
The “Grass Dance” was performed by warriors prior to a buffalo hunt and also when the tribe moved to a new area. During the dance steps are constantly repeated, as in the patting down of the grass. Three stomps of the right foot is followed by three stomps of the left foot.
Male members of the tribe provide the music for the dances. Although the songs don’t have words different pitches in the voice have meaning to the dancers.

CHARLIE LEWIS took on the persona of a prairie chicken when he perform the “Chicken Dance.”
The “Chicken Dance” is performed by tribes in Montana and Canada and are frequently seen at powwows of the Crow nation. Lewis is from California and of Paiute and Navajo descent.
The steps of the dance mimic those of a prairie chicken as it prances about. The extended chest of the dancer and feathers depict a warrior preparing for battle.

ANDREA FOWLER of Montana performed a “Shawl Dance” for the young audience. She explained that like the times customs also have changed in regards to dance. In years past women performed slow, bouncy dances. Today women perform more athletic dances like the “Shawl Dance.”
During the dance Fowler’s shawl slowly opens from around her body to reveal the young woman turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly
When asked if she had made her costume, Fowler said, “We wear regalia, not costumes. Costumes are for little kids at Halloween time. Many dancers will be offended in you call our clothing a costume.”

THE YOUNGSTERS got to try their hand at stringing beads for a necklace or bracelet.
Bead work on the regalia can take months to complete depending on the design, said Darren Altaha, a member of the Apache Tribe in Arizona.
Native Americans were using abalone shells, turquoise and coral for bead work long before Europeans arrived. To string the beads they used porcupine quills.
Bead work can show status and wealth among tribal members or may be used to represent and honor a family member, Altaha said.

THE STUDENTS final stop was at the Cultural Center, a museum and archived collection of indigenous American material.
In the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame is information on two of the more famous Native American athletes to have attended Haskell — Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills.
Haskell is a four-year degree-granting university which offers post-high school education to members of federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States.
Haskell was formed as the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School in Lawrence n 1884. It was originally an Indian boarding school for 15 students and provided agricultural education for grades one through five. The emphasis was on assimilation — teaching the students to become members of the dominant society.
The school’s name changed to Haskell Institute in 1887 to honor Dudley Haskell, the U.S. Representative from Kansas who was responsible for the school being located in Lawrence.
College level classes were offered in 1927, and in 1970 the college was accredited as Haskell Indian Junior College. In 1993, with the addition of a bachelor of science degree in elementary teacher education, the Kansas Board of Regents changed the name to Haskell Indian Nations University.