Native Americans dance to share culture with Anoka students

by Sue Austreng
Staff Writer

Stepping to the beat of a living drum and twirling in colorfully beaded regalia, Native American dancers performed center stage in Anoka High School auditorium Feb. 10.

Raelynn Swain, Chippewa, performs the oldest of women’s dance, Buckskin, during the Feb. 10 Native American Drumming and Dance demonstration at Anoka High School.

Some 650 AHS arts and music students witnessed the authentic performance of dance, music and culture, a gathering of Native Americans called a powwow.

“This truly enriches the students’ educational experience,” said Rita Rios, Indian Education adviser for the Anoka cluster, before the performance began.

“Powwows are the most visible part of the Native American society. To witness this performance is to begin to understand the reason behind,” Rios said.

Powwows, a celebration of the preservation of a rich heritage and Native American traditions, is one way for Native Americans to connect with each other while keeping their culture alive through song, dance and storytelling, said student emcee Alesha English, a member of the Red Lake Nation.

Opening powwows to the public provides opportunities to educate non-natives about their culture and traditions, English said.

The drum plays an important part in many Native American tribal ceremonies, celebrations and spiritual festivals.

To Native people, the drum is a living piece of earth and is made of living ingredients: the skin of an elk or a bull or a deer serves as the cover; the case is made of a tree trunk.

“Drums are recognized as their own living breathing entity and we believe that the spirit of the tree and animal that the drum was made from live within the drum,” English said. “We also believe that the beats of the drum help call out to the spirits to protect and watch over us.”

One by one, traditional Native American dances were performed on stage during the Feb. 10 tribal dance event.

Students were then invited to climb up on stage, circle the drum hand-in-hand with the Native American dancers, and mimic their steps to dance two pushes and the round dance.

Dancing in a clockwise circle around the drums, Anoka High School students and the Native American dancers created community and celebrated unity.

The Feb. 10 Native American dance performance assists students in successfully meeting the new Minnesota Arts Standards.

For more photos of the event, click here.

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]