West Chester University of Pennsylvania was treated with performances from the dance group Deer Chaser as part of the University’s Native American Heritage Month celebrations.
In 1915, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, persuaded the Boys Scouts of America to set aside a time to honor the “first Americans,” which led to November eventually becoming Native American Heritage Month.
On Tuesday, Nov. 8, members of the Native American youth group performed Lakota dances from the Ogala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota. The dancers were brought to campus thanks to Dr. Voss of the WCU Social Work Department and many sponsors, including: the Ethnic Studies Institute, the Frederick Douglass Institute, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Social Equity, Francis Harvey Green Library, Sykes Student Union,WCU Social Work Department, and Circle Legacy.
To kick-off the event, the performers sang the Honor Song. Traditionally sung at funerals, it was officially recognized as the Lakota National Anthem in 1979.
The first dance performed was meant to honor children. The Lakota Indians value their sacred children and the next generation of their people. Two of the dancers, Savannah Rose, seven, and Kado, four, learned to dance very early in life, much like many Lakota children who learn how to dance by watching the older generations.
The “Men’s Grass Dance” was performed next by Sam Ironcloud, a student at Black Hill State University in Spearfish, S.D., where he said that he takes “normal classes but designed from a Lakota point of view.” He plans to attend graduate school to attain a Master’s degree.
“My plan is to make you happy by dancing,” Sam said.
He explained that the “Men’s Grass Dance” was meant to help when feeling emotionally or physically hurt.
Dancer Natisha Wagner, the 2011-2012 Miss He Sapa Win, performed the next dance. Wagner represented the Rosebud Reservation by competing in the Miss He Sapa Win competition, which she won earlier this year due to her dancing abilities and drug and alcohol-free lifestyle, among other factors.
Her dance, she explained, was more contemporary because it was not until the 1960’s that women were allowed to dance in the “dance circle” in the tribes.
A highlight of the event was Jasmine Rae Pickner’s “Hoop Dance.” A two-time world champion hoop dancer, Pickner performed with about thirty hoola-hoop-like objects. She explained that the hoop symbolized oneself. Beginners generally start dancing with one hoop because it teaches them self-discipline and to take care of that one hoop means to take care of oneself. The dance moves in the “Hoop Dance” symbolized the eagle, the butterfly, and the flower.
Pickner responded to the negativity and stereotypes that often acccompany living on a reservation.
“The negativity, it makes me work harder, dance harder,” she said.
Finally, the dancers invited audience members to partake in a dance with them. The dance, called “The Friendship Dance” or the “Round Dance,” is performed to connect the circles of the Native Americans and the non-Native Americans. The audience members followed the dancers’ moves as they stood in a circle and held hands while listening to the partial-English lyrics.
In the closing statements, Luke, the drummer and also Pickner’s husband, spoke briefly about numerous topics. He explained that there are sacred songs and dances that cannot be shared with the public. These dances are generally performed at the annual Sundance, which he described as the “Lakota New Year.”
He then mentioned the sacredness of music and the way in which Native American men “woo” women through it. He explained that many of the romantic Lakota songs state “I love you” or “I will hold you.” He also said that some of the songs are comedic with lyrics stating, “I’ll even lose weight for you.”
“Our greatest medicine to give back to anybody is to make ‘em laugh,” he said.
Carol Fritz is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at CF716022@wcupa.edu.