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Ronan High School’s Indian Club showcases traditional dances

By Alyssa Kelly
Char-Koosta News

Louie Plante, Sr (Kootenai) demonstrates men’s fancy dance. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Louie Plante, Sr (Kootenai) demonstrates men’s fancy dance. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

RONAN — Cultural education took the center stage during an assembly on powwow dance hosted by Ronan High School’s Indian Club. The assembly included demonstrations in traditional, jingle, fancy, and chicken style dances as well as information on its history and significance.

The assembly was opened with a prayer and speech by traditional dancer Phillip Paul (Pend d’Oreille). “Being here brings back memories to when I was a student here,” he said. “We talk about separatism–there was a time that Native American people were not treated well in school. In 1958 I helped form an Indian club in Ronan and there was controversy over the chief being the mascot. To me, it didn’t bother me because the bonnet is an honor to my people.”

Miss Salish and Pend d’Oreille Lene Trahan helped organize a Native American dance demonstration to educate her classmates on various powwow dance styles and their history. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Miss Salish and Pend d’Oreille Lene Trahan helped organize a Native American dance demonstration to educate her classmates on various powwow dance styles and their history. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Student and Miss Salish Pend d’Oreille Lene Trahan and Brianna Webster introduced and provided a history of each dance demonstration. “The traditional dance evolves from a dance held to ensure a successful hunt or war party. The dance is meant to tell the story of war party,” Trahan said introducing Paul’s traditional men’s dance demonstration.

Lynell shepherd (Crow-Blackfeet) and Layla Pretty On Top (Crow) demonstrated women’s traditional dance. “The traditional dance is the oldest style of dance for women,” Trahan said. “It demonstrates a woman’s modesty and pride.”

Talon Addison (CSKT-Arapaho-Northern Cheyenne) demonstrates the grass dance.  (Alyssa Kelly photo)Talon Addison (CSKT-Arapaho-Northern Cheyenne) demonstrates the grass dance. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Talon Addison (Pend d’Oreille-Northern Cheyenne) demonstrated the grass dance. “The grass dance originates from the Plains tribe the Dakota Sioux. There are many stories, spiritual meanings, and legends to the grass dance. One legend says a boy had a vision where he saw himself dancing in the swaying grass and he shared it with his people. Another site says the dance honors the importance of grass,” Trahan said.

Laurencia Star Blanket (Salish-Cree) and Marianne Addison (Pend d’Oreille-Arapaho) demonstrated the women’s jingle dance. “Most accounts of the jingle dress dance originate with Ojibwe tribe,” Trahan said. “It’s a medicine dance that was used to end suffering and provide healing for a young girl who was sick. It is a symbol of strength and mental and spiritual health.”

Aislyn Baker (Rocky Boy) demonstrates women’s fancy shawl dance. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Aislyn Baker (Rocky Boy) demonstrates women’s fancy shawl dance. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Aislyn Baker (Chippewa Cree) demonstrated the fancy shawl dance. “Fancy shawl is a modern dance that has been compared to the movement of a butterfly,” Webster said. “The dancer needs to be light on her feet. It takes a lot of work.”

Louie Plante, Sr. (Kootenai) demonstrated the men’s fancy dance. “Men’s fancy originates in Oklahoma in the 1920’s when Native American religious practices were outlawed,” Trahan said. “The dance was originally used for entertainment and was one of the only dances legal to perform in public.”

Gavin Begay (Warm Springs) and Ardon McDonald (Salish-Blackfeet) demonstrated the men’s (prairie) chicken dance. The origin of the dance is controversial, but one Lakota origin story describes a vision a man had of the prairie chicken spirit that visited him after feasting on the animal with his family. The man shared the dance from his vision with his people. “The prairie chicken dance is one of the oldest dances,” Webster said.

Phillip Paul (Pend d’Oreille) opens the assembly with a prayer in Salish and a discussion on his experience as a former Ronan High School student. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Phillip Paul (Pend d’Oreille) opens the assembly with a prayer in Salish and a discussion on his experience as a former Ronan High School student. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Trahan said a lot of work went into planning and organizing the assembly. “I hope people got a better understanding of our culture and a newfound aspiration to dance,” she says. “I was caught off guard to find out that not a lot of people at my school knew dance styles and the history behind it.”

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