For about 14 years now, several students from Shawnee Public Schools representing various Native American tribes have competed and performed in the Spirit Wolf Dance Troupe, expressing their love of dance and their culture.
According to Graham Primeaux, SPS Indian Education Coordinator, the dance troupe is made up of a group of students who perform at SPS school sites and in the Shawnee community.
“When schools need cultural education, we use our own dancing Native American students to come out into the neighborhood to share their culture, heritage and traditions,” Primeaux said.
He explained that students of various ages from the district participate in the dance troupe and that each presentation is different.
“We have between six and 18 students in our district dancing,” he said. “There are no auditions, we just know a lot of families of students.”
He explained that about 30% of SPS students are Native American students and that 41 different tribes are represented by these students.
About 13 different tribes are represented by the students of the dance troupe.
These tribes include the Kickapoo Tribe, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, the Sac and Fox Nation, the Delaware Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ponca Nation, the Osage Nation, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Pawnee Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Comanche, the Caddo Nation, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
Primeaux explained that the troupe is beneficial for the students because it gives them the opportunity to share their heritage and to have confidence in who they are.
“Our dancers build on their own identity and are able to participate in their own teachings and cultural traditions through dance,” he said. “So when we go to schools, we can use our own students to teach and educate non-natives about the culture, heritage and traditions of our Indian people. “
For Makiah Tilley, a junior at Shawnee High School, being part of the dance troupe is a great opportunity.
The 16-year-old said she had danced her whole life but started competing when she was nine.
Tilley is a member of the Absentee Shawnee tribe and she said being part of the dance troupe gives her the chance to show off her culture to her peers.
“I just love the feeling of being in the arena,” Tilley said.
The dancer is self-taught and said her dancing requires a lot of foot work.
She grew up going to powwows and was inspired to dance by her family, who also taught her the traditions of her tribe.
“It makes me happy. Just the feeling (of dancing) and showing it to people is what I love to do,” Tilley said.
She said it is important to have shows like the dance troupe to educate people who are not part of the native culture.
“(It’s important) to make them understand what’s really going on and to show what we’re really doing so that they learn to respect (our culture),” Tilley said, explaining that there are different types of dancing. .
“Tribal dance and powwow dance are very different. Tribal dances (are) like a ceremony (where) we do eight different songs and eight different types of dance on our tribal grounds,” Tilley said. “So powwows are more like competitions. “
She explained that family and other tribesmen often attend tribal dances, while powwows are more open.
Tilley said people love the way he dances at powwows and overall everyone has their own style of dancing.
She said she will continue to dance in the future and hopes to go to college after graduating.
Primeaux, who created the dance troupe, said it started as a way for Native American students to express themselves.
“We wanted to have the indigenous voice in the schools, so part of that is allowing our students to express themselves with their dance and what we wanted to do was teach all non-indigenous children why indigenous tribes dance. “, did he declare.
He explained that many students may see certain forms of Native American dance in advertisements or other types of advertisements.
However, these are not always precise teachings of traditional Aboriginal dances.
“I don’t know if everyone knows why we dance, so that’s what we do – try to educate people about our culture and we teach them that dancing is not just spiritual, but it’s a celebration, ”said Primeaux.
The educator, who is himself a dancer and a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, said he was taught that by dancing you celebrate something special and that “every step is like a prayer.”
“I feel like everyone in Shawnee is respectful and accepts our native cultures,” he said. “We have four tribes that have borders here. Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Absentee Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Sac and Fox Nation. We have a lot of tribal presence here, so I think it’s good to have that.”
Primeaux explained that the Shawnee District has enabled him and his colleagues to run other programs to educate students about Indigenous culture.
“I’m really happy to be in Shawnee Public Schools because of their acceptance of the culture and they are just very understanding and understand that this is a whole bunch in this town and community,” Primeaux said.
In addition to performing at SPS school venues, the dance troupe also performs in the Shawnee community.
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“People really take it, are open and love to see the kids dance,” he said. “It’s very powerful and it says a lot about Aboriginal people and their culture.
For Primeaux, the best part of his job as Indian Education Coordinator is helping students succeed.
“A lot of our native children come to school and it is very difficult for them, but our program tries to do everything possible to get them to graduation and we are constantly busy helping the students with their experiences. school, ”he said.
Primeaux explained that the door to the Indian education program is always open to Indigenous students and families of SPS.
Going forward, he hopes the district and the Shawnee will continue to grow as a community and embrace diversity within the population.
At this time, no performance of the Spirit Wolf Dance Troupe is scheduled, but Primeaux has said there will hopefully be more in the spring.