Powwow pride in age-old footsteps

Annual sharing of cultures supports schools' work to connect students with heritage

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Title VII Native American Indian Program

• Connects students with their Native American culture and provides academic support.

• Administered by Evergreen, Vancouver, Battle Ground and Camas school districts.

Six boys dressed in traditional regalia sat around a large octagonal drum, chanting and pounding a rhythm on the elk-hide drumhead with buckskin-covered drumsticks.

Waving her arms over her head and bouncing in tiny circles to the beat, Felicia Florendo was among a dozen girls dancing and chanting in a jingle/fancy dance exhibition Saturday in the gymnasium at Covington Middle School.

Students with Native American heritage in the Evergreen, Vancouver, Battle Ground and Camas school districts perform in the annual powwow presented by the Title VII Native American Indian Education Program. In addition to dancing, drumming and singing, the powwow included booths of Native American crafts — from wooden flutes to beaded jewelry — that lined the hallway and spilled into the cafeteria. Families waited in a long line to purchase Indian tacos, traditional fry-bread filled with chili. Proceeds benefit the Title VII education program.

The program's students gather Monday nights to connect with their heritage through dance, singing, drumming and to learn more about their traditions.

Rony Chee, of the Dine' (Navajo) and Hopi tribes, teaches the Dine' language to the students.

"I also teach the little ones about respect and more of the traditional ways," says Chee, who joined his students in dancing during the free, all-day event.

Because Chee's tribal heritage is from the American Southwest, his regalia is different from Florendo's. His breechcloth with feathers denotes his Hopi heritage.

His totem, the buffalo, is depicted throughout his regalia, including on his cuffs, and his breastplate is made of the pipe bone of buffalo. In his hair he wears eagle feathers, and on top of his head, a Hopi hairpiece crafted of porcupine hair.

Florendo, 18, a senior at Lewis and Clark High School in the Evergreen district, has been dancing in powwows since she was a little girl. She says her heritage is important to her, and she takes opportunities to share it with others, and assists her father in presenting Native American culture to students at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore.

Of Wasco-Warm Springs and Eastern Cherokee heritage, Florendo plans a course in Native American studies at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., after she graduates in June.

"I want to help my own Native American people by making sure the government follows the treaties that are written," she said.

But her lifelong passion for dance has given her another goal.

"I'd also like to own my own dance studio one day," Florendo said.

Her regalia is a family effort. Her older sister, Chava Florendo, created her blue and yellow skirt. Her uncle gave her a beaded necklace she wears when she dances, "to send him blessings."

In her dark, braided hair, she wears eagle plumes that move with her as she dances in a circle around the gym floor.

The drummers begin pounding out another beat. Hopping up from her chair to dance again, Florendo says that her colorful belt and leggings were beaded by her grandmother "right before she passed away. Every time I wear them, I'm honoring her."