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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 23, 2002 - Issue 55


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A Part of History-Five rings, Five Nations

by Nathan J. Tohtsoni, The Navajo Times
credits: Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.
Olympic FlagSALT LAKE CITY (Feb. 14, 2002) - Inside Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City, more than 65,000 people braved the cool, winter air.

Outside the stadium, just as many gathered to be a part of the historic event. For the Native American tribes in Utah, it was an event more treasured because it was the first time all five tribes have joined together for an international event.

The event was the most watched Olympic opening ceremony in history. Nearly 72 million television viewers watched the event in the Unites States and 3.5 billion worldwide.

About 600 of the 3,800 performers in the ceremony were Native Americans.

It was an event Bonita Whitehorse-Emmitt of Salt Lake City won't soon forget. She has a souvenir cold she caught in the 20-degree weather to remind her of the occasion.

"It was all worth it," said Whitehorse-Emmitt, as she sniffled. "Once you see the people, the loudness, you just forgot about everything - especially the coldness."

A family affair
Eight of the performers are members of the Whitehorse family. The powwow members come from Whitehorse Ranch, an area north of Montezuma Creek, Utah.

Included in the group were one nephew, three nieces and three aunts. An uncle, Council Delegate Robert Billy Whitehorse (Mexican Water/Aneth/Red Mesa), stood in for President Kelsey Begaye who was unable to attend.

"I think we were very lucky to have this happen to us. It's something I'll never forget the rest of my life," Delphine Whitehorse said.

The performers arrived by shuttle at noon to a holding area at the University of Utah's tennis center, which was located two blocks from the stadium. Authorized personnel had to undergo strict security inspections before they were allowed in the holding area.

Once the show began, they walked the short distance dressed only in costumes, gloves and hand warmers.

There were rehearsals the week leading up to the event. Two days before the televised audience tuned in, a final dress rehearsal was held in the stadium. But even with that experience, Whitehorse was taken with emotion when she entered the stadium for the main event.

"My best part is looking at what's ahead of you; the dancers in front of you and the eagle," Whitehorse said. "When they said, 'And here's the Diné nation, the Navajo tribe,' you stand proud because you know you're representing the whole DinŽ people.

"Where I got teary eyed was when the flag came in - the one they recovered from the World Trade rubble," she said. "It was an awesome sight.

"The crowd's there in the dark," she added. "That's when you recollect on why you're there. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to share with the world and athletes our exceptional talent, spirit and pride. A down to earth, unforgettable experience that is incomparable."

A world event
Rosie Dayzie, who helped relay the Olympic torch through Monument Valley, and her fiancée, Bobby Gonnie Jr., took in the atmosphere outside the stadium. They didn't care to pay the $800 admission.

"I was thinking that everyone of those dancers and performers are so very blessed - they have a chance to shine for us," Dayzie said.

"I was telling my friend this is what it's about, Navajos and other Native Americans getting involved in a world event; showing the pride of being American," she added. "There was no better way to celebrate a rich American heritage. Finally ... finally..."

Stephanie Brown, opening/closing ceremonies cast coordinator, produced the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. In that ceremony, several First Nations' horsemen rode into the arena but that was the extent of their role. The Salt Lake City Games, which was two years in the making, was Brown's most favorite project.

"I can't believe the feedback it's gotten," Brown said. "The feedback from people is that their favorite part of the ceremony was the Native American dancers."

She credited creative director/choreographer Kenny Ortega with getting the right mixture of talent involved.

"This particular segment, he put a lot of his hard work and soul into this," she said. "The number of hugs and kisses I got, it was a wonderful experience that everybody got out of it."

Toward the end of the Native American segment, five tribal leaders welcomed the athletes to the Winter Games. Clifford Duncan represented the Ute, Tommy Pacheco the Shoshone, Rupert Steele the Goshute, Lora Tom the Paiute and Council Delegate Kenneth Maryboy (Mexican Water/Aneth/Red Mesa) of Blanding, Utah, the Navajo.

"I think it's a real honor for us to be here to present ourselves as Navajo DinŽ to the world and show exactly who we are," Maryboy said. "We have young people from our nation involved to learn how we can show the world that people can work together and unite and walk hand in hand. The five nations coming together shows the world that we can work side by side.

"It is just amazing how the five (Olympic) rings fit into the five nations that are part of Utah," he said.

A new era
Duncan said the ceremony was a "first page in a new era."

"The Olympic Games come from ancient Greece and now they have come to the ancient people of Native America," he said. "It shows we are not museum objects; that our culture is actually alive. You feel that when the people are coming into the stadium performing their songs and dance. It's like a mist in time and then emerging from that."

Whitehorse and Whitehorse-Emmitt both felt the spiritual energy of the tribes uniting.

"It seemed like there was no line drawn saying you're this tribe and you're this tribe," Whitehorse said. "There was really a sense of unity."

The performers came on after the athletes entered the stadium. During their procession, the performers walked by President George W. Bush's limousine. They were back at the holding area when they saw Bush's speech and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

Before she entered the stadium, Whitehorse met a member of R. Kelly's band in the bathroom line. From their viewpoint, they walked by the dressing rooms of the Dixie Chicks, Leanne Rimes and Sting.

"They were close, but we didn't get to meet them," she said.

The non-recording artist performers were not paid. As a token of payment, they were presented with a fleece jacket and bronze medal.

"You were like, 'Come on, you want to do this again,'" Whitehorse-Emmitt said. "Nobody wanted to leave. It was like, 'Is this it? Let's do this one more day.' Now, I'll sit back at home and say, 'Did I really do this?'"

The closing ceremony is Feb. 24. There have been rumors that Native Americans are part of the ceremony. Brown would not divulge details.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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