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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
 
 
 
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Recognizing cultural differences, historical inaccuracies
 
 
by Jill Callison Sioux Falls Argus-Leader jcalliso@argusleader.com
 
How many reservations are located within South Dakota's boundaries?

What dialects do the Native Americans in South Dakota speak?

How many Washington High School students are Native Americans?

Those questions, posed during morning announcements beginning last Tuesday to students and teachers at the high school, helped bring Monday's Native American Day holiday to the forefront.

Friday, three students demonstrated fancy shawl dances during the lunch periods, another way to draw attention to the holiday that, in South Dakota, has replaced Columbus Day.

Here are the thoughts of some participants and viewers:

None of Tess DeNoyer's aunts and uncles or older cousins know how to do the traditional Lakota dances.

But about five years ago, DeNoyer and a cousin decided they wanted to learn. Their interest spread to young cousins, and now Tess' grandmother spends her weekends making the clothing they wear.

Native American Day gives her a chance to share her culture with peers who sometimes think she still lives in a tipi, DeNoyer says.

"We show everybody who Native Americans are today," the 17-year-old junior says.

It isn't always easy. The noon demonstration was announced over the school's public address system.

"One of the students said some of the little, younger freshmen were making noises with their mouths and making fun of her," DeNoyer says.

But she says she never hesitates to say she is Native American.

"I would have said, 'At least I know my heritage, where I come from and some of the traditions that I have, and I'm not going to let that fade away.' "

Nick Herman views Native American Day as a chance to learn more about that culture.

"It's very useful because you get to learn how they live and dance, and how they do things and stuff," the 18-year-old senior says.

Herman says he thinks students from different backgrounds get along well together.

"We all get along," he says. "There's no discrimination or anything."

Events such as demonstration of traditional Lakota dances serve as a good educational tool, says Zahra Wol, a senior.

"It's showed me how important the Native Americans are," 17-year-old Wol says.

"I know in the past some people in the past have made fun of them. I went to school with many Native American kids. Today, I think everyone likes them."

Education about cultural differences goes a long way to resolve problems, Wol says. In a Friday class, students spent time talking about different ethnicities and the issues they have encountered.

Observing Native American Day is a way to celebrate the state's diverse cultures, says junior Heidi Pedersen.

"It shows we enjoy people from other countries and other ethnicities around us."

But 16-year-old Pedersen, who grew up with Native American Day rather than Columbus Day, thinks better education on the change is needed. She knows that Native people played a bigger role in the country than the explorer, she's just not sure of the details.

"Basically, somebody should have done a better job of explaining the difference between Christopher Columbus Day and Native American Day," Pedersen says.

"A week ago in Modern Civilization, they said Christopher Columbus discovered America. But really, he didn't discover anything but a bunch of Native people who had no idea what he was doing."

Alex Boyd spent the first eight years of his life living in North Carolina. Columbus Day is observed there, but he remembers little about the festivities.

As an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, 16-year-old Boyd says he is comfortable with substituting Native American Day for Columbus Day.

"I don't know a lot about him," he says of Columbus. "He sailed over here on the Mayflower, that's probably all I know."

The Native culture is dying out, the high school junior says. Events such as the dance are a good way to bring that culture to the attention of others.

Miles Seten, 16, says he enjoys seeing snippets of other people's cultures, such as the dance demonstration.

He, too, is vague on the accomplishments and demerits accrued by Columbus, the Italian navigator, over the course of his travels.

But events such as Friday's might spark him to look beyond the paragraphs taught in history.

And it makes him want to look beyond stereotypes.

"A lot of people look down on the Natives," the sophomore says. "But people don't really look at them. They see what they think they see and stereotype."

Bruce Rekstad teaches the Native American Connection class at Washington.

With no school Monday, students are encouraged to take part in Native American Day activities, such as the event that begins with story telling at 9:30 a.m. at the Multi-Cultural Center and concludes with a wacipi, or pow wow, at 2 p.m.

About 4 percent of Washington's student body is Native American, Rekstad says. Currently, that is 82 students.

Reach reporter Jill Callison at 331-2307.

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