Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 16, 2000 - Issue 25


Newest Yakama Warrior

First-grader's feet, spirit dance his pride for Yakama ancestors

The newest Yakama Warrior, 6 years old, represents his tribe through traditional dancing at powwows around the country

by Isaac Baker of the Oregonian

 Artwork by L.David Eveningthunder When We Dance the Spirits Dance

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- A plume of feathers sways above his head as he dances to the drum beat, his buckskin moccasins tapping the floor.

His beaded staff and rawhide shield arc through the air as he moves around in a semicircle, telling ancient Native American stories of hunting and war.

Koda-Wataka Robinson has been chosen the Yakama Warrior -- the highest youth honor -- by South-Central Washington's Yakama Nation.

He's won a world championship in his division of traditional dancing.

He is 6 years old.

The first-grader at St. Joseph School in Vancouver has other interests, too. In this year's state archery championships, Koda and his dad, William, won first place in their age groups.

Last month, Koda earned his orange belt in karate, then headed to the Oregon Convention Center for a powwow he was dancing in that night.

About 1,200 people came to watch and take part in the powwow, part of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society conference sponsored by Portland State University, which invited Native Americans from across the country.

Informal drum circles formed to provide music for the experienced and beginning dancers who shared the floor, as hundreds filled the bleachers in the exhibition hall.

Koda fidgeted impatiently, waiting for his favorite dance, the crow hop, to be played. Finally, the distinctive singing and drum beat of the song began and he leapt off his chair to join his dad on the dance floor.

Koda speaks with a maturity beyond his years. When he describes a competition he lost earlier this year, he scolds someone for laughing at his dramatic account.

"It's not funny," he says. "He beat me bad."

But don't be fooled; he's still a kid -- a kid who gets grumpy when he needs a nap, who whines when he's hungry and who has to take off his elaborate regalia and run to the bathroom before he's about to dance because he drank too much juice.

Still, few 6-year-olds are driven to do anything by the spirit of their ancestors and a great pride in their heritage.

"People say, 'You must push him,' but I don't make him do a thing," his dad says. "He's into the spiritual aspect of the Native Americans without us telling him anything."

Koda's Native American name is Un-Mee-Mah-Kee-Loosh, or Winterhawk. The name has proved an integral part of his young life.

The family says that at about age 3, Koda met his great-grandmother for the first time. Her eyesight failing, she felt his face and proclaimed that he would be a great dancer and should never cut his hair.

Three years later, two long braids hang down his back, and Koda has begun the task of mastering the ancient dances -- by watching.

"He doesn't take lessons or practice," said his mom, Nanette, who is a Yakama. "He goes to the powwows and learns there. He isn't afraid to go dance with the men."

At a powwow in Southern Oregon earlier this year, a hawk swooped down and hovered next to Koda's shoulder as he was preparing to dance. It then flew to a grove of trees and settled on a branch to watch.

"When I see a hawk, it's her," Koda says of his great-grandmother, who died soon after they met. "That means I'm going to dance good. She's my protector."

Since he was elected a Warrior of the Yakama people in June, an honor bestowed on one young tribe member every year, Koda has traveled to powwows around the country representing his people. During the season, which lasts from March to October, he often traveled three weekends a month.

At September's world championship powwow in Ledyard, Conn., he won the 7- to 12-year-old age group in a field that included 500 tribes.

For William Robinson, who spent the summers of his childhood on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina, his son's commitment to the culture is touching.

After three tours of Vietnam as a Green Beret and 22 years in U.S. Special Forces, the 59-year-old Robinson's past has taken a toll on his body. He has been a patient at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, recently undergoing surgery on his wrist and often struggling to walk without pain.

But nothing could stop him from creating a different life for Koda -- or dancing with his son.

"I started again when he was born," Robinson said. "Even with one hip I go out there because I want him to be able to say he danced with his dad."

Others have been captivated by Koda's commitment and charm.

At one powwow, a Native American veteran kneeled and pinned his Bronze Star on Koda's colorful hairties, asking him to wear the medal when he danced.

Ravenhawk, a Sioux woman who owns Native American crafts stores in Centralia, Wash. and Jackson, Tenn., met Koda at a powwow and has been following him around the country.

"He's only 6, but he has the knowledge and the understanding, he recognizes every dance and every tradition," Ravenhawk said. "I was so impressed with his pride that I said, 'You bet, I'll come to every powwow you do.' "

You can reach Isaac Baker at 503-221-8196 or by e-mail at [email protected]



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