18 October 2005

10.October 2005: Native American Day!

At long last!


Native American Day
© Indian Country Today October 17, 2005. All Rights Reserved
Posted: October 17, 2005
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. - Native American Day has replaced Columbus Day in South Dakota, observed this year on Oct. 10, and reconciliation and education were the focal points of a celebration of American Indian culture at Crazy Horse Memorial.

Two cultures - one ancient; the other relatively new - look at stars in different ways but with a similar conclusion, as was borne out during the celebration's program.

Phillip Whiteman Jr., Northern Cheyenne, said he thought of what his grandfather told him about the stars as he listened to featured speaker and astrophysicist Theodore Gull, of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

''The Cheyenne people are known as Spirit Seekers and came from other planets and from Mother Earth. The Creator shared stories with us to give us direction, to keep Mother Earth alive. Mother Earth goes through a cleansing. And I think the hurricanes are a way for Mother Earth to cleanse.''

Gull said that exploding stars emit minerals not originally found on Earth. The human body is made up of those minerals, and the exploding stars spread them around.

American Indian culture is celebrated in a spirit of reconciliation on Native American Day; not as a tribute to the so-called ''discoverer of the Americas,'' but to the indigenous people who live on the continents today. Education plays a very important part in the understanding of the cultures to achieve the goal of reconciliation.

Students from more than 13 tribes, and non-Indian students from local schools, engaged in educational activities a complementary buffalo stew lunch and entertainment. In all, nearly 1,000 students, adults and teachers from various schools statewide attended the event.

Alicia Robertson, Navajo, performed Navajo songs and the Bad Nation drum group provided Lakota songs.

Oglala Lakota elder Nellie Two Bulls, a perennial participant in Native American Day festivities, told stories and sang the Lakota Flag Song.

Featuring hands-on bead working, artifact hunting, buffalo hide scraping, music and an opportunity to explore history within the Indian Museum of North America, the event brings together children and adults from many cultures to learn and interact. Storytelling is a special feature of the events.

''The same colors I see in the rainbow and the same colors I have in my Grass Dance outfit are the same colors I see in the audience,'' Whiteman, who educates young people through storytelling, music and dance, said. He received a special honor at the Black Hills Pow Wow for his Grass Dance story.

Before playing a flute, Whiteman related the story: ''A young man was walking in the woods and heard sobbing. He found a woodpecker on a tree stump, crying. The woodpecker said he wanted to be like the other birds and sing. He asked why the Creator didn't make him like other birds. He said, 'I only make holes and carve wood.'

''The woodpecker was told to make seven holes in a piece of cedar and put two pieces together. The wind then blew and made a beautiful sound never heard before in the forest.''

Gull's family settled in South Dakota. He said his grandfather came to the area, probably not liking the American Indian; and the American Indians didn't like him for taking land.

He developed an interest in astronomy while attending school nearby in Edgemont. His school principal, William Smith, from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, was stern but fair: and he encouraged him and other students. From there he went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a degree in physics. He now works with the Hubbell Space Telescope.

''When you get to be adults, you may find planets like your own,'' he told the students. ''Why is there life only here on Earth? If it exists, can we communicate?''

Gull works with Oglala Lakota College and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology as a mentor and educator to encourage American Indian students to pursue education in the sciences and math.

Each year, a teacher is named ''Teacher of the Year'' by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Scholarship Fund.

Marlyce Miner, Oglala Lakota, was honored with the award this year and received a $1,000 check for the Rapid City Academy.

''Education is all about the students. Education is the key to racial reconciliation,'' Miner said.

She teaches at Rapid City Academy, an alternative school; she has worked as a long-time guidance counselor at Crazy Horse School in Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and a part-time instructor at Oglala Lakota College, where she received a portion of her education. Her goal, she said, is to achieve a doctorate in education.

Whiteman, Gull and Miner are all teachers, although they use different methods to open student's minds. Miner incorporates American Indian culture into her teaching; she organized the Native American Day at her school. Whiteman engages youth by using cultural stories, and helps them with the use of horses and Cheyenne ways.

In 1990, then-Gov. George S. Mickleson, while attending the 100th anniversary gathering at Wounded Knee, declared a year of reconciliation. The declaration was later changed to a ''century of reconciliation.'' The South Dakota Legislature subsequently passed legislation creating Native American Day.


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