November has been Native American Heritage Month in the Churchill County School District.
It's a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the significant contributions of Native American people. It is also an opportune time to educate the community about Native American tribes, to raise general awareness about the unique challenges Native American people have faced both historically and in the present, and how tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.
With the assistance of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe (FPST), all Churchill County School District schools hosted assemblies that encompassed a little about Native American history, traditions, heritage, and culture. They brought a dance and drum group to each school that performed for the students and staff.
Lisa Bedoy, director of the FPST Community Learning Center (CLC), supports the partnership with Churchill County School District.
“It was a pleasure collaborating and working with the Churchill County School District Title VI program to bring in our Native American Heritage Assemblies at the schools,” she said.
“It was great to be able to have the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe share and show their culture with the community and students, while also hearing encouraging and inspiring words from our Chairwoman Cathi Tuni. The staff at the Community Learning Center — Adrian Tom, Leona Mineard, Letisha Yellowhawk, and Austin Littlen — worked extremely hard to make everything possible. I am truly blessed to have them as my team.”
Native Americans have been playing the drum for thousands of years and continue to play them now. The drum plays a large part in the native culture and is believed to resemble the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Dance is also a tradition in Native American culture.
The dancers performed the Jingle dance, Women's Traditional dance, Men’s Traditional Warrior dance, and the Fancy dance at the schools. Each dance has meaning and cultural relevance. From the footwork to the way the dancers move their arms to the outfits they wear – it all represents something.
The Jingle dance is a healing dance. The dresses worn during this dance are adorned with metal cones, which are made from chewing tobacco can lids and rolled into the cones. “The dancer's footwork is to bounce light on her feet so the motion of the jingle will click in a rustling, rhythmic sound,” said FPST’s CLC specialist and dancer Leona Mineard.
The Women’s Traditional dance is the oldest form of dance for women which shows dignity and grace. In this style, the feet must never completely leave the ground to symbolize the connection of women to Mother Earth.
“The fringe on the sleeves must be kept in constant motion, sweeping in large arcs. It’s known that this slow style of dancing represents the long times that the women, children, and elders would have to spend waiting when the men went away to hunt or to battle,” Mineard said.
The traditional Men's Warrior dance is typically performed by a male elder who has earned his eagle feathers, but today traditional dancers are of all ages. The feathers worn by the dancers are arranged in a single bustle and worn on their lower back.
“The bustles and other regalia are symbolic of a dancer’s relationship with nature and connection to the Great Spirit. Songs for this dance are sung at a slower pace as the words reflect the honor traditional dancers feel when asked to protect the people,” Mineard said.
The Fancy dance is known to represent the opening of the cocoon when the butterfly emerges. The shawl is usually the most adorned piece with the fringe being colorful and flashy.
“During this fast-paced dance, the ladies and girls are jumping and spinning around on their tiptoes keeping up with the drum. They mimic the butterfly in flight while also being graceful and light on their feet,” Mineard said.
FPST elder, community member and storyteller Ray Allen also attended the assemblies to share stories with the students. Storytelling is a tradition that’s very important to Native American culture.
“Back in the day when there were no cell phones or television, this was considered a form of entertainment,” said FPST CLC Education Specialist Adrian Tom. “The stories were often told by our elders and they would add song and drums to their stories to make them even more entertaining.”
The first story Allen told was about his grandma who would travel by wagon here in the mountains with her family when she was a young girl. As they rode around the family would all sing as they traveled. She used to sing this same song to Allen, his brother and his sister over and over again until they would go to sleep.
“She said that when she was young her parents, aunts, and uncles, would all sing that same song and as they were singing the wind would blow through the pine trees, and the trees and the pinecones would dance and they would shake, and sway in the wind and the sound was very pretty,” Allen said.
Allen also told the students a story about a bear, a deer and a coyote.
“One day old man bear was sitting up on a rock singing a song. As he was singing really loud all morning long. The coyote and the deer heard him and came walking up to the big rock to talk to old man bear. They told him, ‘we have been wandering all over and that is such a beautiful song you sing but we are really hungry.’ Old man bear had two bags of magic dust. He told deer, ‘I want you to travel East as far as you can,’ and he told coyote, ‘I want you to go West as far as you can. When you get to your destination you will know to open the bag.’
“In our culture, the coyote is seen as being a real mischievous being. So coyote being coyote, would get curious and he wondered what was in the bags. The deer told him, ‘don’t be looking in there, old man bear told us not to open these bags until we get to our destination.’ But being coyote, that morning when they left the first thing he did when he traveled West was open up his bag and some of the magic flew out. Then he would travel a little bit more and get a little more curious and he would open his bag up again. Finally, when he got to his destination out here way in the West he opened his bag up but it was empty.
“The deer, he traveled East and he kept his word to the bear. He traveled as far as he could and he finally opened his bag. So now when you travel around out here and you travel West there are a lot of juniper trees and greasewood, a lot of non-edible things to eat. Because the coyote opened his bag. But when you go East towards Ely and Eureka there’s a lot of Pine Trees and a lot of Sagebrush. The deer listened to the bear and had a lot of things to eat, and that is why every once in a while, you will see coyote running around always searching for something to eat because he didn’t listen to the bear.”
Additionally, Allen thanked the Churchill County School District for inviting him to share his culture.
“I am looking forward to next year’s assemblies,” he said.
Native American Heritage Month is just a small part of teaching the students, staff and community about Native American heritage and culture.
Kailey Mineard, an 11th-grade student at Churchill County High School said, “It was a great opportunity to show the students my culture; I feel proud to be Native American.”
Another student, Scartlett Austin from Numa Elementary School added, “It was fun sharing my culture with the students. I think they learned a lot and liked our dances.”
Churchill County School District works closely with the FPST CLC staff and has a Title VI Indian Education program for Native American students.
“It is our priority to work with the FPST to honor the profound impact Native Americans continue to have in shaping our community and to ensure we are doing what is best for their students and their families so they can learn, thrive, grow and succeed,” said director of Learning and Innovation Kathryn Bervin-Muller.
Tuni, a former school district educator, emphasizes the importance of this community partnership.
“As tribal councilwoman, I support the continued relationship with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and Churchill County School District,” she said. “I went to school and graduated from the district, and my family members also attended. It is important to see these events come back. We look forward to improving our students’ growth in educational and cultural experiences through our Title VI educational and cultural activities.”
Kaitlin Ritchie is public information officer for the Churchill County School District.