Celebrating an ancient identity

"What started as a simple drum beat turned into a sweeping dance with a warrior sneaking up on his enemy. The warrior, dressed in American Indian feathers and cloth, came to the edge of a circle and started to move subtly to the steady beat of the nearby drum circle. Although actually sneaking up on an enemy would have been difficult with all the bells and trinkets attached to the warrior's feet, once the dance started, the warrior's costume, movement and music became synchronized. His staff with raptor talons conveyed the threat to his enemy while his movement made the whole event serene. The warrior's dance was just one of those shared at an American Indian presentation Oct. 17 at the Jenne-Wright Administration Building. Teresa Santos, a Coeur d'Alene Indian and teacher at Tracyton Elementary, led the program as part of Native American Heritage Month. She said celebrations such as this are crucial to keeping Indian heritage alive in a largely non-Indian world.We have struggled with our own identity, Santos said For the longest time, I didn't want to stick out as a Native American.Roger Fernandes, an American Indian from from Lower Elwah S'Klallam tribe, told stories that doubled as parables for everyday living.With stories, there are two kinds of truth, Fernandes said. One is true here (pointing to his head) and one is true here (pointing to his heart). The heart is the first teaching. Fernandes told the story of a beaver trying to court a field mouse and another about how tribes came together to push the sky upwards. He admitted the stories don't appeal to the head as much as the heart, but are important to teach lessons of teamwork, humility and respect for elders.If everyone works together, they can push up the sky, Fernandes said.Although conditions have improved over time, American Indians said there still is conflict between the continent's first inhabitants and those who invaded it. Fishing and land rights still are major points of contention.Whether or not European Americans believe in the sacredness of salmon or the land on which they live, American Indians believe their culture and message is universal. The stories teach that people need to teach their own children, said Bill Moore, a Potawatomi Indian and Kitsap resident for over 30 years. It's teaching these kids the way it used to be.Although she resembled her Swedish more than her American Indian roots, Jean Dunmire said the stories are universal to her as well. One-quarter Cherokee, Dunmire said her heritage has taught her the importance of living within the bounds of the Earth. It's important to take care of the environment and to take care of nature, Dunmire said.American Indians agreed there is more tranquility and acceptance in the area now than ever before. For those in attendance, the celebration seemed fitting for an area as American Indian as it is European American. I think kids are taking more pride in who they are and finding out what their traditions are, Santos said. "

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