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Students celebrate Native American culture

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ST. IGNATIUS — Friday afternoon was a special time at the St. Ignatius School, especially for high school Salish and Native American studies teacher Geraldine Felix. 

For the past few years, Felix and Aileen Plant, the elementary Native American studies teacher, have organized a social powwow each spring for the school’s Cultural Awareness Day. The event has grown each time, with more and more students participating in the dances and family members coming to watch the powwow. Last Friday, the Mission High School gymnasium was packed, with people lining the walls in standing-room-only fashion to watch the dancing.

“When we first started, it was just me and five other dancers,” Felix said. “My heart was just filled with happiness (on Friday) because we were almost completing a circle of dancers.”

The honored guest of the day was 96-year-old Joseph Medicine Crow, the last war chief of the Crow tribe, who came to speak to students in the morning and enjoy the afternoon powwow. 

Crow, author of books including Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shared stories of his life growing up on the Crow Indian Reservation and his experience in World War II. 

“Be proud to be Indian,” Crow told the crowd gathered for the powwow. 

To be named a war chief, Crow was required to complete four deeds, Felix explained. The tasks were: touch a live enemy; disarm a live enemy; take horses from an enemy; and lead a war party. Crow did all four as an American soldier in World War II. 

Crow was also the first member of his tribe to attend college, and he emphasized the importance of education to St. Ignatius students. Watching the grand entry for the powwow, Crow said he was filled with pride for all the young people honoring the traditions of their ancestors.

“Usually I hop around like a crow,” he said. “Like an eagle, today I am soaring.”

Drum groups Yamm Cut, Nkwusm and Senyelmn provided music for intertribal dances, a round dance and an orange dance, and Salish elder Tony Incashola shared announcing duties with high school junior Dakota Matt.

“We were blessed to have Mission Valley Honor Guard come and present the colors for us,” Felix added.

“(The powwow) gets bigger every year; there are more and more people participating,” Incashola said.

Following the grand entry, Incashola recognized the graduating high school seniors and asked for a moment of silence “for all those who have left us this part year, especially Joyce Easter.”

Easter, who passed away March 26, taught at the St. Ignatius School for nearly 30 years.

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