Cameron hosts Sharing the Spirit
Student Life Editor
The Lawton Arts and Humanities Council co-hosted alongside Cameron University a free event 2 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Cameron University Theatre as tribute to Native American heritage month.
The event featured Native American dance troupe The Oklahoma Fancy Dancers. The dancers are enrolled tribal members who represent various tribes. In addition to dancing, the group also teaches their audience about the dances they are performing and gives cultural insight to each dance’s roots.
The Lawton Art and humanities Council benefits Lawton Fort Sill by encouraging and coordinating cultural endeavors and having activities to promote knowledge and the appreciation of the arts.
Dean of Cameron’s School of Liberal Arts, Von Underwood said the event was part of the Lawton Arts and Humanities Council program called sharing the spirit which is in celebration of Native American heritage month.
“Every couple of years Cameron has the privilege of getting to cohost the event and gets to share a celebration of culture,” Underwood said, “and in this case, this year we have an endowed lectureship program and one of the generous patrons of the university gave an endowed lectureship specifically to support American Indian studies.”
A day of recognition for Native American culture in 1915 received higher honors 75 years later when President George H. W. Bush officially declared November as Native American Heritage month in 1990.
The Oklahoma Fancy Dancer’s troupe leader Kevin Connywerdy explained how the month resonated with him.
“November is Native American heritage month,” Connywerdy said, “so it feels good to start November 1 out with a performance.”
Connywerdy joined by drummer and singer John Hamilton told stories about each dance before members of the troupe illustrated them. Connywerdy began the event by introducing the instruments.
“The creator – whatever term you use for your god – he blessed us with these instruments that we use,” he said. “We have the drum, we have rattles, we have the native flute and natives treat the drum like it is a living thing, because at one time, it was.”
Leslie Deer was the first to dance. She approached the audience in a women’s jingle dress style which comes from the Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes and began to dance. Her dances told the story of a chief whose daughter is ill.
She is only healed after the chief goes to a healer who gives the chief a dress to place on his daughter and tells the chief songs to sing to her. By the fourth song his daughter is healed and spreads healing among the people around her with her eagle fan.
Cricket Rhoades-Connywerdy performed the women’s southern cloth dance next. Rhoades-Connywery who was adorned in turquoise and gold took center stage as Kevin Connywerdy explained her dress.
“This dress,” Connywerdy said, “is modeled after the buckskin dresses, and the Kiowa people had sewing day every Wednesday. This was the day the missionary people would come teach the Kiowa women how to sew dresses.
“Nobody had to teach them but they [missionaries] wanted them to make these pioneer dresses and the Kiowa women said, ‘no, were going to make them our way,’ so they modeled the cloth dresses after the buckskin dresses that they were used to wearing.”
Rhoades-Connywerdy danced to Hamilton’s drumming which was filled with honor beats. These drum beats which are harder and louder remind the Native American’s to make a bowing motion while dancing to pay respect to their ancestors.
Zack Morris performed the men’s straight dance. This dance was modeled after searching for tracks of the enemy. Morris was dressed in garments that would be common among warrior societies.
Around Morris’s calves were brass bells, of which Connywerdy explained the meaning.
“There’s a story about these bells,” Connywerdy said. “Traders would come across the plains … and you could hear them [the bells] as they came.
“These women brought these buffalo hides, beer, beautiful, painted robes, and they traded cooking pots and things like that but this young man’s mother waited until the very last and she got the finest deer robes that she had and … she said ‘I want that metal that sings to put on my sons dance clothes.”
Next Connywerdy’s two young sons performed the shield dance, a ritual handed down from generation to generation.
“As we grow up and we’re exposed to these dances,” he said. “We learn by being around it; we learn the stories from the older dancers. My sons are born into it because Cricket and I are both dancers and so they’ve grown up dancing, participating, so we have in our powwow a time for young people to dance.”
Connywerdy performed the attack dance by the Kiowa. A dance which he said is energetic and gets more so throughout the evening. He also performed a hoop dance which was comprised of dancing with five hoops and making these hoops into shapes as the dance went on.
“Just like our seasons every year or our drums, our ceremonies are all carried out in a circular fashion,” Connywerdy said, “so as the hoop dancer dances you might see different images from nature.”
The Oklahoma Fancy Dancers also included two social dances in their performance where members of the audience were able to go on stage and participate in the dances with the other dancers.
For more information on the Oklahoma Fancy Dancers, visit the Oklahoma Arts Council website at http://www.arts.ok.gov.