Graduation powwow a celebration of outgoing seniors

posted on May 15, 2012

With the motto, “A nation that prays, plays, sings, and dances well, stays well”, the 2012 senior graduation powwow last Friday was a celebration full of joy and good spirits.

Following a supper of traditional Lakota foods, the event kicked off with a 6:30 grand entry. Dustin Williams ’12 was the eagle staff carrier, and the color guard were members of the Paha Sapa Akičhita Okȟolakičhiye (“Black Hills Soldier Society”). The grand entry concluded, as is custom, with the singing of the Lakota Flag Song and a victory song.

Following an opening prayer by Sylas Running Eagle ’12, and a welcome address by high school principal James Mattern, the spotlight turned to the senior class.

A series of traditional Lakota social dances followed, with senior class president Ernest Weston and student council president Brenna Banks in leadership roles. The dances, which included a round dance, a snake dance, and an owl dance, were taught to the students by Lakota language teacher Philomine Lakota. “Uŋči Philomine” has worked for years to help bring these social dances – which she, herself grew up seeing and participating in – back strongly among the youth.

The final traditional social dance was the rabbit dance, which is a dance done in pairs. This was put on as a contest, with prizes awarded to the three couples who were chosen by the judges as being the best dancers. Top prize went to seniors Dustin Williams and Sage Blacksmith.

Next, as has become a tradition at Red Cloud’s graduation powwow, a rollicking and occasionally rambunctious game of musical chairs was held for all the seniors. In this version, instead of recorded music being used, one of the drum groups sang, stopping abruptly at unexpected moments to try and “get” the students. Wiyaka Pormaleau was the winner of this contest.

The emotional climax of the event came after everyone had cooled down from the musical chairs game. Before graduation, every senior is given an eagle feather (males) or plume (females) to honor them for the hard work they have employed to get them to this major juncture in life, and as a physical symbol that they are now adults, and ready to step into leadership roles among the people.

Those who are selected to tie the eagle feathers onto the heads of the different students are chosen because of the values they embody or because they have been significant in the life of the student in question. Grandparents and other elders are frequently chosen for this honor.

After community elder and former Red Cloud teacher Alvin Slow Bear blessed the feathers, the sponsors took them and formed a circle around the seated seniors. One they had tied them all on, an honoring song was sung, and all in attendance came forward to shake the students’ hands.

The students have an eventful week ahead of them, culminating in Saturday’s commencement ceremony. As a way to begin the final chapter in the students’ high school careers, it is hard to imagine a better combination of joy, formality, and tradition than the graduation powwow. Prayer, playing, singing, dancing, and wellbeing; the event had all of these in abundance.

A photo gallery of the powwow can be found HERE.