Native American heritage comes alive at annual festival
November 29, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- November was designated as Native American Indian Heritage Month in 1990 and the West Point Community celebrated with the fourth annual Native American Heritage Festival Nov. 16 at the West Point Club. The event was hosted by the Cadet Native American Forum and sponsored by the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic.
The festival included the Redhawk Native American Arts Council dance troupe that performed traditional Native American dances in full traditional costumes. The dance performers are the highlight of the evening because of the array of beautiful and intricate costumes and participating in the dances.
Cliff Matias, RNAAC director, narrated the dances as the performers danced to the drumbeat of the earth.
"The drumbeat represents the heartbeat of the Earth," Matias said. "Each dance tells a story. The Grass Dance, performed by Rob White Magpie, tells the story of healing. The dance is performed at certain places and at certain times."
The Grass Dance tells the story of a man who is wounded, but lies in tall grass and cannot be seen. Suddenly, he hears crickets that rush in to flatten the grass. He is eventually seen and rescued by his friends.
Matias also spoke about the real first Thanksgiving and how it was that Native Americans, who knew how to live off the land, provided food for the Pilgrims and educated them on how to grow their food to survive.
"This is one of the best festivals," community member Sally Hamner said. "I really enjoy this venue. I think I've come to this venue for the past few years. My kids make me come."
Hamner said they try to support all of the festivals, like the Asian Pacific Festival in the spring.
Spc. Amanda Chischilly demonstrated how to make fry bread, a Native American staple that consists of flour, sugar and baking powder, which is pan-fried or deep-fried. Fry bread generally is used as a complement to meals or can have toppings such as honey or beef.
Chischilly's grandfathers were Navajo code talkers in World War II. Code talkers were involved in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942-45 and the codes were unbreakable.
"Navajo code used the first letter of the English equivalent in spelling, but was in the Navajo language," Chischilly said. "The code talkers would speak in Navajo and translate it using the English equivalent. Then they used the first letter of the English spelling."
Capt. Ed Gantt took his Naval Junior ROTC students from the Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., to the event. It was his first visit to West Point.
"One of our alumni, Capt. Gary Wade, has been hosting us and showing us around West Point," Gantt said. "We've been on a whirlwind trip. All my years in the Army and this is the first time I have been here. I had no idea it would be this scenic."
Class of 2014 and Cadet-in-Charge of the festival Sallena Samuel spoke to attendees about the Redhawk Native American Arts Council.
"The RNAAC provides the Corps of Cadets the chance to learn about various Native American cultures," Samuel said. "The cadets also have the opportunity to attend events outside of West Point, such as powwows and outreach to other Native American cultures."
The festival is also a chance for community members to learn about and participate in dances, traditions and eliminate common stereotypes. The RNAAC also performs powwows at West Point in the spring.