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Wa-Pai-Sone helps Native American children shine

Sadie Jo Smokey

Last Friday, a few superstars at C.C. Meneley Elementary School shined a bit brighter because for one day they could show their pride in being American Indian.

Performing on stage, three Washoe girls fancy danced to the beat of a pow wow drum. Plaid flannel shawls were handed out, and though they weren’t quite as graceful as butterflies, the kids dancing on the gymnasium floor were just as colorful. Holding their shawls out like wings, boys and girls whirled and hopped, giggled and waved amid a flurry of red, yellow, orange, brown and green yarn fringe. It was awkward, unabashed fun as the kids mimicked the high-stepping girls.

This is what Wa-Pai-Shone is all about, sharing American Indian culture and granting permission to ask questions so people learn more about their neighbors, coordinator Sherry Smokey said.

“We run it like a little pow wow at night and give the kids a chance to put shawls on,” Smokey said. “These little girls just love it and it makes their mommies proud.”

Dancing, drumming, singing, craft and jewelry sales and Indian tacos highlighted the evening program. During the day, students visited six different stations where Washoe, Shoshone and Paiute American Indians from around the state shared their culture by talking about traditional ways of life.

Washoe students Lawrence Sallee and Kristin Wyatt had an active role in leading activities and demonstrating dance and song.

(Pull Quote if you need it) “By dancing, we keep our family honor,” Kristin, 11, said. “It makes me feel happy. Kids in my class were waving at me and said I did a good job.”

Teachers at CCMES said they were impressed with the program, some incorporated the day into lesson plans about state and regional history.

“This was just fantastic,” teacher Linda Class said during the evening program. “The kids were involved in everything. I’ve seen some students here tonight who brought their parents.”

Smokey, the education director for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, said the program is diverse because of a core group of dedicated organizers.

“We get people from such far-flung places, from all three tribes, so it really is representing all of Nevada,” Smokey said. “Lana Hicks is good at finding up-and-coming talent. It wouldn’t be this diverse if it wasn’t for Lana. Her daughter, Lori Pasqua, lines up all the youth. They get good leadership training, and they love it because they get to get out of class.”

Smokey said each elementary school in the Douglas County School District has hosted the event. Because of the large population of Washoe students at CCMES, teachers get a taste and feel of the community their students live in.

“I learned so much about the Native American culture in the area,” teacher Lisa Bytheway said. “We don’t really study Native Americans in class, so it was perfect. It was really great. The kids listened to the elders and they were into the hands-on activities.”

Principal Brian Frazier said this was his first time seeing the program.

“It gives me a deeper understanding of the community,” Frazier said. “The kids are so incredibly proud of their heritage and it shows. It gives them a chance to shine.”

At the end of the program, Keith Andren from Duck Valley sang round-dance songs. Singers from the Sage Spirit Dancers in Fallon led the dance. Holding little hands, slide-stepping left to the beat of the hand drum, the shape shifted from a large circle to a narrow oval as little legs unaccustomed to the quick pace of the dance got tired.

Like clockwork, the Indian yacos sold out, shawls were retrieved from tired shoulders and Wa-Pai-Shone was over for another year.