On Friday, February 22nd, 4th-8th grade students at Riverside Indian School engaged in a day full of cultural enrichment, indigenous language excitement, native sports, giveaways, and visits from American Indian college athletes, musicians, artists, and filmmakers.
ANADARKO, Okla. – The morning began with a prayer and honor songs by the student’s Riverside Ramblers drum group, lead by staff sponsors Terry Ware and Ronald Harris. The Riverside Honor Color Guard and their sponsor James Nells flew the colors for all to see. The Indian sign language presentation showed the grace and poise of the Riverside girls with the assistance of club sponsor and elementary school counselor Sharon Sadongie. Following the welcoming, the anticipation began to build as students listened for their free raffle numbers to be called out in hopes of winning original artwork from Kiowa/Choctaw artist and filmmaker Steven Judd, autographed OU footballs, shirts, and posters, and Pendleton products. After the first few rounds of giveaways, hands-on tribal language games were undertaken by the large crowd as they “competed” against one another and shared a ton of laughs.
Next, the morning presenters, University of Oklahoma football player and former Detroit Tigers draft choice Londell Taylor (Cherokee) and University of Oklahoma Track & Field/Cross Country team member Robin Ray (Chickasaw), were announced to loud applause from the students. The pair spoke on the importance of commitment to oneself and to their peers, school, tribe, and culture. Following them was singer/songwriter Happy Frejo (Pawnee/Seminole) who motivated them through her words and original song compositions. Bri Ramos (Mexican) continued to inspire the kids in the breakout workshops that followed. Bri is a leader in the Loveworks organization based in Norman & Ponca City, Oklahoma which provides incredible leadership training opportunities for youth in 6th-8th grade. Partnered with Londell and Robin, the trio spoke to an all-boy’s and all-girl’s workshops on the power of respect, valuing girls and women, positive body image, comprehending the honor of being balanced young men, social medias at times negative effects on youth culture, and understanding the importance of their traditional culture as a foundation for their lives. Happy wowed and amazed her all-girl and all-boy workshops by teaching them various dance and music styles and encouraging them to “Step Out”. Her philosophy of positively getting young Indian people out of their unwillingness to be seen or heard by others is contagious.
“It never fails, This younger generation really inspires me to keep pursuing my dreams. The young ones at Riverside Indian School remind me that I will forever be on a journey, an adventure of growth as an individual and as a Native Woman. They are so strong and talented and that makes me want to soar higher. Their hunger to step outside the box makes me remember when I was a little girl and to always bring that fearlessness. I love their energy and hope to see them again very soon.”
By the end of Happy’s workshop the kids were up dancing and singing and ready for the Indian Taco feast Patti Gray and the incredible food service staff at Riverside laid out along with Kiowa language terms for ordering food. The students were happy to engage in a few words and phrases in order to receive their meals. It was wonderful to see so many students of diverse tribal backgrounds sharing what they knew in their languages throughout the day.
After lunch the students were treated to two short films by Steven Judd (Kiowa/Choctaw). It was only appropriate following the meal that Steven show his independent film festival comedy, “Best Indian Taco”, which drew tons of laughter from the Riverside students and staff.
The 4th-6th graders then went off to their classrooms to show the incredible displays they had developed concerning the histories and contemporary realities of Oklahoma’s Tribal Nations to one another. While Indian students attending Riverside come from throughout the nation, the focus of the day’s events was on those tribes residing in present day Indian Territory.
Steven stayed back with the seventh and eighth grade students to show them his ability with digital animation and his take on political Indian art pieces which drew some serious considerations and thought from those gathered as he tackled, in mainly humorous ways, issues such as colonialism, Land Runs, stereotypes, and historical trauma.
After the presentations all the grades regrouped and Oklahoma Christian University soccer player Brandon Little Axe (Absentee Shawnee) stepped up to the microphone. This past year Brandon lead his 6A Norman North High School soccer team to undefeated state and national titles as a national scoring leader. He then followed that up by signing a full-ride scholarship to OC. Brandon spoke to the students about the importance of genuine friendship and making those around them better by their presence; a moving message from a young man in only his late teens. In response to his feelings about the presentation Brandon remarked, “I've never felt so humbled and inspired to represent my community, and I am very thankful for such an opportunity.”
Following the speech, all were treated to a singing and dancing presentation by the Riverside Apache Club (staff sponsors T.J. Sheridan and Lois Tsatoke). The visiting presenters were clearly impressed by these remarkable students.
Next up was Chickasaw Nation Family Resource Center (Chokka Kilimpi) Cultural Coordinator Jason Eyachabee (Chickasaw/Choctaw/Seminole) leading the students in what he termed, “the world’s largest Snake Dance”. He also had the students fellowshipping with one another during the Garfish Dance, after which time he lead them all out to the football field for a game of Stickball. Teams were divided by gender and the girls won out in the end. Some fancy stick work, slips and falls, and boys being tossed around by the girls was seen throughout the contest, much to the delight of the large gathered crowd. Riverside staff members Julia Robedeaux and Stephanie Ware showed their prowess on the field amongst the kids.
After the game, the students headed back to the gym and were separated into five groups to create tribal language skits which they performed in front of the audience. From one group singing a Kiowa Hymn to others using words and phrases from their own particular indigenous language, it seemed that all had a good time with their attempts. As the saying goes, “The only time you are speaking your Indian language wrong, is when you are not attempting to speak it at all.”
As the day came to a close there were many to thank including Nate Harjo who did a tremendous job videoing the event, interviewing the presenters, and along with Lee Juarez, keeping the tech issues in control. Gordon Whitewolf who works in Student Services and sponsors “Alive at the Side” raised the tipi and Tammy Eckiwaudah made sure the facilities were clean and tidy, while assisting with other pressing needs throughout the day. Amber Wilson (Riverside Elementary School Principal) provided encouraging words and support. Other staff members such as Faith Revis, Sharon Sadongei, Peggy Wahkinney, Randy Beartrack, Christopher Dobson, Rhonda Freie, Charlotte Gooday, Don Gouge, J. McCann, Kellie Moser, Guy Narcomey, Theodore Sheridan, Mitzi Sneed, and Lois Parker continue to contribute to the lives of those attending the school. Even with all the contributors the day would not have been possible without the leadership and organizational capacity of Elizabeth French and Judith (Judi) Hunter who had this to say to those who gave of their time to be with the students,
“As Indian people we need to share life every day. This enrichment will truly be an experience the students will never forget. They had a chance to mingle with fantastic role models they could all relate to during the sessions. Students learned many things relating to Oklahoma tribes. Tribal singing, dancing, skits, and games were never so much fun. The boys and girls played stickball and strived to work as a team. Without a doubt, all of you made this an amazing day. The students all hope to cross paths with all of you in the near future. We appreciate you taking your time to be an inspiration to our Riverside students. It is vital that our students today know the importance of sustaining their tribal language. The Cultural Empowerment Day helped the students achieve this goal. KEE OWN DAY DAW! (It is a great day!).”