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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Students Learn At Powwow
by Angela Deines - for The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal
credits: photos by Jen Clark - The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal

The skies were gray but the spirits were bright of the estimated 500 Topeka-area third-graders who gathered Friday morning for the 17th annual Native American Education Day, part of the Shawnee County Allied Tribes Inc. Pow Wow at Lake Shawnee.

Event chairperson Bobbie Anderson said the yearly education day gives the students the chance to learn more about Native American traditions and heritage, particularly through the use of storytelling.

"These traditions are important to hand down and important for the younger generation," she said. "It also shows that Native Americans are here and part of the community."

To get the morning's activities and the powwow started, the students and teachers stood in a circle in the field east of Reynolds Lodge for the traditional opening of the drum and blessing of the grounds.

Mike Ballard, a member of the Cherokee tribe, walked around the circle with burning sage, cedar and sweetgrass, which created smoke that the adults in the crowd welcomed by waving the smoke toward them, as if washing themselves in it.

As he walked, Ballard repeated phrases to the children like: "You're going to have a good day at school and good dreams tonight. Bad dreams and bad spirits are chased away."

After the blessing of the grounds, the students participated in several culture sessions, where they heard stories, historical facts and learned more about the symbolic meanings behind some Native American traditions, such as the crafting of instruments and regalia with beads.

One of the sessions included learning more about why the drum is central to Native American culture.

"The drum represents everything living," Jesse Eteeyan, 17, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi, told the children. "Everything you see around the drum is sacred. The drum represents everything."

Makayla Lunkins, a Highland Park Central third-grader, said learning about the drum was the favorite part of her morning.

"They play it loud," she said. "And I like how they sing."

Eteeyan explained why many tribal songs don't have distinct words but rather "audibles." He said when members of different tribes would come together many years ago, they spoke different languages so they created sounds that they could all understand in song.

Josh Reed, another Highland Park Central student, asked questions of nearly all the presenters during the culture sessions. He said he wants to learn more about how things are made and what they are made out of in nature. But just like his classmate, Makayla, the drum was his favorite.

"It sounds like buffalo stomping across the ground," he said. "It reminds me of nature."

Before boarding the buses to go back to school, the students and their teachers walked in a circle for the friendship dance, a tradition that symbolizes the unity of all Native American tribes.

Angela Deines is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at


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