We must refute a hurtful letter written by Jim Largo, which appeared June 20, "Dance not strictly Catawba Culture." The biggest disappointment is that Mr. Largo, a Navajo enrolled member, would have used the press to write hurtful words that were intended to discredit and malign not only the work done at the Catawba Cultural Center but also the members of the Catawba Indian Nation, and especially our children.
There are several points that we would like to bring to the public's attention about our programming at the Cultural Center. First, the caption on a picture featured in The Herald, "Getting schooled on Catawba culture," was accurate. That is exactly what we do here at the center. We educate the public, from schoolchildren to adults, about Catawba culture as well as other American Indian cultures, and we strive very hard to be accurate in what we do. The mission statement of the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project/Catawba Cultural Center is to preserve, protect, promote and maintain the rich cultural heritage of the Catawba Indian Nation.
The dancer that Mr. Largo referred to was doing the Hunter's Dance, which is a traditional dance of the Catawbas. Since it is often true that most children do not get much information in school about Catawbas nor other Native Americans, our programs focus on children. We also go a step further to not just show the dance but tell why a particular tribe did the dance.
Many dances have purposes, such as the Grass Dance, which was used to clear an encampment field of tall grasses by way of dance. Our program has always been especially careful not only to differentiate which dances are Catawba but also which ones are from other tribes. The children are not misled into thinking that every dance they learn is Catawba in origin. They are instructed in a variety of different dances that could also be competitive at any powwow that they might choose to attend. Each child decides which dance he or she would like to perform when we do programs. Sometimes they use these same regalias when they do traditional dances because we do not have funding to make different regalia for each dance, and since our program is not a powwow, we do not have to follow powwow etiquette.
It is particularly unsettling to us that Mr. Largo has attacked our culture in a colonialist manner. We would have thought that, being an American Indian, he would not have stooped to such tactics. It is a fact that from an archeological standpoint, whenever human remains are found, they usually do not have any visible signs of clothing remaining becasue of temperature and humidity deteriorating such clothing. We can assume that clothing was made from the abundant resources around us, such as turkey feathers and other feathers as well as buckskin from deer and other animal adornments.
We made the decision to adopt and change components of regalias to suit our current-day needs. In our programs, we discuss regalias and talk about which aspects are authentic as well as which are adaptations. We would suggest that unless Mr. Largo can find a photograph of pre-contact regalia that was distinctly Catawba, he leaves the decision-making to us.
We also would like to inform the public that powwows are not traditional for tribes and that it is a more modern event to showcase the various dancers from a number of different tribes and has a competition component to it among the dancers and drummers. At this event, there would be many different dancers dancing the same dances in competition, such as Jingle dances that would be from many different tribes. At Red Earth, a famous powwow, many tribes in a competition did jingle dances, and these dancers were not Ojibway.
In conclusion, the Catawba still do the Wild Goose Dance, Hunter's Dance, Bear Dance and other dances. They are a part of our proud heritage. We showcase these dances at certain events depending on the number of participants we have available at that performance. We are deeply saddened that Mr. Largo has, apparently for personal reasons, attacked the work that is done at the cultural center and has hurt the feelings of our children who are learning their traditional dances and other dances. Their self-esteem is important to us, and we do wish that Mr. Largo had thought before he chose to express himself in such a negative manner.
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