Oklahoma City school program keeps tribal culture alive

The Native American Student Services Program in Oklahoma City Public Schools offers dance instruction, mentoring and an art camp.
BY PETER WRIGHT Modified: May 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm •  Published: May 9, 2013
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The sound of jingle dresses broke the silence of an empty hallway at Northwest Classen High School, drowning out the American Indian music the dancers were using to keep time.

The girls are from different schools and tribes, but through dancing they have found a common interest.

Their teacher, eighth-grader Skye Wapskineh, said she's watched her two pupils, elementary student Katallina Hubbard and high schooler Alicia Fink, improve over the past year.

“They've caught on pretty well because they didn't have a beat or anything at first. I'm really proud,” Wapskineh said.

They meet a couple of Tuesdays a month to practice alongside other dance classes and a drumming class organized by the Native American Student Services program at Oklahoma City Public Schools. The courses are part of a larger effort to help American Indian students learn about their heritage and succeed in the classroom.

“A lot of our students know that they're Indian, but some of them don't even know what tribe they're from,” Native American Student Services cultural program coordinator Andrea Mann said.

Wapskineh said she attended her first powwow as a preschooler. She has been dancing ever since, and participates in the district programs. She is a member of the Native American Student Dance Troupe, which performs at events and in classrooms throughout the year.

Alaina Poole, a junior at Classen School of Advanced Studies, attends the fancy shawl class. She and her mother make tribal regalia on commission, and she already knew the southern shawl style, but fancy shawl is more contemporary.

“It's just dancing with a shawl with really complicated footwork,” Poole said.

Ties to tradition

Fink was studying ballet when stories of her family's Choctaw and Cherokee heritage inspired her to also learn tribal dancing.

“It kind of upset me that I wasn't more into the culture,” she said.

Watching the jingle dress dancers run through their routine, Anna Fink, Alicia's mother, said the Choctaw Nation headquarters in Durant is too far away to visit regularly.

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