Senior shares Native American dance, heritage with younger peers

Zhaawan Sprague recently performed for Nickels Intermediate students

Culture can come in the form of food, dress and dancing, including, as Zhaawan Sprague knows, the traditional jingle dance.

Caleb Steingold, a seventh grader at Hopkins Middle School, in traditional dress

With bells on her skirt jingling, Zhaawan, a Byron Center High School senior, danced the traditional Native American jingle dance for fifth grade students at Nickels Intermediate School last week in handmade regalia with other women in the tribe. The dance is tied to a legend about healing.

Zhaawan is a member of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish band of Potawatomi, also referred to as the Gun Lake Tribe, which has its government house in Bradley, Michigan, about 15 miles from Byron Center. She serves on the Unity Council and Cultural Committee for the tribe.

She and fellow tribe members performed cultural dances and drumming as educational outreach. Tribe members danced several traditional men’s and women’s dances.

Aydrian Day, a fourth grader from Traverse City, performs

Zhaawan said many of her Byron Center peers don’t know how much she is involved in the tribe, so it was cool to dance at Nickels and connect the district to her heritage. “It’s kind of like bringing a different part of myself here and sharing it,” she said. “It’s bringing both sides of me together.”

Fifth graders recently finished a unit on Native American cultural regions of the U.S. and learned about the Three Fires Council, which includes Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi. Fifth grade teacher Shannon Blood said to meet active tribe members shows students that Native American culture is still alive and part of everyday life.

James Bud Day, language and culture director for the tribe, taught students words and songs in the native language. He told them about pow wows and how the beginning of a gathering is marked with a grand entry.

Tribal members visit schools to share culture and spread knowledge of who they are. “We are here and a part of your community,” Day told students. “We’re not just in history.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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