Culture is Family
Native Americans and the Military, Part 2
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer's name; there's movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence. Upon the dancer's cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Hoop Dance Championship in Phoenix.
"The competition opens everyone's eyes to the Native American culture," said Timothy Clouser, Heard Museum Facilities director and a Navy veteran. "I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same."
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-chunk Nation of Wisconsin, and previous World Hoop Dance Champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-Natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
"As Native people, we don't give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance," said Hammill. "When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, 'Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,' or 'Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,' that dance will last forever. That's how this hoop dance carries on; it's given from one person to the next."
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as pow wow dancing. Pow wows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn't matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn't even matter if someone is Native or non-Native. Pow wow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men's categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women's categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance. (For more information, refer to "Pow Wows: Preserving the rich heritage of Native Americans.")