Dunbar Middle Schoolers celebrate Native American Heritage Month with the Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers

By Matthew Young, RealWV

DUNBAR, W.Va. – The students at Dunbar Middle School, on Wednesday, were treated to a special performance by the Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dance Troupe. This rare educational opportunity was open to the public, and presented in partnership with the YWCA of Charleston, as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

On hand to introduce the program was Shanté Ellis, the YWCA’s director of Racial Equity and Inclusion.

“As performing ambassadors to the great Navajo Nation, the Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers, under the direction of Mr. Shawn Price, are considered an outstanding group of young, talented, and disciplined individuals who continue to excel in their cultural program, and have received many accolades,” Ellis said. “Their unique program offers the finest in traditional and semi-contemporary performances.”

Ellis noted that the Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers have performed all over the world before welcoming Price to the stage.

“I come to you as a proud member of the sovereign homeland of my native nation,” Price said, before introducing both himself, as well as his affiliations. 

Price explained that, as native people, both he and his affiliations are “really not citizens of your country, the United States.”

“We are dual citizens,” Price said. “We did not ask to be citizens of your country, but we did choose to be citizens of your country. That happened in 1924. As native nations and native people, we have what is called sovereignty. That means we have our own governments, our own schools, our own hospitals and police departments. We have our own jurisdiction, and various states in which tribal nations are affiliated, those states deal with us in a government-to-government relationship.”

“This year is our 155th treaty commemoration,” Price noted. “For 155 years now, we’ve had our relationship with the United States. Our Navajo Nation, we are affiliated with the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. We come from the southwestern region of what you call your country – the United States. We are the largest native nation, and we have our youth here performing for you.”

Price told the students that, at 13 and 14-years-old, the performers, “Are your age, and will be sharing with you our traditional dances.”

“I can guarantee these dances are probably the very oldest on this continent,” Price added. “They go back eons upon eons. They’re our prayers, they’re our stories – they’re our origins.”

The first performance was the “Cradle Gourd Dance,” the meaning of which Price provided a brief explanation of. 

“All of you when you came into this world were infants,” Price said. “Your mom or dad held you, and it was a joyous moment. There were forces in this world you did not know at that time. And so with this dance and the cradle gourd, we acknowledge those forces – one of which is the rainbow. Others are the rays of the sun and the thunder.” 

“I’m sure all of you when you were younger, the first time you saw that rainbow, you were probably in awe of it,” Price continued. “The first time you heard that thunder, it probably scared you – the same with the lightning and the rays of the sun. They were letting you know that even though you didn’t know them, they knew you. So when you are growing, we will always acknowledge those phenomena of nature. Those forces will be there with you for your entire life.”

Price further noted that the “Cradle Gourd Dance” is presented by female performers as a blessing to young women, “That they should grow up to make a difference in the world we live in.”

The Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers perform the “Cradle Gourd Dance” at Dunbar Middle School, on Nov. 8. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Before introducing the second dance, Price shared a bit of history about the Navajo Code Talkers, the 29 Navajo men recruited by the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. These men created a code based upon the complex Navajo language which was used to transmit secret messages to Allied troops. As no written record exists of the Navajo language, the coded transmissions were indecipherable to enemy combatants. 

Price explained that the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was an assault on both the United States, as well as its nation-to-nation relationship with native nations. According to Price, this prompted more than 99% of eligible native men to volunteer for service in the American Armed Forces. 

The second dance performed, Price noted, celebrates the legacy of the Code Talkers.

“This is our ‘Gourd Dance,’” Price said, before asking the students to cup their hands in front of their mouths and blow in. “In doing that, you felt the elements that are within us. This is the teaching of the Code Talkers.”

“You felt that fire, that heat that is within your body,” Price continued. “Secondly, you felt that water – that moisture that is within your body. Thirdly, that air that you breathed out is within your body, and your hand makes the flesh of this Earth. These elements are a part of us, and we are the elements.” 

“Mother Nature only mirrors human nature,” Price added. “If we want our world to return to a balance, that begins with all of us.”

The Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers perform the “Gourd Dance” to celebrate the legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers, at Dunbar Middle School on Nov. 8. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

The final dance was performed with the “Wedding Basket,” a ceremonial basket used in traditional Navajo gatherings and prayers. 

“This is equivalent for those of you who may have Rosary Beads, or who may have an item that you use to pray with,” Price explained. ‘There are a lot of teachings regarding this. At the end of the day, this represents for us a universal law – this represents a relationship that we have with everything, and to be in balance with that relationship.

After requesting that all Dunbar Middle School staff join him on stage, Price noted that the final dance would be performed in honor of the young men in attendance, saying, “Within you, you have an energy, you have a strength to persevere.”

The Dineh Tah’ Navajo Dancers perform a dance in honor of young men as the Dunbar Middle School staff looks on. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

At the conclusion of the program, Price thanked Dunbar’s staff, saying, “Our blessings to you of strength and perseverance. Thank you for teaching our youth, making those efforts, and making the world better.”

To learn more about the YWCA of Charleston’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Program, visit ywcacharleston.org.

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