Skelly Elementary students learned about Native American culture and ceremonial dances from Wichita War Dancer in honor of Kansas Day on January 29.
With maternal roots among the Ponca Nation and paternal roots in the Tohono O'Odham tribe, Wichita War Dancer Greg Victors has been practicing ceremonial dances since he was a young boy.
Dressed in Southern Plains War Dance regalia, Victors performed the full War Dance and several other ceremonial dances for students to share a bit of his cultural heritage with them. He explained how the War Dance was not meant to celebrate war itself, but the warriors and especially the warriors' horses. These brave souls defended their families and resources and the dance is meant to honor their bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice.
While talking about the various tribes that lived in the region, he reminded students that Kansas was actually named for one of those tribes: the Kanzas, or Kaw. Their name means "People of the South Wind."
After performing the first dance, Victors described the components of his regalia and what those pieces represented. Everything from his moccasins to his headdress are handmade. He told students that while there were many tribes, each with their own unique language, the word moccasins seemed to be universal among them.
The floral pattern on his clothes represents vegetation which was important not only as a food source, but a medicinal one as well. They relied solely on herbal remedies to treat wounds and illnesses before modern medicine was invented.
The orange, red, and white colors represent the sunrise, which is the most sacred time of day in Native American culture. Dawn is when they said their prayers, made offerings, and held other important ceremonies.
"When the sun comes up each morning, it's a new opportunity to change your life," Victors said.
The dyed turkey feathers on his upper and lower bustles are intended to make the dancer seem larger, more like the horses the dance is designed to honor. The goat hair on his lower legs is also meant to imitate the horses.
The circle on the headband is a representation of the sun, and the small mirror in the center is what Native Americans on the plains used to communicate with each other. Victors explained that it would take too long to build a fire by hand to try to communicate, so the idea of using smoke signals was not practical. By reflecting sunlight off of mirrors, they were able to quickly and effectively communicate across long distances.
When Victors described the porcupine quill and deer tail headdress, he explained to students that Native Americans believed in utilizing every part of an animal when they killed it. They ate the meat, used the bones to make tools, wore the skins, and used parts such as feathers and quills to make ceremonial regalia.
The last piece of the regalia Victors spoke about were the eagle feathers on top. He told students that there were over 400 different tribes, but they all viewed the eagle as a gift from the creator and used the feathers to honor the creator.
After performing a few more dances, Victors asked the students if they knew the difference between a costume and regalia. He explained that people wear costumes to dress up for fun. He wears his regalia because it is his cultural identity and what he is most comfortable in. He wears what he calls street clothes in an effort to blend in with today's society, but the regalia is the clothing that truly represents him and his heritage.
The War Dance regalia weighs over 60 pounds. Victors learned how to make it from his grandparents. Teaching the next generation the traditions and customs ensures that the old ways of life are not forgotten and that cultural values will not be lost. He told students that unlike most things in life that get easier the more you practice, these dances actually get harder because they take so much energy to do properly.
"It's a lot of work," Victors said, "but when you have a passion for something, it's not work anymore-it's fun!"
As the availability of materials has changed, Victors and others who still make traditional regalia have had to adapt, but the style remains the same. He told students that they had different regalia for various activities such as hunting, scouting, etc.
Victors explained that the dances could be used as a time of prayer, and that his ancestors would go to war when it was necessary, but really wanted peace. He said they knew it took the same energy to be nice as it did to be mean and that we should always strive for peace.
"You can't change anyone else," Victors said. "But you can change yourself to be nice to others."
As students came forward to ask questions, Victors asked them questions about Kansas, such as what the state tree or bird were. He wrapped up his presentation by inviting each student and staff member to participate in a friendship dance. They all stood up and formed a large circle, holding hands. He described and demonstrated the dance steps as they began making a spiral into the center of the circle, then back out again.
Wichita War Dancer visited Grandview Elementary students on January 31.
Wichita War Dancer - Greg Victors