Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Contributing Editor
Q) We are visiting with George J. Abeyta, a dynamic presence in Native Dance. Known for his energetic athleticism as a fancy dancer, Mr. Abeyta is also the Coordinator of Eastern Shoshone Days, one the USA's most popular powwows. Thanks so much for joining us! Please tell us a little about yourself?
A) I have been a fancy feather dancer most of my life. I enjoy educating non-Natives about our culture and inspiring others through the dance that the Creator has blessed me with. The profession that I chose allows me to do this without too much conflict (summer vacations). I have been a teacher and a coach here at Fort Washakie School for 21 years (awarded BA in Elementary Ed, University of Wyoming ’91 and MA in Teaching, Grand Canyon University ’04).
For the last seven (7) years I have also had the honor and privilege to coordinate Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, one of America’s largest celebrations. In that time span the number of registered dancers went from around 200 to over 1,000 dancers. I believe a celebration like ours is a gift to the people, that’s why I don’t mind the hard work and sacrifice. The blessings of strength and happiness that it brings to the people are priceless.
Q) Clearly, you honor your Native heritage in every facet of your life? Please share with us about your heritage.
A) I am an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and live here in Fort Washakie, Wyoming, the headquarters of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The core beliefs of the Eastern Shoshone that have influenced me the most are spirituality, family, love kindness, humility, generosity, respect and the value of hard work. These values guide my choices and actions daily to be the best that I can be and help those around me to do the same.
Q) What do powwows mean to you? How would you describe the meaning of powwows to someone who had never been to one? Why should they attend?
A) Powwows are social gatherings where many tribes gather to share in friendship, song and dance. Even though, for the most part, powwows are social and recreational; there are spiritual and healing aspects. People can be uplifted and inspired through the strength and power of the drum and the dancers.
Q) While we have the benefit of your great knowledge about powwows, please tell us what your regalia means to you? What takes place within you during your dancing?
A) Our elders have taught us that dancing and singing is a form of prayer, so when I put on my outfit I offer prayers for those who danced before me, for those who dance and sing with me and for those who will dance after me. I also offer prayers for those who might witness the dance in hopes that they might be uplifted and inspired.
Q) How did you know that you were called to dance?
A) My parents and older siblings encouraged me to dance. Once I became comfortable in my outfit and got over the “stage fright” I felt free, full of positive energy and like there was nothing else I would rather be doing.
Q) How did you choose your dance category? What does dancing your particular style mean to you?
A) All the cool guys danced fancy in Fort Washakie, so I wanted to do the same. The brighter colors and all the extra feathers and flare were also appealing to me. I also liked how there were not as many rules. I understood that it was a free-style contemporary kind of dance and I didn’t have to hold myself back and I could just go all out and really kick up the dust!
Q) What do you think is the greatest influence on your own style of dancing?
A) My mentor was the late Phillip “Smiley” Kaiyou, Jr. He was the fastest smoothest fancy feather dancer with the most maneuvers that I’ve ever seen. Even though no one will ever dance like Smiley,I pattern my dance after his prize winning style.
Q) You're breathtaking in motion! What are some of the symbols, colors, and patterns that distinguish your regalia from other fancy dancers?
A) The Eastern Shoshone are known for the red roses that show up frequently in art, stories and the beautiful Wind River country. The red rose represents strength and beauty. The wild rose was natural, but stood out in its natural environment and could withstand the harsh elements, and the “storms” in life.
The buffalo and eagle are messengers and carry our prayers. They are not a major focal point in my beadwork, because like prayers, they are not meant to “show off” only to be there as a source of strength. The gold color of the eagle and buffalo represent their long-standing value and beauty.
Q) Since you are a fixture at so many powwows, you probably have some that you really look forward to attending annually? What are some of the aspects that are important to you in enjoying a particular powwow?
A) The number one factor in making a good powwow is having a good committee. Sounds simple but it’s true. There never was a great powwow that didn’t have a great committee and I’m pretty sure there never was an awesome committee that didn’t have an awesome powwow! A good committee will be thoughtful of its potential participants, including: singers, dancers, head staff, and spectators. When all of their needs and wishes are considered and carefully tended to, there’s bound to be an awesome celebration that will follow. If a powwow is neat, clean, has a high quality of singing, dancing, food and security, it’s gonna be a great powwow!
Q)It's fascinating to visit with you! What else would you like to share with us?
In my previously life I was a billionaire with pretty much all the materialistic things I could ever want, but I’m happier in this life because I have a beautiful family, homeland, strong prayers, a great career and powwow! 🙂
Q) Mvto…thank you for your sharing with us! We sure do appreciate you!
A) Thanks again for the privilege and the honor. Everyone’s invited to the 55th Annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, Forty Washakie, WYOMING, June 27-29, 2014.
Dr. Dawn Karima is a Native American Music Award Winner for her CD, THE DESIRE OF NATIONS. She hosts A CONVERSATION WITH DAWN KARIMA, a Native radio show on TalktainmentRadio.