By Jonette Ross Brown Eyes
Brad Bearsheart, Hunkpapa Lakota and Santee Dakota, began the circle in Standing Rock, ND. His father’s side of the family was in the ministry. At first, it was expected that he would follow this spiritual path. He was brought up with the goals of education, college, and a job. That was the path that he pursued, starting with a short stint in the U.S. Army.
Brad met his wife, Gabriele, at a powwow and shortly afterward they began their journey together around the Native way of life. Gabriele is from Germany where she devoured Native American history and culture. Brad said, “Gabriele is the reason that our family follows this path. Mama brought us to the circle, the powwow.”
Gabriele was concerned about conditions on the reservations, especially for elders and children. After delivering food and clothing to the reservation, one of the elders asked them, “Are you coming back?” And come back, they did.
Brad and Gabriele formed an organization called Project Lighthouse. Using a donated 18-wheeler (and driver), over the next 9 years they delivered donated food, clothing, and furniture to the reservations.
As Brad’s wife was walking the circle, the elders on the reservations taught her more about Lakota history and culture. Brad added, “Then, Gabriele started teaching us.”
Their children, Nathaniel and Ella were dancing at powwows. Brad remarked that he began to look at their feet and thought, “I could see the way they were dancing, their footwork. Maybe, just maybe this is what we should be doing.”
They were dancing a more contemporary style more suited to dance presentations than pow wow. One day the circle provided two suggestions.
#1 Elder Wags Her Finger
An elder approached Brad at a powwow. Brad remembers, “She wagged her finger at me.” And in Brad’s words, she said, “You’re doing it wrong. THIS IS NOT THE WAY ANY OF THIS IS DONE.”
#2 Arvel Bird/Brings Plenty Band
Brad and Gabriele ran into Arvel Bird at the Colorado Indian Market in 2008. With Arvel Bird’s help, the family began a renewed cycle of listening and learning. Brad also began watching a video of other dancers on Youtube and Powwows.com. Gabriele remarked that during this transition Brad started to catch on and began teaching Nathaniel and Ella the more traditional powwow style of dancing.
Brad and family traveled with Arvel Bird to 7 states. After a short period of time, the attitude changed from must win to: “If we win, then we win. If we lose, then we lose. So, let’s dance!”
Brad, Nathaniel, and Ella continue to make presentations at libraries, schools, and companies. Ella said, “We share our culture, history and, of course, our dances. Nathan and Ella enjoy the fact that their performances grant “continuing education” credits for school.”
Ella, age 16, dances in teen girl’s jingle, fancy shawl and hoop. Nathan dances grass, fancy feather, and hoop as well.
Nathaniel started dancing traditional, but he liked the movement and colors of the grass and fancy feather style. Last year he started Hoop Dancing. Nathaniel, currently 17 years old, came in third at the 2017 World Championships Hoop Dance Contest, teen division, at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, in February 2017. heard.org/event/hoop
Brad explains that the hoop is the way of our ancestors. “When you pass through a hoop, you are sending out a prayer. The Hoop Dance is healing. It brings a balance to Mother Earth.”
And what of Gabriele? She is the glue that holds the family to the circle. She makes sure regalia stays in top shape, clothes and food are packed for trips, she is the travel agent, driver, hair stylist, provides homeschooling for Nathaniel and Ella. And best of all, Gabriele is the massage therapist for those sore calves and shoulders after a day of dancing. Gabriele is the healing hoop for the Bearsheart family.
The Circle Comes Around
Brad summarized, “We now combine the good from both the Book of Life and Native ceremonies to be better people.”
Brad dances fancy feather, grass and traditional and recently won second prize in the Men’s All Around Dance Contest (fancy feather, grass, and traditional) sponsored by Leo “Chico” Her Many Horses at the Denver March Powwow March 2017.