Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Cultural Editor
Q) You're such an inspiring individual! What are you passionate about these days?
A) My name is Sandra Lamouche (aka Yellowhorn), a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation. I am married to Lowell Yellowhorn, a member of the Pikanii Nation (part of the Blackfoot Confederacy) and have two beautiful sons. I have a thirst for knowledge and passion for dance. I have spent the majority of my life as a student and dancer. I have taken classes in tap, ballet, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, hip hop, and salsa. I am a professional hoop dancer, contemporary Indigenous dancer and an emerging choreographer. I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American Studies and I am continuing to complete a Master’s Thesis.
Q) Wow! What wonderful work you are doing! How does your Native heritage influence your life?
A) I am a Cree woman, with some Metis ancestry. I have been adopted into the Pikanii nation through my husband’s family, community members, and through ceremony. I take interest in the Pikanii language and culture because it has many similarities to my own culture and language. Many of the values that shape my character began with those associated with the hoop dance and embodied in the hoops themselves, such as, responsibility, balance, equality, and unity.
Q) What does dancing mean to you? How would you describe the meaning of dances to someone who had never been to one? Why should they attend?
A)For me, dancing is an important part of living a good life, ‘Nitona Miyo Pimadisiwin’ in Cree, or ‘Sooksii pataa pii sin’ in Blackfoot (You can already see some of the similarities in the languages which are both part of the Algonquin language family). Dancing is about culture and identity, connecting with others family, friends and the environment, it is about finding peace, letting go of worry and stress, it is about learning, dancing and movement carries knowledge, dancing means listening to elders and stories… And so much more… For me, dance has changed my life and I know others who have said the same… it is really something that must be experienced. So if you have never been to a dance, I think the best way to begin to understand is to attend and if appropriate, to participate in the dancing. That is the only way you can start to know dancing in an Indigenous context. The more you attend and participate the more you will learn.
Q) What happens in your heart when you are dancing? How do you feel when you wear your regalia?
A) I remember. When I wear my regalia, it is a reminder. Everything has a meaning behind it. Whether it is an eagle feather, plumes, beadwork, or the colors, it is reminder of a person, maybe someone gave you those feathers or made that beadwork for you. When I am dancing, it is a physical way of reaching a spiritual or emotional space that is timeless. I feel light, and joyful.
Q)What are some of the lessons from your Tribal heritage that keep you spiritually centered? How do those internal ideas influence your dancing?
A) For the Cree people, dance is important in connecting to our ancestors. Our name for the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) is ‘Cipayak E’ Nimihitowin’, which means the spirits are dancing in the sky. For me, this is a very important connection. It lets me know that dance is the right thing for me.
As a hoop dancer my first lesson was about responsibility. The teaching is in the hoop itself, in the circle. What goes around, comes around, if you do good then good will come back to you. This affects everything in my life and when I dance I feel it is a responsibility to be a hoop dancer. You are demonstrating the lessons of the hoop by the way you live your life.
Q) You are such a magnificent dancer! How did dancing begin in your life? When did you know that dance was your passion?
A) My mother put my in ballet when I was younger because I was pigeon-toed, so ballet helped with that. This was my first experience with the healing power of dance. From there, I continued on and took other styles of dance. In high school, I was in several dance classes a week and was selected to do a solo class on weekends. I stopped dancing and it wasn’t until I was in University that I started taking dance classes again and began learning to hoop dance. I fell in love with the dance. After learning so many other styles, (I had even tried jingle and fancy shawl as a youth) this dance was the most amazing, most challenging, and most rewarding. When I was starting to hoop dance, I was faced with criticism from different people for different reasons. That’s when I told myself I would always dance no matter what, if I never get paid to dance, if I never go anywhere with it, if I don’t get to travel, if I don’t never win a contest… I will still dance. Since that time, all of these things have happened at least once! Dance has been a true blessing in my life.
Q) Every dancer has unique qualities that distinguish their dancing. What makes your dancing distinctive?
A) I think what makes me unique as a dancer is my thirst for knowledge. I think this is why I was nominated by the president of the International Dance Council (CID), the United Nations of Dance, to become a member. I have been a member since 2013, and, as far as I could tell, I am the only Native person on the International Dance Council (CID).
Q) Congratulations! That's a tremendous honor! It's terrific to see you recognized for your dancing! When you dance, you wear very personalized regalia. Is there a story behind your dance clothes?
A) The blue color came from a dream my mother had. The deer represents my Indian name ‘Itamspiakii’ Happy Dancing Deer Woman. The flowers represent my culture as a Cree woman. I have received eagle feathers and plumes from my own family and from my powwow family, Smoketrail Singers, in Ontario, so they are always with me when I dance.
Q) What do you think makes a powwow or dance a good one? What are some of your favorite ceremonies,powwows or dances?
A) I really truly enjoy all powwows, from the big corporate sponsored championship powwows to the small laid back traditional powwows. I think they all have their good sides and bad sides, but I always try to focus on the good. My favorite ceremonies involve dance, round dances and the different Pikanii ceremonies my family attends. Either way, powwow or ceremony, dancing and praying – praying and dancing is what I want to do!
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