March 13th, 2014 Last Updated on: March 13th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Contributing Editor
Will a comedian/motivational speaker be the first Native American President? Layha Spoonhunter sure hopes so! This dedicated Chicken Dancer has already graced the Presidential Inauguration with his powwow dancing and hopes someday to be take up residence in the White House. He shares his thoughts on elections, culture and Powwows with us in this interview.
Q) It's great to visit with you!!! What are some of the facts you'd like us to know about you?
A) Neneeninoo Houu’neecee –My name is Crow Chief in Northern Arapaho. My name is Layha Pretty Elk Spoonhunter. I am a student at Idaho State University and I am majoring in political science. I currently serve as Vice-President of the Native Americans United Club at ISU and we are currently planning our powwow which will be held April 19,20th on the campus. For several years now, I have been a youth consultant working with various youth organizations throughout the United States. In 2008, I served as the youngest delegate to the Democratic National Convention to Then Senator Barack Obama and worked on the campaign in three states. One of the greatest aspects in my life is UNITY(United National Indian Tribal Youth) and it has allowed me to become outspoken about issues facing Indian Youth Today.
My Father is Harvey Spoonhunter and my mother is Wilma Weed Spoonhunter. I have one brother-Lamar Redhawk Spoonhunter. and one sister Harmony Dancing Rain Spoonhunter. I also have many nieces and nephews. One thing that I admire about my family is that we are a close family who is very involved in the dance circle. My culture has taken me very far to two Presidential Inaugurations and the United Nations as well.
I want to acknowledge my elders and also the veterans who have defended our way of life. In My family, we have had many family members who served in the military such as My Grandpa on my mother’s side Starr Weed SR who is 95 years old. My Grandpa on my father’s side the late Issac Spoonhunter and My Grandma the Late Wanda Trumbull Spoonhunter.
Q) What is your Native heritage? What are some of your tribal values that shape your character? How so?
I am an Enrolled Eastern Shoshone (Sosoni”ii) Tribal Member and I am also Northern Arapaho (Hinono’ei) and Oglala Lakota (Notoo’nei). On my father’s side, I am a descendant of Crazy Horse and on my mother’s side, I am related to Chief Washakie. Growing up, I was taught by my father that when you introduce yourself you first speak in your native language because that’s our first language and it defines who you are as a person. Also that when you speak in front of your elders, you ask permission from them before you speak and that you share these lessons with future generations. As Indigenous nations, I was taught that when you take the role of being a leader, you follow in the path of your ancestors and leave a trail for others to follow.
Q) Powwows seem very significant in your life. Share with us?
A) The Powwow Circle is a healing circle where you meet old friends and make new friends. My elders told me it’s important for the younger generation to understand that when you are around the powwow circle to be respectful. That means that there should be no fighting as well as any form of drug or alcohol. How I would describe a powwow as well is that the dances each have their own distinct meaning and that the dancers have their own style. Also that the designs on the regalia tell a story either about their culture, family or their life. They should attend to learn that our culture has survived and is thriving.
Q)You have shared with me that you hope to run for office, maybe even be elected President someday. That's a lot of power and a lot of pressure! What are some of the lessons from your Tribal heritage that keep you spiritually centered? How do those internal ideas influence your dancing?
A) Some of the lessons that I learned is that we as Indigenous people can pray anywhere because all of our universe is a church, the animals are our brothers, they give their lives so that we can live. Also the animals, the insects are featured in our creation stories and as a part of our regalia. When I graduated from High School, I was given an Eagle feather and this meant more to me than material gifts because it symbolizes a great achievement you have made. A lesson I was taught from my dad is that when you dance, you dance for those that are sick, that they may be healed, you dance for the ones that can’t walk and you dance for your people, your family and your tribe.
Q) How did you start dancing? How did you know that this was what you truly wanted to do?
A) I started dancing at an early age, my parents told me about the different aspects of song and dance. Without the different songs, there would be no dances and each song has it’s own meaning. I like dancing, it is a huge reflection of who I am as a person and it feels good to share my culture with others. My family in recent years has had the honor of traveling to various locations in Wyoming and Colorado to share our gifts of song and dance at conferences and county fairs. For over ten years, my family as well other dancers from our community were one of the highlights of the Cheyenne Frontier days, drawing big crowds from across the United States daily.
Q) How did you choose your dance category? What does dancing your particular style mean to you?
A) I always liked Chicken dancers for their unique footwork and it is an entertaining dance style to watch. For me I was given my first chicken dance regalia I was about 15 or 16 and some of the beadwork that came with it are over one hundred years old. That regalia is special to me because it’s the one I had the honor of performing in at the United Nations in New York, City. That day was remarkable because I had the honor of representing not only my tribal nations, but I was one of only four natives that were there that day. I had the distinct honor to speak on Leonard Peltier’s case- a political prisoner and AIM member in front of the students gathered there that day.
Q)Please tell us about your regalia? I know you have had some great adventures that you hope might lead you to elected office someday?
A) For me, I Have two sets of Regalia that I Dance in- the Blue Outfit I received when I First started dancing Chicken and then the regalia that was given to me by my father when I graduated from the Wind River Tribal College. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to dance in the blue one when I attended the First Inauguration of President Barack Obama. When given the opportunity to participate in the 2013 Inauguration, I decided to wear the outfit that was given to me by my father in honor of him, my mother, my family and my tribal nations.
Q) Give us Powwows 101. What can folks expect to learn at a powwow if they've never attended?
A) They will learn about our various songs and dances as well as eating our traditional foods. One distinct thing, they will learn is that each tribe has its distinct meaning for the songs, the dances and the regalia they wear. Hopefully they will gain important information and in this, we as Indian Nations are destroying some of their stereotypes about us. Some of my favorite powwows are the local powwows in the community- The Ethete Celebration and Eastern Shoshone Indian Days as well as Denver March Pow-Wow, Gatherings Of Nations, Crow Fair, Shoshone-Bannock Festival are some of my favorite powwows I travel to annually.
Q) What do you wish we knew about you that we don't already know?
A) Currently, I am working on a new tour for Indian Country called the 2014 “REZ LIFE Tour which will feature comedy, motivational speaking. My vision that I hope to share to Indian Country is that, “We as Indian people can succeed in the 21st century by gaining an education while keeping our culture alive”. “This I believe allows us to successfully walk in two worlds- the Indian and Non-Indian while maintaining a drug and alcohol free lifestyle.”.
Dr.Dawn Karima is the author of two novels: THE WAY WE MAKE SENSE and THE MARRIAGE OF SAINTS.
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