Students get taste of American Indian culture

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — The 25th annual Indian Day Celebration at Trinity Episcopal Day School did not lack authenticity.

The event had kids eating bear meat and watching American Indians do true war dances around a beating drum.

Every year Indian Day — which is always the Friday before the Annual Natchez Powwow, today at the Grand Village of Natchez Indians, starting at 10 a.m. and lasting all day — is reserved solely for fifth graders, who spend four to six weeks researching a particular tribe with the end result being a paper and a project.

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This year, however, was a milestone and was also to celebrate Cissy Pressgrove, the Trinity teacher who started it all, so the entire school was invited.

Pressgrove reminisced about how it began, with her finding an Indian cookbook and asking her students if they wanted a feast. The day of the feast, students donned cut up paper sacks for Indian outfits.

That first celebration carried such enthusiasm that it soon grew into an unofficial kickoff for the Annual Natchez Powwow, with American Indians stopping by the school to dance.

The fifth graders, clothed in native garb, got to dance with the American Indians, as well.

Cena Mullins said she was excited about getting to go and see the dances.

Taylor Ham said she liked dressing up and that she would feel a twinge of sadness when the day was over.

The students enjoyed lunch, which was an interesting spread of wild turkey, bear, elk, moose and alligator.

“The kids fight over it,” Pressgrove said.

Fifth-grader Courtney Hillebrandt tried the bear and said it tasted like chicken.

“It was good,” she said.

Trinity Indian Day, with its humble beginning to its current success, all stemmed from Pressgrove wanting her students to learn, and it’s evident that they did.

Hillebrandt could speak easily about the tribe she covered, the Hopi tribe, and explain what a dreamcatcher is.

Fifth grader Margaret Carey, who labored for five days on her project, had no problem explaining what was unique about her tribe and how she translated that in her project.

The performers at the event have been coming to the Powwow and Trinity for years.

Chase Patrick has been dancing in both events since he was two, and he’s now 16.

“I was just born into it,” he said.

He even made his intricate outfit, aside from the sewing, which he left to his grandmother.

This meant a lot of yarn work on the sleeves and belt.

He said he always enjoys performing.

“I just like going out and dancing,” he said.

And he gets to see friends he’s made through the Powwow each year.

In fact, it seems that the Powwow is a quite the place to meet people.

Dana LeRoy, one of the day’s performers, met his wife there 20 years ago and they have a daughter, Corey LeRoy, who now dances as well.

Dana has been dancing for 45 years.

Pressgrove, at the end of the dancing, was given a framed photograph will all of her students signatures on it.

Delecia Carey, head of the school, was the presenter.

“There’s no way we can ever adequately thank you,” Carey said. “You’re dearly, dearly loved.”