Cheyenne students explore traditions of school’s name

By Patty Miller
Edmond, Oklahoma (AP) 11-07

A lone tepee, representing a lifestyle abandoned long ago by the Cheyenne Indians, stood in contrast next to Cheyenne Middle School.

As students listened to guest speakers, they learned about the American Indian tribe chosen for their school mascot.

“Oklahoma has the second largest Indian population in the United States, but it has the largest Indian student population in its schools,” said Sydna Yellowfish, Title V teacher at Memorial High School. “It is also home to 39 diverse tribes recognized by the federal government.” She said there are 552 Indian tribes in the United States.

Yellowfish shared traditions and explained her American Indian regalia with the students as she showed them a Comanche buckskin dress made out of deer skins with beadwork intricately sewn onto the leather.

She told of how American Indians once decorated their clothing with shells, bear claws, elk teeth, porcupine quills and other things found in nature before they started trading for beads.

She shared how many long, winter hours are spent keeping up the regalia worn by the American Indians for special occasions.

“I had to have special permission to wear the dress made for me since I am not Comanche,” Yellowfish told the students. “We had a dinner and presented gifts, called ‘Give Away,’ to the guests the night I asked for permission to wear the dress.”

Yellowfish’s husband is Comanche and his great-grandfather rode with Quannah Parker.

Yellowfish said the dress weighs 10 pounds to 15 pounds and the flaps hanging down from the arms represent the legs of a deer.

She shared a belt that had three main pouches worn by a lady. Each pouch held a special item. One held an awl, another was a medicine bag and the third held a knife.

Students also were shown more modern items made to wear including hair ties.

“It takes a lot of patience to do the beadwork,” Yellowfish said. “First you must figure out a design, decide on the colors and then decide on how you want to place the beadwork.”

As Yellowfish shared her culture with the students, she told them of some of the traditions practiced by different tribes.

“We call the items we wear outfits, not costumes,” Yellowfish told the students. “This is our tradition. We also do not mix clothing from different tribes.”

She told the students that a young person is a combination of what his or her parents are blending the traditions from each side of the family.

Other activities included a Powerpoint presentation by Harvey Pratt on the Cheyenne-Arapaho history, Gordon Yellowman telling about American Indian art and history and watching George Old Crow erect a tepee on the front yard of the school grounds.

As Bendick practiced the tradition of a ‘Give Away’ she gave Yellowfish a gold-plated pin in the shape of a puzzle piece and told the students, “Everyone is a part of the Cheyenne puzzle; we are each a puzzle piece.”