Native communities grapple with what it means to honor their U.S. military veterans
Stephen Yellowhawk grew up on the powwow circuit, traveling across the United States and Canada with his family. As a young boy, this son of the Lakota and Iroquois Nations was fascinated by the athletic, flashy style of the Fancy Dance (also known as Fancy War Dance), and the men who performed it wearing stunning, elaborate regalia: feather bustles, bells, roach rockers, beaded cuffs and moccasins. He would watch breathlessly as the dancers entered the arena following a color guard bearing eagle feather staffs and American flags. The Fancy Dance, young Stephen learned from his elders, was performed to honor the heroics and sacrifices of the warriors and veterans.
While other kids might have fantasized about hitting baseballs like Babe Ruth, Yellowhawk grew up emulating the legendary fancy dancers who invented the genre in the 1930s and 1940s. Men like Stephen Mopope (Kiowa), Dennis Rough Face (Ponca), Chester Lefthand (Arapaho), and George “Woogie” Watchetaker (Comanche); Elmer Sugar Brown, who added back flips to his fancy dancing; and Gus McDonald who added both cartwheels and splits.