With November arrives Native American Heritage month, a time to remember, appreciate and celebrate the rich diversity of Native American culture and traditions. However, as President (or as some prefer to say, “Chief”) of Logan High’s Native Club and a regular performer at powwows, Moneek Denny makes a daily effort to preserve and share her culture as a Native American.
Part-Navajo and part-Cherokee, Denny has the unique experience of having lineage tracing back from two tribes with distinct backgrounds, including unique rituals and languages. “I usually introduce myself in Navajo first,” Denny said. “If anybody asks, then I will introduce myself in Cherokee.”
“All our ceremonies that are major are put in four days. The four days signify all four directions: north, east, west and south,” she explained. “We also have four colors: white, black, red, and yellow. Those are the tribe’s. If you are to go anywhere in the United States with the tribes, they have all those four colors.”
As the leader of Logan High’s Native Club, Denny aims to focus the club on educating natives and non-natives alike to be more well-rounded and informed about Native American customs and way of life. She hopes this club is beneficial to its members and helps combat the inaccurate stereotype that Natives lead antiquated lives. The club fosters a healthy environment for individuals to gain a better understanding of Native Americans’ roles in today’s society.
“We have at least 11 students attending. It’s actually pretty big from the past few years, so it helps a lot,” Denny said optimistically. “Right now, we have a word of the week in a [native] language. I learn myself and then I tell them, so from there, I’m learning and I’m getting the benefit and they also are. There are non-natives in there too, so they learn about our culture and what we do on a daily basis. There are some people even to this day that think we didn’t live in modern civilization. We’re trying to reach out to them.”
Another big part of Denny’s life is the art of dance, especially involved with powwows, traditional Native American ceremonies involving dancing, feasting and singing.
“Powwows I’ve been doing since… I probably wanna say around 5 or 6. Maybe even sooner,” Denny said.
Although now she shows talents in a vast array of all types of traditional dances, Denny had started her dancing career with learning jingle, a specific type of Native American dance closely associated with the power of healing.
“This guy had a vision, you see,” Denny explained. “His daughter was slowly dying, and he had this vision of making this jingle dress. He put it on her and other women around him and and they danced around her and within a day, she started feeling better. So when there’s a sick person that needs help, they’ll stand in the middle of the arena with their family, and old style dancers will stand in a line and go around them until the song stops, and that’s like healing them.”
Perhaps one of the most distinctive parts of the jingle dance is its attire, a dress made of cones on the skirt.
“The cones are made out of tobacco lid cans,” she explained. “Originally, there are supposed to be 365 cones on the dress, representing the 365 days of the year, and there are supposed to be 7 rows of them for the 7 days of the week. So, it resembles the whole year.”
Another type of dance Denny is involved in includes what is known as “old style,” characterized by old, traditional dresses and a tendency to dance with your feet as firmly on the ground as possible. “They also call it keeping you feet on Mother Earth,” she explained. “That resembles never leaving Mother Earth, for we stay on Mother Earth. We believe that’s where we belong.” But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a simple and uninvolved dance. “You do a lot of footwork, and everyone says it’s more exercising than many people can do,” Denny laughed.
“I also do fancy,” Denny continued. “It’s [the dance] with the shawl and the fringes. That’s a really nice one that everyone likes. It resembles the butterfly, because of the colors and everything.” Fancy is a dance style that is more contemporary and performative, with “more glitter, more sparkles, more everything.”
Each dance is specific to a certain area of the United States, thought to have originated with different tribes. “Jingle comes from the Plains, traditional comes more from Canada, fancy comes more from [the area] towards North Dakota,” Denny explained.
Though each dance and ritual is specific to a distinct region or tribe, powwows demonstrate the ultimate unity between Native Americans today.
“Some people argue saying ‘[The dance] comes from us,’ ‘No, it comes from us.’ But in reality, we never had that communication back then. That’s what really connects us. It’s like, how did you know to do that when we already did it? It’s as if something told them and that’s how we connect now to powwows,” Denny said.
“The drum connects us with every tribe in the nation,” she continued. “The drum is a signature of the heart. Without the drum, there would be no powwow as we always say. The drumbeat brings us together as a social society, as brings us as one, knowing that we are still here, we are native, and we are proud.”
Moneek Denny continues to show her native pride in her everyday life. “Where I come from really resembles who I am individually,” she said. “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live. Be proud of who you are and where you’re from.”