Dance of Her Ancestors [UPDATED]

Published 10:10am Thursday, August 9, 2012 Updated 10:10am Thursday, August 9, 2012

While the walls of her home dance with the art of her ancestors, they do not reveal much about Winona Kingbird’s illustrious career of performing the dance of her ancestors. In fact, the many trophies this Wahpeton, ND resident has accrued over her lifetime of performing in Native American Pow Wows must be hidden away, and it is only through much prompting – and a smattering of comments from her proud family – that the soul of this humble dancer begins to shine through.

Fancy fabrics decorating her home only hinted that Winona actually creates her own performance dressings and those of her whole family. Photos of ancestors and a portrait of her immediate family merely suggested the joy this family finds within each other. Personal art from all generations decorated walls and shelves that could more easily house awards, including two World Championships for Winona in Jingle Dance.

Winona is visibly hesitant when talking about herself, but her children and spouse occasionally joined the conversation, encouraging her, especially on the topic of Circle of Nations Native American Boarding School in Wahpeton, where she holds the position of Financial Officer.

Her real passion is mentoring youth through a school club called Indian Club – a cultural and performance arts club. It brings to mind a real life version of TV’s GLEE series, where young glee club members are encouraged to accept each other, their differences, their weaknesses, and their talents while building self-confidence and having fun.

Through the Indian Club, members come together as much to learn as to enjoy each other’s talents. The Club focuses on performing at traditional Pow Wows, so the students learn song, dance, drums and storytelling. They also learn to create elaborate outfits, boots and headgear that have been a part of Native American culture for centuries.

“They come to hear stories of our history and culture, to listen to music or to socialize, and all along the way they seem to be building confidence in themselves and their heritage,” Winona offers with a glow.

She herself grew up in a performance environment and hopes to pass on her love for Native American dance as an energetic, vibrant and social pastime.

Winona’s parents have taught at Native American schools in Wahpeton and Flandreau, SD. They became instrumental creators and performers of the Lakota Sioux Dance Theater, spreading American Indian culture around the globe. From an early age, Winona performed with the group and tours internationally to places like Iraq, Japan, Puerto Rico, and Europe sharing and preserving her unique and fascinating heritage.

Winona spends much of her time preparing youth for the annual local Pow Wow and traveling with the students to others during the school year.

Historically, the Pow Wow was a traditional social gathering where people from various nomadic tribes would meet and celebrate the new season after being separated over long, cold winters.

Today, Pow Wows are conducted in much the same manner and Winona and her family attend a different one almost every week-end during the summer. “It’s an activity for the whole family. In addition to traditional performing arts, other activities such as softball, races and kids events are typically added,” she explained.

Winona beams when describing the Indian Club’s members: “I’m proud of the way so many of these students really step up to the plate – some of them take such pride in it at an early age – I had one young student who made my job so much easier because she was always watching out for the younger performers . . . getting their regalia ready and helping to organize. It makes me happy to imagine them continuing to enjoy these cultural activities for all of their lives. My grandfather still dances and even accompanied me to London for the Queen’s Jubilee.”

Pow Wow Meets Pomp and Circumstance


The United Kingdom decided to honor Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her 60th Diamond Jubilee on the throne by celebrating at one of her favorites . . . the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Performers from areas reflecting The Queen’s State and Commonwealth visits during the course of her reign were invited to dazzle her through live performances of “Around the World in Sixty Years and Ninety Minutes”, a production that was also produced on film.

Native American dancers and equestrians, including Winona and spouse Jason, joined a contingent of US cowboys, dancers and rodeo stars, Canadian Inuits and Royal Canadian Mounties, and Mariachi dancers from Mexico to comprise the North American representation. Jason sang and played drums for the production.

“Even though we performed on the private grounds of Windsor Castle, Her Majesty’s personal residence, our accommodations seemed far from regal,” Winona’s husband Jason adds with a wink. Talk about cramped quarters: Asian inspired “sleep boxes” were home to the couple for ten days while performing for the Queen. Winona describes a space so tight that when one of them opens the door to the bathroom, the other one must get on the bed until the door closes, freeing up that little floor space. Small room accommodations were a trivial price to pay when “being invited to do what you love in such a unique venue,” adds Winona.

Perhaps the Queen, even with all of her royal European heritage, might have finally met her match in Winona, who possesses equestrian skills like Her Majesty, but who seems to personify Native American “queen” through all of her being.

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