Dancing to a different beat | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dancing to a different beat

Fawn Pasqua moved her feet to the drumbeat, long leather strands, turquoise beads and feathers following her small circles of Native American dance.

The students of Zephyr Cove Elementary School were transfixed on the Shoshone dancer who had come to visit.

Next, Pasqua asked the teachers to pick about 20 students to come to the front and do the Potato Dance. The hands of nearly every child at the assembly, kindergarten through grade five, shot into the air.

They worked hard to make eye contact with their teachers in hopes of being picked. The dance was a success. The couple to make it the longest with a potato trapped between their foreheads — it actually slipped between their noses — smiled and enjoyed a round of applause.

Every seven years, Zephyr Cove Elementary gets a similar visit from tribes in the state. It’s part of the Wa. Pai. Shone, a Douglas County Indian cultural program.

“We’ll come back to this school in seven years,” said Sherry Smokey, who founded the program and lives at the Dresslerville Indian Colony, “because there are seven elementary schools in Douglas County.”

Smokey said the program, funded by the Douglas County School District, is valuable because it lets “people know the Indian people are still here” and it provides an opportunity to teach Indian traditions.

Wa. Pai. Shone, which stands for Washoe Paiute and Shoshone, all tribes with Nevada roots, lasted all day Friday. Students rotated through eight learning centers set up around the school. The centers taught games and basket weaving; how to toast pine nuts and make them into a soup; and showed that a teepee-like shelter can be made with cedar bark.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Dee Robinson, who has taught at Zephyr for 23 years. “I think it really provides an understanding that there was a different way of life.”

A Paiute stick game and a game called stone jacks were most popular.

“They had as much fun as they would have playing Nintendo,” Robinson said. “I think they never realized they could have so much fun with sticks and stones.”

Sierra Forvilly, 7, was quiet when asked about the day, but she clearly enjoyed it because she was one of the first people to raise her hand for the Potato Dance.

“I liked it when we saw the teepee,” she said. Sierra learned about “the pine nuts and how they grind them up into flour (for a soup).”

Ben Manoukian, 6, was similarly tight-lipped. “I like seeing the teepee,” he said.

Sammy Cox, also 6, said she liked the Potato Dance the best. When asked what she would tell her parents about the day, she replied: “I really had fun at school meeting the Indians.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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