The Royal Valley Native American Singers and Dancers have kept tradition alive for almost two decades in Jackson County, Kan. This group consists of 82 children ranging from kindergarten to grade 12 who represent more than a dozen tribes. They are the five-time defending champions of the “Battle of the Plains” competition held every January in Bartlesville, Okla. They hold the title of “Best Native American Dance Group in the Midwest“.
The group was started 19 years ago by Laverne Hale, the Title VII co-ordinator for the Royal Valley School District. When she left Royal Valley Schools, the position was taken over by Anita Pahmahmie Evans, who has been sponsoring the group for the last 17 years. Anita also teaches physical education at Royal Valley High School in Hoyt, Kan. Her co-sponsor, Connie Peters, teaches math at Royal Valley Middle School in Mayetta, Kan.
Title VII is a federally funded program for Indian education. Royal Valley uses part of this funding to support the dancers and singers, as well as a math tutoring program and other student services. Two of the goals the school has for the Title VII program are to increase school attendance and to improve math scores among Native American students, who make up a large part of the student population.
Anita says the dance group, as well as the Native American Club she started, help achieve these goals. Students must keep up their academic grades and attendance to participate in the dance performances. Anita also encourages students to prepare for college. She keeps them informed of ACT testing dates, available scholarships, recruiting events and takes them to visit universities.
Students and parents alike get involved with the dancers and singers group. It is a great way to encourage their children to learn about their traditions and it is a great boost to the children’s self-esteem and their Native pride. The families of the dancers and singers not only show their moral support, but must supply financial support as well. The regalia the children wear are very expensive. A hand-beaded hair ornament or pair of moccasins can cost hundreds of dollars. All of these items are custom-made, and children grow out of them quickly.
Every outfit is exquisitely detailed, with beading, tassels, feathers, bells, ribbons and other adornments. They are made in a rainbow of colors and each tribe or region has its own traditional style of clothing. The Prairie Band Potawatomi use many floral designs and fabric appliques, while other tribes may wear buckskin outfits.
The kids want to look their best for each performance, especially the competitions. They earn points for their regalia as well as for their dancing skills. The group performs about six to ten times a year, but the most important performance is the big competition Jan. 15, in Bartlesville, Okla. They compete with schools from Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and even as far away as Alabama.
At the competition the dancers and singers are divided into age groups and into groups according to their style of dance. Each individual earns points which are combined for their school. The school that earns the most points by the end of the day wins the grand prize. The Royal Valley Singers and Dancers have been the grand champions for the past five years and hope to continue their winning streak at the upcoming competition in Oklahoma.
Although the group has been a success, the future is uncertain. Anita will be retiring within the next few years and someone else will need to take over leadership of the singers and dancers. Preferably, someone who is Native American and can relate to the children as well as Anita has been able to. “I’m so close to the kids in this program. I live on the reservation with them. I know their parents and grandparents. I was where they are and I’m proof they can succeed.”