American Indian high school graduating seniors had a special chance to honor their heritage as they approach commencement through the first South of the River Powwow.
Lakeville Area Public Schools was one of five districts to hold the powwow May 20 at Burnsville High School. The goal was to celebrate students’ success as the
y head into the workforce and postsecondary education, said Jacob Valtierra, Lakeville Area Public Schools’ American Indian School Success Liaison.
“A powwow is a large gathering where members of the American Indian community come together to socialize while enjoying food, singing, and relationship building. Powwows are a significant time to share stories and enrich the culture and heritage of American Indians,” Valtierra said.
For Lakeville South High School senior Grant Skluzacek, it was a special chance to honor his heritage and celebrate his senior year.
Come fall, Grant will attend Dakota County Technical College, where he plans to study automotive repair.
“It was very moving and touching for me to see all the dancing and chanting,” Grant said, adding he was proud members of both sides of his family could attend with him. “I actually got a little tears in my eyes listening and watching the dancing. It was really cool.”
As he looks forward to commencement, Grant said the powwow makes graduation even more special.
For his mother, Amanda Skluzacek, the powwow was a special celebration, too.
“I thought this was a really neat thing they’re doing to get the tribal heritage involved in the schools. That was amazing,” Amanda said. “For our family, it’s been a neat thing to have everyone come together for a powwow.”
Cultivating that sense of pride in identity was important to members of the district’s Native American Parent Committee, which helped develop the idea of the South of the River Powwow. The committee works throughout the year to help American Indian students and their families succeed in school and beyond, said Jodie Sheets, a fifth grade teacher at Eastview Elementary School who is part of the committee.
Sheets and her children were among the dancers at the event, too
“I grew up dancing,” said Sheets, who is Prairie Band Potawatomie, adding dancing and powwows offer chances for American Indians to identify who they are.
That’s important to Valtierra, too.
“I think it just gives us a chance to be proud of our heritage and to be represented in the community, when sometimes it feels like we’re underrepresented,” Valtierra said.
The other districts included Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, Farmington, Prior Lake-Savage and Shakopee. Valtierra said they hope to make the powwow an annual event.