“It’s disrespectful,” she said. “We just want them to know that we’re there and we respect them.”
March is Native American Month at Spanish Springs, a time for the school to recognize the importance of northern Nevada’s rich culture of tribes including the Paiute and that of the Hualapai, whose tribal capital is Peach Springs, Ariz. To celebrate the heritage, the Native American Diversity Club at the school sold Indian tacos on March 19 and this past Friday, Foster and her sister, Anna, 13, put on a powwow in which they performed two dances in full regalia on Friday at lunchtime, dancing to music provided by the Echo Sky drum group of Reno.
“All we were hoping to do is put cultural awareness out there for people who don’t exactly know what the native Americans are about,” Foster said. “So even if we could influence one or two people, it was worth it.”
The Foster sisters each did a dance that told a story. Charisse performed a jingle, a medicinal dance that signifies an old man who is ill and dreams of a jingle dress that his granddaughter uses. By the time the song reaches a downbeat of the drums, the grandfather is well again. Anna, who attends Shaw Middle School, told a story of a butterfly through a fancy dance in which the butterfly starts in a cocoon as shown by her closed arms and becomes a beautiful lady by spreading her wings.
The Fosters’ native American heritage comes from their mother’s side and nobody else really dances, Foster said.
“We’re half-black as well,” Foster said. “They did bring us up in the Hualapai circle.”
She said it was important to her to preserve her culture and to share it with her fellow students.
Her uncle, Tony Abbie, teaches government and is a coach at the schoo. He is also adviser to the club.
“We want to contribute to the culture, first off, and hopefully it springboards into more cultural diversity,” Abbie said.
Abbie said Spanish Springs’ Native American Diversity Club existed before and was started by a former teacher, Rebecca Morrison. The club stopped gathering for about a year, but Abbie said his niece wanted to revive it. Abbie said students talk about native American issues and it encourages an appreciation for the various traditions of native Americans, Hispanics, African-Americans and even Caucasians.
She’s also helped changed the outlook of a special event at the school.
“They had a day when it was originally Cowboys and Indians Day, which upset me because the cowboys killed the Indians,” she said. “It’s like, how do you get away with that? We had a couple of girls dressed with small feathers in their hair and running up the hallways and we were very upset over that, which made me want to inform them that’ s not how it is. We don’t live in teepees, we live in normal houses. We respect ourselves … we don’t have cleavage showing.”
Foster said she’s always willing to help educate her students if teachers ask her to be part of discussions about her culture. The school also offers a video Paiute language class offered only at Spanish Springs and North Valleys high schools for which students can get a foreign language credit.
Locally, however, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony hasn’t been able to hold regular powwow events for the community because of the sour economy, she said. Meanwhile, Anna, who holds the title of Numaga queen, has the responsibility of representing Nevada’s various tribes until another assumes the role.
On May 1 and 2, Foster will participate in a powwow at the University of Nevada, Reno in the Manzanita Bowl. Tribes from around the world come to participate in these events in three sessions on Saturday and an afternoon session on Sunday. There will be a dancing competition and it is open to the public.
There’s no doubt that Foster knows and appreciates where she came from.
“We’re out to inform people about the native American culture,” she said. “We’re all pretty close. … The (other) kids out there, we refer to them as brothers and sisters and cousins.”