Cathy Free: Free Lunch: Keeping the drumbeat of old traditions alive for a new generation
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — With the arrival of daffodils and dandelions and blossoms on dogwood trees, Penelope Pinnecoose is drawn once again to memories of the bear dance.
Ever since she was a child in Fort Duchesne, the annual Ute tradition has been the highlight of spring, with its colorful dance shawls and thunderous drumming, connecting the tribe's dancers to the powers of nature and life.
"It's a celebration of a new year and a new beginning," says Pinnecoose, 32, "but even more than that, it's a way to hold on to tradition. Now more than ever, it's important to pass our traditions along."
Every afternoon, the West Valley City single mother of three does her part to keep the old ways alive as a role model for Native American children attending after-school programs sponsored by Salt Lake City's Urban Indian Center.
Pinnecoose, who is the center's youth programs coordinator, helps about 20 low-income kids from various tribes finish homework assignments, develop computer skills and raise their reading levels. But she and other volunteers also make each child's unique heritage a priority, whether it involves a tradition of Navajo weaving, Goshute storytelling or creating fringed shawls for the Ute Tribe's annual powwow.
"We want our kids to learn about all of the Utah tribes and hear the stories that have been passed down for generations," she says. "In an urban environment, it's easy to lose track of your history. For somebody who's moved to the city from the reservation, it's a way to connect to what they've left behind."
Pinnecoose, who wanted to share a Free Lunch of takeout chicken and fruit salad during her noon break, knows firsthand the heartache of saying goodbye to wide-open spaces and familiar traditions for a chance at a better education and promising job prospects.
When she was in the sixth grade, her parents moved the family from the Ute Reservation in the Uintah Basin to Salt Lake City, where Pinnecoose excelled at basketball and volleyball at Highland High School and eventually earned a college scholarship.
"Although it turned out well for me, at first I was unhappy living here," she says, "because all of the things that I loved about the reservation — the fresh air, the powwows, learning from the elders — was gone."
But at the Urban Indian Center — where free programs from substance abuse counseling to food assistance are offered for Native Americans — she found a way to continue her jingle-dress dancing and hold on to the legends of her past.
Happy to reconnect to those memories, Pinnecoose signed on in her teen years as a volunteer to help make the adjustment to city life easier for other reservation children.
Fifteen years later, "it's still so rewarding to take that little bit of time to let them know they're important and that somebody cares," she says. "In a lot of ways, I feel like I'm their second mother. I make sure their homework is done, make sure their parents are reading to them. I want them to feel that I'm somebody they can trust."
Pinnecoose, who is part Ute, Northern Cheyenne and Eastern Shoshone, also helps teens find ways to include the traditions of their ancestors in a high-tech world. She recalls one troubled boy who was ready to drop out of high school and take a minimum-wage job until he was introduced to a drum circle.
"It made all the difference — it gave him something to look forward to," she says. "Drumming gave him pride in his heritage and a reason to develop some goals in life."
On May 11, when she takes her daughters to the annual bear dance in Fort Duchesne, Pinnecoose knows her thoughts will turn to one of her own dreams: to someday return to the rservation and grow into an elder with treasured stories to pass down to the next generation.
When she hears the rumbling of drums, signaling that the bear is awakening from winter slumber, she'll watch the women don colorful shawls to pick their dance partners, "and I'll know I've come home," she says.
It's a lesson she wants to teach all of the children she now considers as family: "That wherever they end up living, they'll be proud of who they are and keep it with them in their hearts."
Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. Email your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Davis County honor student arrested in deaths...
- Mormon Parenting: Don’t call gay unions...
- Sintra, Portugal, is a perfect combination of...
- Gallup poll shows shift in views on morality...
- 'Fast & Furious 6' is fast, furious and...
- Family, drug court graduation give mother...
- Stories behind viral Oklahoma tragedy photos...
- 18-year-old musician dies after inspiring...
- Mormon Parenting: Don’t call gay... 38
- Woman uses public punishment to teach a... 27
- Abused parents: Tykes deliver crushing... 12
- Abercrombie & Fitch CEO posts statement... 12
- Davis County honor student arrested in... 11
- Gallup poll shows shift in views on... 10
- Salt Lake City has highest rate of... 4
- 18-year-old musician dies after... 4