EMCC kicks off Native American Heritage Month with powerful performance

Tuesday, November 12, 2019
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Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) kicked off Native American Heritage Month Nov. 6 with a colorful performance by the Native Spirit Dancers.

The group, led by Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, knows a thing or two about entertaining. Brian, his wife, Toni, his 16-year-old son, Nedallas, and his brother, Palmer, wowed the crowd with Northern Traditional, Jingle Dress, Fancy, and Hoop dances, all the while explaining each dance beforehand and never missing a beat to rib each other as well as themselves.

“The cones on Toni’s dress are made from the lids of smokeless tobacco,” Palmer said, explaining that Native Americans use tobacco in prayers and offerings. “There can be as many as up to 365 cones on a dress, and each cone represents a prayer for each day of the year. But what makes Toni’s dress so, so special is she had to chew every single can of Skoal herself in order to make that dress. We offered to help but she said, ‘No, I got it.’”

Laughter soon turned to awe as Toni began the jingle dress dance, a healing dance of the Ojibway Nation. During the dance, the cones collide, making a sound like gentle rain.

Nedallas followed Toni with two high-energy, fast-paced fancy dances back to back.

Brian provided the grand finale with the hoop dance, beautifully transforming hoops into various shapes such as horses and butterflies. The dance represents the circle of life with no beginning and no ending. The dancer begins with one hoop and keeps adding more, weaving them into formations that represent the journey through life.

The Avondale Police Department School Resource Officer at Agua Fria High School didn’t begin hoop dancing until he was 24 years old. Most world champions start much earlier. The 49-year-old holds the title of Adult World Champion Hoop Dancer from 2009 and Senior Adult World Champion Hoop Dancer from 2011 to 2014.

“When I turned 30, people said, ‘Man, how are you doing it?’ I said, ‘Brother, I can’t lie. Starbucks in the morning, Red Bull in the afternoon,’” Brian said. “I turned 49 in August and somebody said, ‘Man, how do you do it?’ And I said, ‘I can’t lie. Bengay and Icy Hot.’”

Nedallas started hoop dancing much earlier than his father. He was only 3 years old when he first performed. The Boulder High School student has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, winning third place at the 2019 Heard Museum Hoop Dance Championship in the Teen Division. He placed in the Top 10 at the World Champion Hoop Dance Competition in the Teen Division in 2017 and 2018, Top 5 in the Junior Division from 2013 to 2016, and earned second place in the Junior Division in 2012. The 4.0 student, who is also a member of National Honor Society, also earned Eagle Scout in 2018, a remarkable feat for someone so young. Only about 6 percent of Boy Scouts earn Eagle status and the average age is 17.

Next year, Nedallas will join EMCC’s Hoop of Learning Program, which provides Native Americans in ninth through 12th grade the opportunity to earn college credit while still attending high school.

“Education is key,” Brian said. “I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree, I’ll have it before I turn 50. My son is going to get a lot of scholarships. And my wife has her master’s degree.

“Education is our key to our future. In order to be productive and share our culture in a good way, we need to be educated so we can have those intellectual conversations and we can share the beauty along with the knowledge.”

EMCC is holding several events throughout the month of November to honor Native American Heritage Month. The events are open to the public. Click here to view our calendar of events!