BILLINGS — Native American students in the Billings Public Schools gathered to share their culture and raise money at the Celebrate Our Youth Powwow at Skyview High School Saturday.
“We are showing our culture in the Billings Public Schools, because not many natives go to public school. It’s nice to hear that when Native’s do go to school that they are making it through," said Billings West High Bear Nation Princess Nasajya Deputee.
The Celebrate Our Youth powwow has been a tradition for over 10 years.
Billings Public Schools Indian Education executive director Jennifer Smith has been around for many of them.
“Every year we host a powwow," Smith said. "It’s open to absolutely everybody in the Billings community and greater Billings area. We have tasked our high schoolers with preparing, hosting, and organizing this powwow every year."
Smith said the Billings Public Schools have about 2,000 Native American students from 50 tribes enrolled this year.
"What makes it important is we are showing our culture in the Billings Public Schools, because not many natives go to public school," Deputee said.
All three Billings high schools host their own United Native Clubs open to both Native and non-Native students. Club members have been been planing the powwow since the beginning of the school year.
In addition to a cultural event, the powwow is also a fund raiser for those Native school clubs.
The powwow helps pay for “activities and things we need like bus passes. They help pay for that. We raise money to go on trips at the end of the year. We go to MSUB and look at other colleges and take trips.” said freshman West High Bear Nation Club Secretary Nashantee Deputee.
Being a Native American student comes with its own set of unique challenges. Smith spoke to the balancing act Native students must perform between fitting in like any other kid, while still recognizing and celebrating their culture.
“They have to be able to learn how to be dual identity, or at least dual identity if not multiple identity," Smith said. "Because for our Urban Indian kids, it’s important that they are able to live in an urban setting, be successful, get jobs and to go on to school and trades. Whatever they need to do in mainstream society. But at the same time it’s really critical that they maintain their Native identity and their culture as well. And you can absolutely fuse those two things, and that’s what we want to teach our kids."