For Raelene Whiteshield, there’s something special about dancing in Golden.
Whiteshield is of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent — people who call Golden home. So, sharing her family’s traditional dances on their ancestral lands is “significant for me,” she said.
Whiteshield and her daughter Josie Running Wolf showcased the jingle dress dance Oct. 1 at the Golden History Museum & Park’s Autumn Fest, alongside other Native American artists.
The museum’s third annual Autumn Fest spanned the entire campus, offering families a chance to learn about various aspects of Colorado history, flora, fauna, minerals and more. Activities ranged from learning wilderness survival skills to examining Civil War-era artifacts and replicas.
Nathan Richie, museum director, said the goal was to offer a signature program for families and activate both the park and museum spaces. He thanked the museum’s cultural partners who participated in the event.
Among the festivities were hourly performances by Native American dancers, drummers, singers and a flutist.
Steve LaPointe, a dancer who also served as the group’s emcee, said most of the dancers made their own regalia, including cloth, beadwork, bustles, hairpieces and headdresses. The Autumn Fest performances were “our representation of a modern powwow,” he continued, showcasing several styles of men’s and women’s dances, and a friendship dance with attendees at the end.
While many of the dancers and drummers also performed at last year’s Autumn Fest, Denver-based flutist Calvin Standing Bear, Jr. was new to the event.
The second-generation flutist of Lakota and Navajo descent said his dad is a longtime flutist who’s still active and has made some of his own flutes.
After watching his dad for many years, Standing Bear started formally learning the instrument five years ago, adding that it’s one of the oldest instruments in human history. In playing it, he said, he recognized how it was “crafted from a tree that sacrificed its life to make music.”
He played songs for attendees after the dancers and drummers finished performing and said he was “honored to be part of this event and represent our people.”
‘To showcase who we are’
As LaPointe told the crowd that had gathered to watch the performances, most of the dancers serve on the museum’s Native American Advisory Board, which was formed about a year ago.
The board has eight members whose backgrounds span about 15 tribal nations and peoples. LaPointe, who is of Lakota descent, described how he and his fellow board members act as liaisons between the museum and Native American communities. They focus on inclusivity and giving their input on proposed or ongoing museum exhibits, programs and collections.
Among its current projects, the board is helping the museum plan a Native American arbor at the history park. Richie said construction will begin soon and should be done by the end of the year. Additionally, the museum is planning a Native American exhibit for 2024 and an even larger one in 2026 for Colorado’s 150th anniversary, he continued.
Whiteshield, who’s also on the board, said the museum’s done a lot of engagement and acknowledgment with the board members and other Native American community members over the last year. On top of all the other projects, she said hosting the performers at Autumn Fest was a good opportunity “to showcase who we are,” she said.
Whiteshield and LaPointe both stressed how Native Americans aren’t just “past figures,” as Whiteshield described, but people who lead regular lives like everyone else.
“We’re a living, thriving piece of our modern community,” LaPointe said. “We’re your neighbors who have a living presence here.”
Oct. 9, 2023 marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Colorado and the United States. The holiday, also referred to as First People’s Day or Native American Day, falls on the second Monday of October.
During its Sept. 26 meeting, the Golden City Council issued a proclamation recognizing the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ute and other peoples who call this land home; the atrocities and cruelty they have suffered over the centuries; and the contributions they have made and continue to make to Golden, Colorado and the United States. The councilors ask Goldenites to “reflect upon the ongoing challenges facing Indigenous people, and celebrate (their) ongoing contributions” while observing the holiday.