OLYMPIA, Wash. - "Lay down and take a nap," he said to his three-year-old daughter. "But dad I have to go potty," she said in a pleading tone. The husband looked at his wife and a silent communication passed between them as she laid her beadwork aside to attend to the little one.
This is a typical family scene that is played out between pow wow competition dances for Fancy Dancer Rainbow Azure and his wife Varinia. Their ten-year marriage has produced four little girls that have been raised on the pow wow trail.
The pow wow culture has been an intimate part of Azure's life for more than 31 years. He has won many awards and took seventh place for Men's Fancy Dancing in 1997 at the World Championships in Connecticut. His life has been a well-rounded mixture of education, work and play, as well as the bumpy road of hardships.
"I realized in high school that education was important but I wanted to travel and see Indian country so I traveled to various pow wows throughout North America," he said.
The desire to join the national pow wow circuit was born during Azure's early childhood.
"I am Chippewa-Yakama. I grew up on and off the Yakama Reservation and began dancing around age 10. I danced Men's Traditional, Grass and Fancy Dancing. My mom, Vera Mesplie, gave me the opportunity to learn my culture by teaching her children arts and crafts and how to make our own regalia. She taught me the importance of knowing who I am and where I come from," he explained.
Azure faced the challenge of alcohol at an early age. He said, "About 18 I began drinking. My dad was an alcoholic. He went into recovery about 20 years ago and hasn't had a drink since. In 1989 I decided to change my life. I didn't want my future children to see me with alcohol in my system. I wanted to be the best husband and father as possible, clean and sober."
The call to clean living was inspired in part by his wife. "After traveling the circuit for 10 years, I decided to start a family and began looking for that special person. I found her on my mother's Yakama reservation. Varinia or Vee is Yakama and is my companion. She has been very supportive of my alcohol recovery," he said with a contented look.
Rainbow and Vee began their family and Azure soon realized that he needed to provide for them in a good way.
"Our elders on the Yakama Reservation stress the importance of education in today's society which they say allows us as Native people to be competitive with non-native people. In 1992 I decided to go to college. However, I thought my family was more important than education so I only went part time so I could be with my children during their bonding years. I received my bachelor's of science in the combined sciences of Chemistry and Biology in 2001. In 2003 I was granted my Washington State Teaching Certificate in the fields of chemistry, biology, all sciences and math which has enabled me to teach my endorsed areas," he stated.
Azure is presently teaching grades 8 -12 at the Yakama National Tribal School.
He said in a serious tone, "I like teaching the Native youth and sharing my life experiences with them. This shows them they can reach their goals and dreams. My ultimate goals are to receive my master's in Science and possibly a doctorate."
To the new generation of pow wow dancers he says, "Remember who you are, where you come from and where you want to go with your life to share with future generations. Always remember your family comes first. Learn your culture and your Native language which will allow us to survive as our ancestors survived."