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Manning: Native Youth Showcase Talent, Culture at Dakota Oyate Challenge

Dakota Oyate Challenge brings together sports and culture for Native American youth.

The Dakota Oyate Challenge [DOC] is a three-day event in Huron, South Dakota, where Native youth gather to compete in a high school basketball tournament, cheer competition, traditional hand game tournament, Dakota language competition and an archery competition. And while competition appears to be the focal point at the DOC, winning certainly isn’t everything. It is a place where the talents of Native youth are showcased, where indigenous culture is transmitted and shared and a place where togetherness among all ages is palpable.

Native American teams from South Dakota and Nebraska participate annually in the DOC, which is in its twenty-eighth year. All events are held at the Huron Events Center, and this year, DOC took place January 28 to 30.

Silas Blaine, Chairman of the DOC Board of Directors and founding board member of the DOC, says that the event was created to provide a space for Native youth to have fun.

“The Dakota Oyate Challenge is all about showcasing our kids’ talent, and the kids love it,” said Blaine. “Dakota Oyate Challenge is also geared toward kids having fun, so we try to do plenty of fun things for them.”

There is also a teen dance on Friday night at DOC, a college fair and retail vendors. This year, an impromptu round dance even sprang up in the events center lobby – not once, but twice. Young men with their voices warmed up after singing for the hand game tournament drew an equally notable crowd as they sang round dance songs for youth and adults alike.

Native youth compete in the Dakota language competition at DOC. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

While the basketball and cheer competitions are reserved for high school and junior high student athletes, the hand game, language and archery competitions are open to students of all ages. For all competitions, trophies and jackets are awarded to winning teams. Trophies are also awarded for sportsmanship, and jackets for all-tourney selections.

For many, DOC is something to look forward to year after year.

“It always felt good to be playing at DOC,” said Demi Dumarce, now a college freshman and a former student athlete who participated in DOC all throughout high school.

This year, Dumarce has returned to DOC as a coach for the Dakota language competition. “Coming back as a college student and coach is a really cool experience, to see all the student athletes showing their talents, whether it be language or basketball or archery, it’s good to see the youth work hard and be excited for something.”

Fifth grade students from Crow Creek Elementary school compete in the DOC handgame tournament. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

From Crow Creek, South Dakota, a young handgame team of fifth grade students, called Dakota Hunkpati Wayawa, participated in their first competitive handgame tournament at DOC this year and were elated to beat a much older team of high school kids in one game.

“It felt really good to win that game,” said fifth grade student, Laila Ziegler. “And trickster didn’t bother us,” added Samantha Seaboy. After their win, the team of young boys and girls giggled and humbly smiled from ear-to-ear, their boost in confidence just as evident as their growing self-awareness as young Dakota.

Dakota Hunkpati Wayawa handgame team from Crow Creek Elementary School. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

In addition to learning how to play the game,all teams, including Dakota Hunkpati Wayawa, must also learn to sing handgame songs. Dakota Hunkpati Wayawa is excited to return to DOC next year and compete again.

Watch video of youths singing.

Brock Ducheneaux, a fourth grader, and Ryker Logg, a third grader, came from Cheyenne Eagle Butte Elementary School to participate in the DOC archery competition.

Brock Ducheneaux and Ryker Logg of Cheyenne Eagle Butte Elementary School prepare for the archery competition at DOC. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

“My favorite part is shooting,” said Brock, who also participates in national archery competitions. “I like that we can win a prize,” added Ryker, who is a relatively new competitor to archery and excited to be shooting in his first year. Cheyenne Eagle Butte brought the largest team to the archery competition, with a total of 26 competitors.

Students draw their bows for the DOC archery competition. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

Cheerleaders from participating schools also look forward to DOC each year.

“We look forward to the cheer competition because we get to support our team, and also because DOC brings Natives together, kind of like a pow-wow, but for basketball. It’s also fun because you get to meet new people,” said Kyleigh Quickbear, a junior student cheerleader for Tiospa Zina Tribal School and a recipient of an All-Tourney cheer award.

Cheer team from Tiospa Zina Tribal School, Jada Redday, Jaisey Shepherd, Samantha Guerue, Noelle Robertson, and Kyleigh Quickbear. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

Cheer teams often delight in meeting fellow cheerleaders from other schools, and all teams take the floor together to do one big cheer for the crowd on Friday night. New friends are made each year, and an exchange of hugs and handshakes occurs between cheerleaders from opposing teams at the beginning of each game, following an exchange of “hello” cheers.

Samantha Guerue, a senior cheerleader from Tiospa Zina remarked, “When you connect with other cheerleaders it brings everyone together, and by the third day of DOC, you’re all cheering for each other.”

Boys basketball players from Marty and Omaha Nation line up for a free throw at DOC. Photo courtesy Sarah Sunshine Manning.

Parents and community members fill the stands, coming from surrounding communities to support the youth. Rikki Middletent, a parent, said, “It’s nice because you get to watch other reservations compete against each other, and watch three days of good basketball.” Middletent had the privilege of witnessing her son, LJ Flute, win the championship game in his senior year in a nail-biter against Flandreau Indian School, final score 51-49. The Most Valuable Player (MVP) selected for the boys basketball tournament was Lower Brule senior, Adrian Farmer.

For the girls basketball tournament, Omaha Nation of Nebraska had the win over Crow Creek for the championship title, 69-35. Tyesha Parker, a senior from Omaha Nation, was selected as the tournament MVP.

“The win felt good, but overall, I couldn’t have done it without my team,” said Parker. “There is always so much excitement around DOC because we face competition that we usually don’t see. We usually play a lot of non-Native teams back in Nebraska, so it’s fun playing Native teams here, and we are treated good by everyone.”

Celebrating youth, showcasing their talents and honoring culture continues to draw crowds at the DOC.

“Everybody enjoys the togetherness at DOC,” says Board of Directors Chairman Blaine, “that’s what it’s all about.”

Championship teams for the language, handgame, and archery competitions are as follows:

Dakota Language Competition: Flandreau Indian School

Hand Game Tournament: Lower Brule High School

Archery Competition: HS Girls, Samantha Crawford, Tiospa Zina Tribal School; HS Boys, Cameron Carpenter, Saint Joseph’s Indian School; MS/Elementary Girls, Anna Rencounter, Enemy Swim Day School; MS/Elementary Boys, Misun Hagen, Enemy Swim Day School

Cheer Competition: Crow Creek High School

Sarah Sunshine Manning.

Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.