LAWRENCE, Kan. - Several years ago, Bruce and Lee Ann Martin saw the need for urban Native American children to learn about their culture.
Remembering their own childhoods, the couple realized that urban Indian children lacked the extended families found in Indian communities throughout the country. The Martins took matters into their own hands and the New Dawn Native Dancers group was born.
Through their efforts, the couple has become the center of the Native American community in Lawrence. They teach children about their culture, tradition and heritage demonstrating the true diversity of their cultures. But the children who have come under the Martins' wing not only learned about the widely varied cultures of tribes throughout Indian country, they have become an extended family that numbers nearly 100.
As an extended family, the children and families involved in the group now come together to celebrate holidays. They are there for one another during the good times and the bad. Last year, Bruce Martin left his own family to take another family back to its home in the Southwest, to make sure they could spend Christmas with their relatives.
That selflessness was evident once again as the Martins organized a Christmas party for the young members of the dance group. They tackled the obstacles presented by frigid temperatures and temporary loss of a meeting place and managed to pull off a Christmas party for the children and their families.
With toys donated by the "Today Show "and Haskell Indian Nations University's Extension Office, the party took place, on schedule. The group told jokes, sang Christmas carols and danced the evening away in a building furnished by the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Lawrence - transformed into a holiday wonderland by volunteer Regina Toshavik.
The evening began with a prayer from Cecil Dawes.
A competition for the best joke of the night went to Hailey Toshavik who asked, "What flower grows between your nose and chin?" "A two lip" was the answer.
A turkey was donated by the Pelathe Center and Dave and Debbie Clark volunteered to do the cooking. Mona Old Man kept the kitchen running and parents and friends brought in the rest of the food.
"The Boys and Girls Club were supposed to do a Christmas party," Lee Ann Martin said. "But with that first bad winter storm their party got canceled. That's how we got the presents donated by the 'Today Show.' Last year we were part of their party."
Finding someone to play Santa Claus represented a small problem for the party's organizers. "The high school students were the ones who found Santa," Martin said. "We have a problem finding a Santa that the children don't already know."
Lalo Miller, a senior at Lawrence High School played Santa this year on request of the Indian Club at Lawrence High School.
As the jolly red-garbed St. Nicholas, Miller danced with children at the party and listened patiently as youngsters sat on his lap and told him their Christmas wishes.
When the party broke up later that evening, the New Dawn Native Dancers not only had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, they were dreaming of a big competition coming up in January.
On Jan. 20, the group will dance with two other young dance groups in Dewey, Okla., in a competition dubbed the "Battle of the Plains".
"It's going to be us and Operation Eagle and one group from the Potawatomi, but I really don't know the name of the group right now," Martin said. "It started when we were invited up to a small pow wow. They had invited a group from Oklahoma to give a demonstration of Stomp Dancing. It sort of blossomed from there, but it hasn't worked out until now."
Martin said the biggest obstacle facing the group was raising money for motel rooms for the 30 odd dancers and their families. "With a group that size, we can't show up at Bruce's mother's house and expect her to put us up," Martin said with a laugh.
With the party behind them, the Martins spent this Christmas together, but not at home! They went to Kentucky to visit family members, but planned on rushing back - their Lawrence family needs them, too!