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Northwest veterans group hosts annual Christmas party

PORTLAND, Ore. -- At an Elk's Lodge just outside of Portland, the 16th
annual Northwest Indian Veterans Association's Christmas party was held
Dec. 17. The event, honed by years of practice, moved with smooth
precision: volunteers registered participants as they entered and recorded
the names of children and elders for the later present giveaway. After the
posting of the colors by the NIVA color guard and the opening honor song by
the Four Directions drum group, there were already more than 550
participants.

Event volunteer Noella RedHawk explained that there were two gifting
categories: one for newborn to age 18, and another for elders age 55 and
older. Donations were collected from a television station's toy drive and
from the National Indian Child Welfare Association, also located in
Portland.

Sande Bea Allman (aka Sande Claus), NICWA board and membership relations
manager, was both the party's master of ceremonies and coordinator of the
NICWA donation drive. The NICWA staff of 29 people raised $1,650, which was
matched by the organization's community fund. The staff shopped in teams
for the gifts and wrapped all the gifts in a single afternoon.

A dinner of baked salmon and other foods filled out the event while anxious
children waited for Santa to appear. Salmon was donated by area families;
volunteers clean and freeze the fish for community gatherings, funerals,
honorings and the Christmas party. Several committees run the party and
cover every aspect of the enormous event: the drawing, gifts, advertising,
gift-wrapping, registration, food and volunteer committees.

NIVA President Alvey Seeyoama said that attendance is affected largely by
location: last year the meeting site was too small and people left early.
In past years, attendance was as high as 1,200 people, and the average
attendance is 800.

The Portland Indian community includes many different organizations, some
of which were donors to the event. NICWA donated toys; Portland State
University's United Indian Students in Higher Education, the Native
American Rehabilitation Association, the Native American Youth Association
and the Portland Bow and Arrow Club provided volunteers and entertainment.
Other donors included the Vietnam Veterans Association; the Oregon
Coalition of Troop Support; Title VII Indian programs of Portland and
Vancouver, Wash.; Siletz Tribal Charitable Contributions Fund; Nike Inc.;
and the local BIA office.

Helpful elves Joe Cool (Steven Tababoo Paul) and Jingle Belle (Whitney
Reasoner) danced inter-tribals with the kids to build the excitement, which
was overflowing by the time Santa (Anthony Quenelle) arrived for his
opening dance in full Santa "regalia."

Each group of children joined in a circle dance before lining up for a
wrapped present, a treat bag and a stuffed toy. There were photo
opportunities with Santa while gift cards with shopping certificates were
given to the teens and elders. One volunteer walked around, giving handmade
knitted scarves for the elders from a seemingly bottomless bag. There was
plenty of food for everyone, and eventually scores of foil-wrapped salmon
for family dinners were carried out with toys and gifts. NIVA also had a
drawing, which kept the die-hard Christmas partiers there long after the
gifting and a karaoke machine mysteriously materialized for caroling in
style.

The experience and planning of the volunteer staff kept the event on
schedule. Party chairman Sherry Scott was a ever-moving blur. Sheryl Juber,
food chairman, kept the serving line open hour after hour. Other event
coordinators were Becky Archibald, Shannon Yazzie, and many others.

Extra tables and chairs were added to accommodate late arrivals and
strangers made room for new friends to sit beside them. Many kids were
thrilled with presents that were a step above the typical community gift,
and there were the inevitable distraught young ones caught up in the
holiday "over-stimulation."

Altogether, several hundred members of the Portland Indian community
relaxed, visited, laughed, sang, danced and shared a beautiful expression
of holiday giving and traditional culture.

The next night, Portland was covered with an inch of snow with freezing
winds. But a community-shared spirit of the Christmas season kept many
elders and children warm through that entire memorable weekend.

Kristy Alberty is a member of the Cherokee Nation, an Indian activist and
publisher, and is currently the National Indian Child Welfare Association's
executive communications manager. She lives in Portland, Ore.