DENVER - To win a dance category is a wonderful accomplishment for a 6-year-old, but when the prize is a horse, it's like winning the lottery.
Phillip Whiteman Jr., Northern Cheyenne, a member of the Kit Fox Warrior Society and the Omaha Dancing Society and a well-known old-style grass dancer and rodeo cowboy, was honored as a head judge at the Denver March Pow Wow. In return Whiteman gave away a pinto horse at the Special Old-style Boys Junior Grass Dance. He normally sponsors the Junior Boys Grass Dance category.
Johnnie Johnson, Din?, Kirtland, N.M., won the special event and now has one of Whiteman's horses. Rodeo and horse people claim owning a Whiteman-trained horse is something very special.
"Johnnie came into this world dancing. When I was pregnant with him, I attended pow wows and danced and he has danced since he was 4-years old," Johnnie's mother, Marilyn Johnson said.
Johnnie turned down an opportunity to go to California because he was determined to go to the Denver March and take the horse home, she said.
It was the first time in the history of the Denver March Pow Wow that a horse took center stage. As the yearling was brought into the arena, Phillip Whiteman Sr. and the Lame Deer Singers sang the Pinto Song.
Whiteman Jr. said the song was written to honor a pinto horse that was shot at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and survived. The horse was taken to North Dakota where it was treated and eventually died. The pinto belonged to one of the warriors at the battle.
"I was honored that the committee asked me to be a Head Northern Judge. It was special for me to honor my parents, Phillip Whiteman Sr. and Florence Whiteman, at the pow wow. It was real emotional having my parents there."
Phillip Whiteman Sr. is a hereditary chief of the Northern Cheyenne Council of 44 and Florence is a warrior woman of the Elk Scraper Society.
Before the giveaway, Whiteman Jr. told the story of the Old-style Grass Dance where the horse played an important role in the dance and in Northern Cheyenne society.
"We showed the spirit of the horse and we can take that spirit with us because of the diversities we face. A northern horse was taken to the south and will take on the dance of the tribes, this represents healing."
The story tells of overcoming diversity and disabilities.
"We are taught to respect each other's stories and come in one circle to understand. There is unity in diversity," Whiteman Jr. said.
Whiteman is a 17-time qualifier at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in the Saddle Bronc Division. He holds the INFR record of 86 points and won the INFR 1985 and 1999 world championship saddle bronc events and he is a champion grass dancer.
He is also a cultural consultant who travels around the country appearing in schools and at national conferences, storytelling and conducting presentations on spiritual healing, cultural integrity, diversity, goal-setting, motivation, gang prevention through traditional warrior society and self-esteem through culture.
Whiteman said he loves the Grass Dance, children and horses. Many people may remember Whiteman as he stood in the winners' circle at the many pow wows since he was a boy. He has performed not only in the pow wow arena, but on the Broadway stage, in Wild West shows, for President Clinton's inauguration and for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's swearing-in ceremony.
Rodeo cowboys know him because he is a fierce competitor. Now he teaches young, would-be rodeo athletes points of the sport. Eight years ago he founded the Phillip Whiteman, Jr. Rodeo School for youth.