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Pow wow dancer offers children a future through art and culture

LAKEWOOD, Colo. - Carrie Howell, prevention services specialist at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, is dedicated to ensuring that the youth of Denver have a chance to grasp a piece of the American dream. She believes that dream can happen with a little help from the spirit of community and the power of art.

Howell has been dancing up a storm as a pow wow dancer since she was a young adult. She has been the troupe leader for the past 21 years of the exhibition group Seven Falls Indian Dancers, which performs in Colorado Springs during the summer and in Denver year-round.

''I think that involvement in one's culture is the key to success here,'' Howell said. ''If the kids are involved in activities that teach the traditional values like honesty, respect, wisdom, generosity, etc., it is easier for them to connect to their education. There are a lot of children who are not graduating. I want to be able to offer them some hope. In the two decades that I have been dancing with children from the metro area, I have seen the power of art and culture. It gives the children and teens a sense of belonging and purpose.''

Many of Howell's troupe members started dancing when they were 5 or 6 years old and went on to compete in pow wows throughout the United States. Howell is quick to point out that Native dancing does not just benefit the people dancing.

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''There are a small percentage of our children that dance; it is like any sport, some are called to it and some are not,'' she said. ''But since it is so highly visible, it is a great opportunity even for those who do not dance to reconnect to their culture. Everything about it - the beadwork on the outfits, the feathers, the beat of the drum and the sound of the singer's voices - stirs deep emotional experiences in all of us. It is our way of saying we have survived.''

A Pawnee/Flandreau Santee Sioux who grew up in Oklahoma, Howell was the proverbial Army brat, traveling the world before moving with her family to Colorado Springs, where she graduated from high school.

''My dad was a champion pow wow dancer. We learned a lot from him and his influence was very strong. After moving to Denver, I realized the two biggest problems facing our youth is the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and the lack of education. At DIFRAC, we hold our Sweatlodges for the children, leadership programs, summer camp and a host of other activities throughout the year in addition to dance.

''I believe the attachment to your culture is a great motivating factor in any country. For all children with any amount of Native blood who have the desire to know their history and connect to their culture, the arts are very powerful. I feel we have a duty to pass on the traditions to our children and to give them some roots to hold onto as they grow into adults,'' Howell said.

To learn more about Seven Falls Indian Dancers, call (720) 283-1687 or visit sevenfallsindiandancers.com.