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Red Shawl Woman and her grandmother go to Washington

WASHINGTON - Six-year-old Tashina Luta Winyan has an exciting week ahead of her.

With a new suitcase carrying new beaded regalia in hand, the Lakota girl will be flying on an airplane for the first time and dancing at the National Powwow in Washington along with her grandmother, Roberta Kirk, and hundreds of other dancers from tribal nations all over the country.

''My granddaughter wanted to fly somewhere because sometimes I take off and fly to a pow wow and she has to stay behind, and I promised her I would take her somewhere, so I'm taking her to this one,'' said Kirk, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, where she works as coordinator for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The National Powwow 2007 is hosted by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, an institution that holds a special place in Kirk's heart.

''I have a sense of connection with the NMAI, because I used to work there when the facility was over in the Bronx in New York, and the collection was there. So I have a lot of friends there,'' Kirk said.

Seeing those friends will be the best part of the pow wow, Kirk said.

''When I worked at NMAI, I met a whole different group of friends and they all lived on the East Coast, and they became my family,'' Kirk said.

It was those newfound friends who helped ease her through the culture shock of being plunked down in New York.

''I had really prayed about getting that job and then when I actually did get it, it was, 'What am I doing here?' I had to look for an apartment on my own and I didn't know my way around, and the Bronx is a little bit scary, but I found a place and met really good people and, I liked it there,'' she said.

Kirk, 49, has been dancing since she was a girl. She does Northern Traditional Women's Dance, and makes her own intricately beautiful fully beaded outfits.

What does she think about while she dances?

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''I just think about the song. I listen to the song and just try to dance my best and try to stay on beat - ah, I'm kidding about that! But, yeah, sometimes I'm in prayer when I'm out there and sometimes the singing when we have a drum group that sings such a pretty songs, such a beautiful song, then I can really get into the song and just go with it,'' Kirk said.

Although Kirk used to be ''a hardcore pow wow person,'' she has dropped out somewhat over the past four and a half years since getting full custody of her granddaughter.

Tashina Luta Winyan is a protective name that means Red Shawl Woman, Kirk explained.

''She got her name because her first sister died when she was a baby from SIDS, and that was very tragic, so when Tashina came along, we were worried for her so we wanted to have a strong name for her. Red Shawl Woman basically means that she's covered in prayers with the shawl and the red is a strong and powerful color,'' she said.

Kirk said she learned to dance by participating in pow wows.

''My mother was an orphan, so she never did have a lot of things handed down to her and she lost of lot of things in a home fire. And I saw all these other ladies with their beautiful outfits, and I knew that I wanted to be out there in that circle, and I knew the only way I could participate was if I made my own things, so I started making my own outfits. I watched my sister doing beadwork when I was young and then I taught myself some techniques, but I've always been around beadwork and artwork,'' Kirk said.

Now Tashina is following in her grandmother's footsteps.

''I joined my granddaughter into dancing when she was 3 or so, because in our belief, before you can just get out there on the floor and start dancing you need to join into it and have the people be there to witness it and recognize that you're going to be doing this now. A drum group sings an Honor Song for you and then a chosen dancer takes the child out there and dances with her,'' Kirk said.

In the ''giveaway'' that followed, Kirk distributed gifts and money to all the participants.

Although she didn't always live a traditional life, Kirk said she does so now.

''We participate in a lot of the ceremonies that go on here and I try to keep my granddaughter involved in the dance group that doesn't dance in pow wows. They're learning traditional social dances of our people. Pow wow is a fun thing to do, but it doesn't consume our whole lives; because we have our own ceremonies and those are the main things, they come first,'' Kirk said.