ROSEBUD, S.D. - The Waceta Drum Group - 20 fourth and fifth grade students from Rosebud Elementary School - was one of the featured performers at the 54th presidential inaugural parade in Washington.
A class discussion about the nation's constitution made a student wonder what it might be like to see an inaugural parade. That led the 20 students to write to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., requesting more information about performing in it.
Principal Linda Bordeaux said the group worked on its songs, the drums and dance all year, but practice intensified when they found out they were included in the national celebration.
The drum group is part of integrating Sioux culture into the classroom. Its Lakota name Waceta translates into English as "left overs." The drum was given the name because younger children replace older classmates as the group resumes each year.
"We do a lot of Lakota studies integration. The teacher has learned to drum and sing. Every year they start their new drum group up again," Bordeaux said. "They have made their own drums and drum sticks in the past. It's part of what we do at the school. It's not just a one time thing. They drum every morning and do the flag song every morning."
Drum members are Kelcey Andrews, Charles Broken Leg, Cole DuBray, Desirae Edwards, Brittany Gunhammer, Benjamin Kills In Water, Richard Kills In Water, John Larvie, Ashley Menard, Lloyd One Star, Shawndai Prue, Timothy Red Feather, Janelle Reynolds, Tiffany Sharpfish, Melvin Smashed Ice, Roger Spider, Zachary Stewart, Francis Valandra, Bradley Williams and Derek Youngman.
Six adults - Mina Dillon, Mary Waln, Maxine DuBray, Pat Bad Hand, Everett Felix Jr. and Cheryl Prue - traveled with elementary teacher Chris Mosner as chaperones for the event.
The students, many of which had never seen a commercial aircraft up close, went to the Sioux Falls airport by bus and boarded a plane to Baltimore, Md. They stayed in Camp Springs, Md., a few minutes from the Pentagon. The students toured the nation's capitol Jan. 19.
A rigorous schedule included an early morning on parade day, the principal said.
"On the day of the inauguration, they will have to be in front of the Pentagon at 6:30 a.m. They will be entertaining the audience just prior to the inauguration and join the inaugural parade after the president is sworn in," she explained in advance.
"They are so excited."
Many of the students didn't find out the group had been selected until classes resumed after the Christmas break. A few found out while on vacation when Mosner called an area talk show excited about the news.
"They are just so thrilled."
The school is 99 percent American Indian and the students come from Rosebud, Mission, St. Francis, Two Strike and Grass Mountain communities.
"They have been out every afternoon practicing. They have been on the Internet finding out information about Washington, D.C.," Mosner said.
Students were allowed a day of sight seeing before they returned.
The trip will cost nearly $10,000. The Todd County School District stepped in and advanced the school the money for the trip, but the money will have to be returned to the district. Students asked their parents and relatives for financial help, but they will have to raise money from other sources to pay the district back, she said.
"Getting this out to the public has been great. Mr. Mosner came in this morning and said he was answering e-mail almost all night from people all over wanting to know where they can send money," Bordeaux said before the group left.
"Just from him being on the radio, we have had people send $300 or $100," she said.
The school received more than $1,600 toward the trip from people across the nation. Early on it received 16 letters from South Dakotans and one letter from a person in Montana wanting to help with the project. E-mail came from as far away as Georgia and Maryland with inquiries about assisting students on their travel. The school received other donations from people using Western Union in Valentine, Neb., Mosner said.
Those wishing to make donations can make them directly to the school. Email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and the phone number is (605) 747-2411
The drum group's selection as one of the nearly 10,000 performers in the parade came about in an unusual way. The presidential committee normally follows specific selection criteria when deciding which groups are invited to perform, but a letter from Daschle spurred an invitation for the group to be included.
Mosner credited the imagination of his students with making a dream become reality. The students decorated the outside of a series of large manila envelopes containing their letters with an assortment of tribal art to make them stand out from the rest. Although students didn't ask the senator to arrange their performance in the parade, they did ask for information about who to contact for information about performing.
Instead, the South Dakota senator forwarded their letters to the Presidential Inaugural Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies which invited the group to perform.
"We didn't do anything spectacular. We just wrote the letters," he said.
Mosner, who has taught at the elementary school for six years, said he and his students were reading the nation's constitution section by section. When they reached the provisions spelling out the election dates and the date a president is sworn into office, the students were amazed to find it remained unchanged since the constitution was written.
"It's neat that it was spelled out more than 200 years ago," he said.
Mosner said he couldn't remember which of the students chimed in during a discussion with an, "I bet that's a neat parade," but the idea triggered the dream of seeing the event.
"The rest is history."
The elementary teacher said he never really expected his students to get the opportunity and prospects seemed dim when there had been no response as school was recessed for the Christmas holiday. The day after Christmas, school officials were contacted about the group being chosen to walk the parade route.
"I had really forgotten about it. The letter arrived one day after Christmas. It was a real Christmas gift," he said.
Bordeaux added, "We received a response from (Daschle's) office saying they had received the letters and they were going to work on it. We never heard anything more from them. So we just thought well we sent the letters and we weren't considered."
To the principal's surprise, Daschle's office called shortly after Christmas telling her school officials would need to call Washington to make arrangements.
"The inaugural committee sent us a letter saying they were more than pleased to have us be a part of it," she said.
Mosner admitted he had no idea what he was faced with when prospect became reality. His free time was consumed arranging endless details, answering e-mails and fielding questions from the media and people wanting to help the school fund the trip.
"With just two weeks away. I thought it would be impossible and that we would never get the money. I didn't want the opportunity of a lifetime to escape the students."
For Mosner the event seemed like a scene from the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" with the call arriving after much hope of going to the event had evaporated.
He said he was gratified that Todd County Superintendent Richard Bordeaux and the school board recognized the rare opportunity and aided in arranging the flights for the children along with advancing the money for the trip.
The whole event changed the way he approaches the news, he said. He pays more attention to news about the inauguration and has seen it heighten the awareness of events for his students.
The inclusion is meaningful for the school, tribe and the state. "We are representatives of the Rosebud Sioux tribe at an international event where there will be many world leaders."
The school is the only one representing South Dakota in the parade, school officials said.
For students it will be an adventure, to see what they have read about, watch history being made and experience new surroundings.
Nine-year-old Desirae Edwards, a shawl dancer and a fourth grade student, said she was so excited she pulled out all of her favorite clothes to decide what she would take. Air travel was a new adventure for the youngster who lives on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation with her grandmother.
"It will be my first time on a plane. I've never seen one up close," she said while still deciding on her wardrobe.
Fifth-grader Ben Kills In Water, 11, of Grass Mountain, is a singer and drummer. During a short break in class he was playing chess with a classmate and said he was excited about the trip which will be his first chance to board a plane. "It's pretty cool. It just feels good to get to go to Washington."
Janelle Reynolds, 10, of Rosebud, said, "I'm a little nervous about being in front of all those people when we dance."