'We're just like you guys'

CRYSTAL LAKE – Fifth-graders at Indian Prairie Elementary School learned a traditional American Indian dance when Kelly Looking Horse visited the school Thursday.

Looking Horse, a full-blood Oglala Lakota Indian, visited the school to speak with children about his culture and traditions.

“It is really basic. It is important to let them know we’re still alive and we’re proud of who we are,” Looking Horse said. “We have a whole society. We have schools and go through the same things. We’re just like you guys.”

Looking Horse told students stories about his time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Students were visibly surprised to hear that he spent four days alone at the top of a hill in order to cross into manhood at age 14. Students also learned that Looking Horse did not speak English until he was 12 years old and did not meet a non-Lakota Indian until he left the reservation when he was 17.

A parent of two Indian Prairie students, Becky Sissler, organized the event. Sissler met Looking Horse through church work trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Looking Horse lives in Wounded Knee on the reservation with his wife, Susie, who is half Pomo Indian and half Filipino.

The students spent a couple of weeks at the beginning of the school year learning about American Indian regions and cultures for their social-studies units.

“We had actually studied Pomo Indians, so it was neat that students will be able to make that connection,” said Janet Cunningham, a fifth-grade teacher at Indian Prairie.

Although teachers and students did not know what to expect from Thursday’s presentation, Cunningham said she heard several students commenting on how “cool” it was to learn the traditional dance and see traditional American Indian regalia.

Indian Prairie Principal Jim Kelley said he was happy to have Looking Horse visit because it fit well into the students’ curriculum.

“It also helps to avoid stereotypes and promote cultural diversity,” Kelley said.

Looking Horse also spoke about the stereotypes that American Indians face.

“[People] think about Indians and that we dance around the campfire and go ‘woo woo’ and when we’re done it starts to rain,” Looking Horse said. “If you think we can make it rain, you also must think we can fly.”

“That’s why I travel around – to share, to talk, to tell you so you understand when you grow up,” Looking Horse said.

“I do it to help you better understand who we are as a people, that we are humans, too,” he said.

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