Pow wow shines a light on Native American heritage

Local Native Americans will let their heritage shine this weekend — and they invite Federal Way to join them.

On Saturday, Native Americans from around the region will come together for the “Honoring the Gift of Tradition” Pow Wow at Federal Way High School, 30611 16th Ave. S. The event is a joint venture by the Washington State Urban Indian Tobacco Coalition and the Federal Way Public Schools Native Education Program.

Maxine Alex, who runs the native education program, hopes the Pow Wow will draw more Native Americans into the program.

“I would encourage our families to get in touch with their native side,” said Alex, the event’s organizer.

According to records, Native Americans make up a small percentage of the school district’s population, hovering around one percent.

Alex said the actual number is much higher because many students with a Native American heritage are also multiracial. When filling out school surveys or when first entering the district, these students mark their ethnicity as multiracial.

One of Alex’s jobs is to locate students who have a Native American background. So far her office has identified more than 500, with about 20 to 25 identified in the past three weeks since a survey went out to those who marked their ethnicity as multiracial.

Once identified, students with a Native American background can apply for the program, which helps with after-school programs, tutoring, school supplies and activity fees.

“The goal is to improve math at the secondary level” and “to increase the retention and graduation rates,” Alex said.

The program is funded based on the number of participants. If Alex can identify more students, then the program becomes eligible for a higher grant.

Saturday’s event

“I’m looking forward to the participation from the community,” Mary Ellen Duclos said, whose daughter is in the program. “So they know we exist. There are hundreds of urban Indians right here in Federal Way, not affiliated with local tribes. There is a whole community here and we need to have some sort of recognition other than a casino.”

The event, which starts at 1 p.m. Nov. 22, will showcase dancers from elders right down to tiny tots (those dancers under age 6). There will be drumming and singing competitions. For those unfamiliar with the practices, an emcee will narrate the event and let visitors know what to do.

The school will also be filled with vendors selling food (including fry bread, which Alex encourages everyone to try), crafts and informational booths by groups such as the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.

Part of the event will focus on the traditional tobacco use by Native Americans, including medicinal use and sacred uses.

“Much different from today’s uses,” Alex said.

“We want to let people know our culture still exists, but in a modern sense,” Alex said. “It’s not what they see in the movies. Our dancers wear neon and talk on their cell phones or have their laptops out.”

The Federal Way High School Natives will hold a scavenger hunt that for some students will be extra credit for school. The school’s ASB will sell concessions and there will also be a raffle, including prizes for $100 gift certificates for area restaurants and businesses.

A break from 5 to 7 p.m. will include a potluck that anyone is invited to attend.

“Donations will be gladly accepted,” Alex said. “Either food or money. It’s part of our culture to feed.”

The event will begin again at 7 p.m. with a second Grand Entry and a second round of competition, where the winners in each category will be announced.

“I’d really like to see that gym packed,” Duclos said. “It’s a good way to introduce your children to a different culture.”

Contact writer: or (253) 925-5565.

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