When Jonathan Windy Boy was a budding dancer, his feet took him off Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation for the first time. One generation later, two of Windy Boy's nephews, 17- year-old Andrew and his little brother Charles, 12, and a niece, Taunia Racine, are among the 24 Native American students who are bartering their dancing talents for a trip to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
It was 1967 when Windy Boy and 14 other dancers stepped foot off Rocky Boy to perform at the California All-American Indian Expo.
"It was the first time we ever left the reservation, not realizing the magnitude of the people out there," said Windy Boy, who went on to become a 14-time International grass dance champion and choreographed Native American dance routines at the 1995 Special Olympics, 1996 Atlanta Olympics and at halftime of the 1995 NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. "It was a great opportunity."
So when Windy Boy was at a Montana/Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council meeting two years ago and someone mentioned the Salt Lake Olympic Committee was searching for 18 tribes of the 565 nationwide to dance at the Winter Olympics starting this January, his ears twitched.
Later, Windy Boy followed up on the lead and, to make a long story short, two dozen students from Rocky Boy and Box Elder junior and high schools have been selected to join an elite group that will welcome athletes from across the globe.
"They went on a national search throughout the country," said Windy Boy, who was notified last spring of the selection and told local school officials a month ago when the plans were solidified. "The (Salt Lake Olympic) committee had an overwhelming response nationwide. I think we were chosen based on the notoriety of our style of dance."
Six students from Rocky Boy schools and six from Box Elder schools will depart, along with a handful of chaperones, on Jan. 24 for Salt Lake City, where they will dance twice daily in the Welcoming Ceremonies, held from Jan. 28 to Feb. 7. Reinforcements will come on Feb. 4, when a dozen more students from Rocky Boy will join their classmates in Utah to participate in the Opening Ceremonies from Feb. 5-9.
"It's going to be quite a culture shock," said Mario Patacsil, a spokesman for the Chippewa Cree Tribe. "Most of them attend the larger powwows, but as far as seeing the city and the way of life, they're going to be meeting people from all over."
Selection processes for the dance participants from the Rocky Boy and Box Elder schools differed. At Rocky Boy, a potential candidate had to be a member of the Rocky Boy Indian Club, headed by advisors Larry Singer and Brenda St. Pierre. Then Singer and St. Pierre reviewed students' grade point averages, attendance records and, most importantly, they required them to submit a written essay in response to the question, "Why should I pick you to go to the Olympics?" Singer and St. Pierre also shied away from choosing students who planned to play a winter sport because Rocky Boy is making a concerted effort to cultivate its athletic programs, said Singer.
Conversely, all of the Box Elder dancers are athletes, most of them basketball players. With regard to the selection process, grades didn't concern Box Elder principal Terry Grant as much as their effort to succeed in school.
Singer and Grant agreed the selection process was not an easy task.
"We realized this was a tough call for us to make because of the amount of dancers," Windy Boy said. "We realized a lot of dancers were going to be left out, and it wasn't intentional."
Sam Top Sky, a student at Rocky Boy High, wrote in his essay that one of the reasons he wanted to attend the Olympics was because he was born in Salt Lake City. Shana St. Pierce, of Rocky Boy High, cited her exemplary attendance record. Rebekah Jarvey's hand-written letter explained that she had always dreamed of being an Olympic athlete and that this would be a way of realizing that goal. Meanwhile, Andrew Windy Boy just wants to dance.
"It lifts me," said Windy Boy, who has been dancing since he could walk. "When you're out there, you forget about everything. It's a real good feeling. I want to carry on the tradition of our (family) name."
Unlike most of the chosen few, Andr Wright has done his fair share of traveling. With his summertime academic group Upward Bound, Wright has been to Mexico, California, Florida, Canada, Seattle and Las Vegas. Suffice it to say, touring Salt Lake City isn't the main draw for him.
"I want to see the Olympics," Wright said. "It's world known. I'll get to meet all the athletes and be on television."
Fourteen-year-old Deidra Sun Child, a freshman at Rocky Boy High, has only been dancing for a year, when she picked up the activity to be with her friends. But, according to Sun Child, dancing means more to her now.
"I want to represent my culture and my tribe," Sun Child said.
Rehearsal for the dance a required 15- to 20-minute routine starts on Oct. 17 at the Duck Inn in Havre. The hand-picked choreographer, former Rocky Boy resident Charles Tailfeather, will travel from his hometown of Warm Spings, Ore., to coordinate the program. Tailfeather, who has choreographed amateur dance troupes in the United States and Canada, plans to tell the history of Native Americans from 1895 to the present through the dance moves. To do this, he will show the dancers a PowerPoint presentation detailing their people's history. The four main styles of American Indian dance crow, grass, fancy and traditional will be incorporated in the program.
"We're going to start old and end with the new," said the 56- year-old Tailfeather, whose grandfather, Old Man Windy Boy, was a spiritual singer at Rocky Boy in the early 1900s. "We don't have a lot time but we will have a program that will work with the children."
Wheels are in motion to organize a series of fund-raisers to subsidize the costly trip of the 24 students and eight adult chaperones. A powder puff football game has already been slated for Oct. 19 at Rocky Boy High, pitting girls from Rocky Boy and Box Elder High against one another. On the day of the dance troupe's first practice, coordinators intend to organize a fashion show at the Duck Inn all of which will contribute to the final product.
"It's a good positive step in public relations with the whole surrounding tribes across the nation," Patacsil said. "It's a start of better communication."