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Dancers use fire, hoops to teach students about culture

More than 2,000 students gasped and cheered as the Tafiti Samoan Fireknife Dancers twirled flaming sticks, threw the spinning sticks into the air and caught them effortlessly, to the beat of a large circular drum.

The students who gathered for Youth Day at the United Tribes International Powwow listened to traditional music played on a wooden flute, observed a hoop dance in which a man created shapes and formations with multiple hoops, and listened to reigning Miss Indian Nations Shanoa Pinkham tell the story “Wormy Face.”

Kapeneta Suli Te’o-Tafiti, who led the fire performance, showed students how to crack open a coconut with a large stick and led a contest in which four male teachers attempted to start fires by furiously rubbing two sticks together.

Te’o-Tafiti had men compete in the contest because, in Samoa, men do the cooking, he told the students.

Julie Cain, chairwoman of the powwow committee and the director of the chemical health center at UTTC, said all of the fourth-grade classrooms in Bismarck and Mandan were invited to attend the event Friday.

More than 2,000 students were registered for the Youth Day and 843 of them are fourth-graders, she said.

“This is the biggest crowd (of students) we’ve ever had,” she said.

Cain said Youth Day teaches students about Native American culture.

This year marks the 43rd United Tribes International Powwow and Youth Day has been part of the event for about 20 years, she said.

“We have spectacular performers of all mediums that perform,” she said, noting that the main messages of Youth Day remain the same every year: to respect others and to honor oneself.

“By seeing and touching ... just being here teaches them so much,” she said.