Jenessa Kirk is always proud of her Native American heritage. That pride was on display during the first intermission of a Rock Springs Grizzlies home game earlier this month.
The Grizzlies recognized Native players from the Rock Springs Amateur Hockey Association during Native American Appreciation Night on Nov. 24.
“It was nice to show everybody part of our culture,” said Kirk, a parent who helped organize the event. “It was great that we were recognized for Native American Heritage Month. For so many years, Natives have been silenced, but we’re resilient and we’re still here. Everything went really well. I cried a few tears because it was a little overwhelming.”
Four players in the association have Native American heritage — Kirk’s three children, Riley, Clayton and Cedar are all Lakota Sioux of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, while Mitchell Fowler has Cherokee roots.
“What’s really unique is it shows that hockey is a sport for everyone,” said Wil Wheatley, the coaching coordinator for the Rock Springs Amateur Hockey Association. “I wish you’d see other sports do the same.”
Kirk’s uncle, Wakiyan Peta, who is also Lakota Sioux of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, made the 10-hour trek to Rock Springs, Wyoming, for the ceremony. Kirk’s family has its own drum group, and her cousins perform traditional dance ceremonies. They all planned to be at the event, but inclement weather prevented them from making the eight-hour trek.
Peta sang the Lakota Flag Song after the national anthem, and during the intermission, he sang an honor song to each of the players using their Lakota names.
“(Peta) taught some of the announcers Lakota words so they were saying everything properly,” Kirk said. “The flag song is kind of like the national anthem. Back home, they sing the national anthem and then the flag song, so I was really excited about that.”
Peta said a prayer over everybody in their native language and gave out sage packets after singing the honor song. The players also wore a ribbon shirt and eagle feathers that carried their Lakota names.
“They speak to their heritage and existence, and these are things that they’re prideful in,” Wheatley said. “When you see things like the headdress to the drums and the different ceremonies they do, there’s a lot of pride and love that comes out of those. It’s still so pure and they find their roots even in a modernized setting. The authenticity is so pure. It’s a staple in time that’s never been disrupted. There are a lot of cultures that have lost a lot over the years, but the more I meet of the tribal side, there’s a lot of pride and family history that does not get forgotten.”
Riley is the oldest of the Kirk siblings. His Lakota name is Wowas’ake YuhaMani, which means “Keeps the Strength,” and he has played hockey for seven years. Clayton has played hockey for six years and his Lakota name means “Nature of Strong Ice.” Cedar has played hockey for two years. Her favorite team is the Vegas Golden Knights because of Zach Whitecloud, who is a member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.
When speaking of her family’s cultural history, Jenessa Kirk said that she has relatives that helped save the last buffalo in South Dakota and others that fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. An event like this helped Kirk honor her relatives’ cultural history and share it with a lot of people for the first time.
“In my grandma’s day, they tried to take anything cultural out of their lives,” Kirk said. “As generations pass on, we’re trying to put it back in. When we were on the ice, I was very overwhelmed because there were a lot of people who complimented us on sharing our culture with them because it’s something significant and they never had an opportunity to witness anything like that. It was a pretty proud moment to be a Lakota that day.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
National Native American Heritage Month is observed in November and calls attention to the culture, traditions, and achievements of the nation's original inhabitants and of their descendants. To learn more about Native American Heritage Month visit www.nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov