By Johnny Jackson
Students began to sing along with Vaughnda Hilton, as she treated them to a tribal ballad known in native American culture.
"A lot of them were saying 'wow,' and that they really enjoyed it," said Hilton, artistic director, and a founder of Native Nations Dance Theater, an education program of Native Nations Productions, Inc., based in Philadelphia, Pa.
The group performed Friday, during a 90-minute assembly at Henry County Middle School in McDonough, partly in recognition of Native American Heritage Month (in November), said Sheila Thomas-Johnson, an eighth-grade Georgia Studies teacher at the school. Thomas-Johnson helped organize the "Native Nations" school assembly.
"Throughout the month, students heard 'A Moment in Native American History' facts on the intercom, and the eighth-grade students listened to a local storyteller, Carol Brown, share her tales of Cherokee legends," said Thomas-Johnson.
The teacher said she invited Native Nations to help integrate educational concepts and themes within the curriculum with the dance theater group's musical and visual performances.
"Having seen them in a variety of surroundings, I felt confident their presentation would encourage our students to understand and appreciate cultural differences," she said. "The enthusiastic response of the students exceeded our expectations. Our objectives were definitely met."
Andrew Lyn, assistant director of Native Nations, and Delwin Fiddler, Jr., chairman of Native Nations, took turns demonstrating traditional Native American dances. Joined by Hilton, they also conducted a workshop for some students, teaching them how to craft Native American "dream catcher" ornaments.
Hilton said education is a key objective of the dance-theater group, which performs at schools and colleges around the country. "Education is very important, and history is also very important," Hilton said. "[Native Nations] was founded in 1991, because native people needed an outlet to express themselves and teach and share about their different culture. It was founded so that we could show people that we're keeping our culture alive even today."
Native Nations, she added, plays a role in helping teach dances within Native American subcultures to younger generations.
"We are creating songs, and we're teaching dances to our children," she said. "We also explain the different stereotypes that are out there about native people, and we work to dispel those stereotypes."
Hilton said she believes, because there have been languages lost from American tribes in years past, it is important to maintain and develop the native culture and its subcultures.
Native American culture has contributed to American culture over its long history and stands to be an important ingredient in the future of American culture, particularly in the way of spiritual and environmental conservation, she said, because "we have a tie to the land and the earth."
Hilton said members of Native Nations Dance Theater will travel overseas, for Thanksgiving, next week, to perform for U.S. troops serving in Kosovo.