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Native American dancer comes to New Mexico, participates in Pow Wow

Adrianne Wahnetah, 17, recently moved from her lifelong home on the Carson Indian Colony Reservation in Nevada to Las Cruces, N.M., where she is discovering unique ways to share her culture while adjusting to her new home.

Adrianne Wahnetah will perform as head female dancer Nov. 17 and 18 at the second annual Rio Grande Pow Wow at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Wahnetah's mother, Lisa Grayshield, accepted a position as assistant professor in the New Mexico State University College of Education's Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, which resulted in the move to Las Cruces.

"It was a hard switch because my people aren't from here," said Wahnetah, who is Washoe and registered Eastern Band Cherokee. "The biggest difference is just city life compared to life on a reservation."

Adrianne WahnetaWahnetah will have an opportunity to become more familiar with local Native American residents when she performs as head female dancer for "Honoring Our Youth," the second annual Rio Grande Pow Wow, from 1 to 10 p.m. Nov. 17 and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 18 at New Mexico State University's practice football field. The event is open to the public.

"I've been in a Pow Wow before, but I've never been head female dancer," Wahnetah said. "I was worried that I would not find any way to connect with who I am so far away from my tribe, but as head dancer I represent my culture wherever I am. It is a huge honor."

Among the tribes to be represented at the Pow Wow are the Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Lakota, Cheyenne, Hopi and Pueblo. Wahnetah said she is honored to be a guest on Pueblo land.

Vendors will be present at the event and there will be native-made arts and crafts for sale, including jewelry and pottery. Admission is $3.

The aim of the Pow Wow is to "revive the history and develop an awareness of the Native American culture in Southern New Mexico," said John Yazzie of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. "We want to bring the Native community together to celebrate unity and share the culture with the non-native community and help support the NMSU American Indian Program."

"One of the reasons Native American students have the lowest retention and graduation rates has to do with social transition to a culturally different environment," said Don Pepion, director of the American Indian Program at NMSU. "I believe this is one way that Indigenous Nations for Community Action (INCA) can demonstrate support to Native American students on campus."

In 2005, there were 459 American Indians and Alaskan Natives attending NMSU, Pepion said.

NMSU President Michael Martin invited the INCA to hold the second annual Pow Wow on the NMSU campus after he attended the event last year.

"Native Americans represent a special part of New Mexico history, culture, economy and society," said Martin. "I think it is important as the president of the state's land-grant university to do my best to understand the cultural uniqueness of the nations, tribes and pueblos in New Mexico and forge new partnerships in those communities."

Wahnetah is currently a student at Las Cruces High School and would like to go on to college and eventually become a teacher.

"I want to be a high school math teacher on a reservation," Wahnetah said. "Reservations are some of the poorest places in the U.S. I believe in education and I want to be an outlet for natives. I want to teach them in a traditional way. To be effective and make changes in this world you have to know who you are."

For more information on the Pow Wow, contact Pepion at (505) 646-4207.