Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Kossa Indian Dancers"

Would you go to a service in a synagogue, mosque, church, or temple, study the attire, movements, music, and words of the people there, and then perform what you saw, charging people to see your performance?

I think your answer is a firm "no." You would recognize the sacred nature of what takes place there, and, you'd recognize it as inappropriate to copy and perform it.

The "Kossa Indian Dancers" either don't know that Pueblo dances are religious, or if they do know, they don't care.  According to the Suphur Daily News in Louisiana, the "Kossa Indian Dancers" were at Nambe Pueblo (I'm from Nambe) over the recent winter break.
After traveling among the Pueblo people recently, the Kossa Indian boys are now “richer” than they were before they left. From December 23 to December 31, the boys traveled to different Pueblo villages, learning new dances and immersing themselves into culture unlike their own.

“The Pueblo have been able to maintain over 96 percent of their culture over the years. They’re the most friendly, gracious, warm people you’ll ever meet in your life,” said David Kandik, Program Director for the Kossa Indian Dancers.
People who know me would probably say I am friendly, gracious and warm, but that doesn't mean that I think its ok for anyone to watch me when I'm praying, carefully noting the way I hold my hands and the clothes I wear, and then go off somewhere to practice those hand movements, sew those clothes, and then do my prayer as a performance!

Many visitors to New Mexico want to see Pueblo Indian dances. Pueblo, and New Mexico travel and tourist sites, books, and brochures generally include information about our dances. For example, the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center has this information on its site:
  • Tribes value traditions, customs and religion. Some actions and/or questions could be offensive, so refrain from pressing for answers. Tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not public performances. It is a privilege to witness a ceremony.
  • Silence is mandatory during all dances and Pueblo ceremonies. This means no questions about the ceremonies or dances while they are underway; no interviews with the participants; no walking across the dance plaza; and, no applause during / after the dance or ceremony.
 The "Santa Fe, NM info" page has this in red letters near the top of their page on the Pueblos:
Visiting a Pueblo is a special experience. People go about their daily work in the modern world, but tradition is woven deeply through every aspect of life. It is important to go with respect for customs and regulations that are very different from you own. Each Pueblo has a sovereign government, ask at the main office for rules. Pueblos sometimes close for private ceremonies.

New Mexico Magazine has a section on Pueblo Etiquette:
Tribes value traditions, customs and religion. Some actions and/or questions may be offensive. Tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not performances put on for tourists. It is a privilege to be part of a ceremony. Keep quiet and don't applaud or touch the dancers.
I guess the leaders of the "Kossa Indian Dancers" aren't aware of any of this. Do you know anyone involved with the "Kossa Indian Dancers" in Louisiana? What about the "Koshares" in Colorado? They do the same sort of thing. If so, you could let them know that they're in violation of the wishes of the Pueblo people. If you're a teacher or parent in Louisiana, don't take your children to see the "Kossa Indian Dancers." If you're a teacher or school administrator who schedules assemblies for your school, do not invite the Koshares to perform.


Rob said...

Good posting, Debbie. I did a little investigating and came up with more info on the "Kossa Indian Dancers":


Rob said...

The Kossa Indian Dancers aren't alone, either. The Boy Scouts operate a dozen of these "Indian dance teams":


marylee.partin@att.net said...

I could not disagree more with either you or Rob, if I had a month to think about it. (I just read your appalling, judgmental, biased, and insensitive comments a moment ago.)

I am personally acquainted with ALL the Boy Scout Venture Crews in Texas and Louisiana. They are taught nothing but respect for the Native Americans with whom they come in contact and those of whom they study as a part of their very serious classroom instruction. They make their own costumes by hand, taught & supervised every step of the way. They are not just taught by rote to bead a moccasin or a belt; they also learn what each design represents, to what tribe it belongs, and when it is used. Their performances are all low in price, free to school children, and 98% of them are rendered "gratis" for the benefit of other non-profits.

The individual dancers pay their own expenses, most of which is covered by camping out in campgrounds and staying overnight occasionally at a church for fellowship and to use their facilities for personal hygiene. They generally travel on a huge old bus, with parents or other chaperones following in private vehicles, which also haul the equipment needed for their performances.
I am justifiably angry at your attempts to tear down what has been built over 47 years of dedicated effort by so many. The dancers have performed in Europe and South Korea, Canada and all over the United States. This didn't just happen. It was a labor of love, a community effort and with much guidance from the Boy & Girl Scouts of America. The dancers have gone on to successful careers all fields. Most of the young men elected to Chief are now college graduates, with children of their own and successful careers in business, the public sector and the military. Many of them return often, some enrolling their own children in the programs. Each of them gives Scouting and the Kossa Dancers for instilling work ethics, respect for the Native American culture, & for teaching them creative ways to help others, while also learning time management skills. That becomes very important when you are a student athlete, expected to maintain a near flawless attendance & academic record, Eagle Scout, Kossa Dancer as well as son, brother, & friend.

You owe the dancers both an apology
for shooting from the lip or the top of your head on a subject of which you no nothing whatever, and a retraction with a promise to learn as much about them as they know about your culture.


Marylee Partin

Native Texan, (also in part Native American, Choctaw & Cherokee specifically) Mother of Six, Grandmother.& great-grandmother as well. I am also an honorary member of The Who Dat Nation, (Louisiana),
and have been fascinated by the dancers in both states for how hard they work, how respectful they are, and the homage paid to each individual tribe, both on display behind glass in their dance homes, in the stories told by the narrator before each performance. The tears that flow down my cheeks as they perform the Eagle Dance & the Flag Dance speak to how well they have met their goals. If I saw these a thousand MORE times, it would still touch my heart. I am a passionate, patriotic American, not given to public displays of emotion however. These dancers have me standing in the dark, smiling & applauding , tears coursing down my face. I salute all the dancers, the Kossa Dancers in particular.
I would greatly appreciate being allowed to post a dissenting opinion. I will wait to see if that actually happens.

Debbie Reese said...


It doesn't matter how carefully the boys work, or that they pay their own expenses. It doesn't matter if they charge for their "performances" or if they're free.

The bottom line is that they are copying something sacred.

In their performances, do they also study a Catholic First Holy Communion? Do they then do all they can to accurately sew the items worn by the priest, the alter boys, and the attire worn by the children who are making their First Holy Communion?

Do they do that, Marylee?

If yes, please let me know where and when that performance will take place.

And if they do not do Catholic performances, why not?

Or, maybe a Southern Baptist baptism? Do they do that?

marylee.partin@att.net said...

The boys and girls are active privately in many religions and have various talents(and disabilities). But, re-creating those rites is not what Venture Crews do. How would they create an entire curriculum that they themselves could live with for the rest of their lives, and have others find them interesting? To be fair, they'd have to do Pentecostal this week, Southern Baptist next week, Catholic next month...etc. ad nauseum. Further the efforts would then be scattered, not focused, and boring to boot!

The tribes they visit know who and what they are, as they have visited many times over many years. They are welcomed, even when the reservations are closed to the general public. The Native American dancers, leaders and general population help, instruct, show and tell these young people the history & importance of each dance they perform.

You are a minority of ONE, insofar as protesters of record at least.
So, methinks the lady doth protest too much, to further her own ends or agenda, perhaps?

Now, my dear..have a good evening. I must go attend visitation for the passing of a very young man, 58 years old; a husband, father, brother, and past president of Scout Troops, and of Kossa Heritage Foundation, among many others. His sons are Eagle Scouts, former Kossa Chiefs, now husbands.
He absence will be felt in many places and his family's sorrow is ours as well. (That's how I found you BTW. I was looking for the current Kossa web-site to see if anyone had posted anything there about his premature death. The Kossa website, manned by volunteers, is like Louisiana Roads..always under construction.
Mass and burial tomorrow. Please say a prayer for the loss of a really fine man.
I have many other interests, volunteering in the community, lending the little expertise I have (former CFO in many corporations) so numbers crunching, and helping semi-illiterate and mentally foggy people, deal with banks, SSA, doctors, medicare, etc. is what I do best...but I also drive them here and there, as my time, health, money & the weather permit. So, our debate is ended for now and for the foreseeable future. A word to the wise...You should really check your facts before you advise people to NOT do something in print, you know...Some folks these days are really litigation hounds!

Marylee Partin

Debbie Reese said...


"find them interesting" says a great deal about your worldview.

I know you mean well, but you're sacrilegious, and so are the boys who engage in this activity, and the adults around them who refuse to recognize the humanity of American Indians as people, not someone whose religion is for you to find "interesting."

We welcome people to our reservation, but we trust that they're not going to "perform" our "interesting" dances once they leave.

I didn't write tribal policies posted at every village and in brochures like the ones I referenced in my original post. I didn't write tribal statements that tell people that they're violating tribal wishes with respect to the appropriation (stealing/theft) of song, story, and dance. In other words, I am not a minority of one with an agenda, and I don't fear lawsuits in the least. I stand on firm ground with the support of tribal leadership at Nambe.

I'm glad you found my website. Others are finding it, too, and they are learning from the mistake of the Venture Crews.

Kim said...

Marylee, you're the one who owes an apology for stating that the Kossas "have respect for the Native American culture." If that was true, they would'nt be going from Pueblo to Pueblo doing what they're doing. We value our culture very much and our traditional dances are meant for religious purposes, not for show so that others can come in and copy what they see. They are religious ceremonies meant to stay in the Pueblo land, not taken everywhere else by non tribal members. It blows my mind. Although these boy scouts may not have these intentions, it is still wrong. You are wrong. And for this reason, that is why us Native people are bringing this to attention. Many Pueblos do not even know that this is happening and it is not ok. I don't care if "their performances are all low in price" or that "they pay their own expenses." In our eyes as Native Americans, (and being that you state to be part Native, I would think you should know this)this is disrespectful. Again, Our dances belong only on our land. It is good that these scouts reach their goals and all but this is the wrong way to do so!! If they are not aware, they need to know. These dances are sacred to us.