When Lynnae Lawrence moved to Oahu in 2017, she said, she enjoyed learning about Native Hawaiian culture. After attending many community events, Lawrence, a member of the Hopi Tribe from Arizona and the Nakoda Nation from Montana, said she, in turn, was asked questions from people wanting to learn more about her Native American culture.
“They expressed a lot of interest in our culture. I had a real appreciation for the aloha that was shared by the Native Hawaiian community,” she said. “One of the tenets of Indigenous cultures is that we’re all related. So I started thinking we should share something more.”
Lawrence — president of the O‘ahu Native Nationz Organization, a nonprofit that seeks to share Indigenous cultures in Hawaii — is cohosting the inaugural “Round Dance in Paradise” with the University of Hawaii West Oahu. The goal, she said, is to build relations with the broader community and to educate people about the importance of Indigenous cultures.
Round Dance is a traditional Native American ceremony typically held during the winter months to celebrate culture and connect with deceased relatives through singing, dancing and prayer.
Christy Mello, a UHWO associate professor of anthropology who is helping Lawrence plan the event, said it’s important for the community to understand how Indigenous wisdom and knowledge relates to and can help solve everyday challenges such as climate change. She added that some of her anthropology students will attend the event and host a roundtable discussion later to share and reflect on the Round Dance and its significance in Hawaii.
“We want to really cultivate a community organized in educational space,” Mello said. “I want to support bringing people together with the campus community as a space for sharing and reflecting.”
In addition to celebrating Native American heritage, Lawrence said they have invited Native Hawaiian community leaders to share more about their culture and to perform hula and Hawaiian protocol. She said organizers hope this is the first of many Round Dance ceremonies to come.
Desirae Desnomie and her partner, Opie Day-Bedeau, singers of the renowned drum group the Midnite Express Singers, flew from Nebraska with their family to perform at “Round Dance in Paradise.” Desnomie, a member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation, said they encourage attendees to join them in song and dance, as long as they are respectful. She added that regalia is not required to participate and that she is also excited to learn more about Native Hawaiian culture.
“I really want to learn and take it all in,” she said. “When we sing and follow protocol to call in our relatives for a Round Dance to happen, it’s really powerful. The drum is really powerful. Singing is really powerful. It’s really been a dream come true that the drum could bring us here.”
Whitney Rencountre II, who is Hunkpati Dakota from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, also traveled from South Dakota, to serve as the event’s master of ceremonies. He said Round Dance was performed during colonization and was seen as a way to “bring that awareness to stand against what was happening to our ancestors.” He said his work as associate director and instructor at the Indian University of North America has emphasized the importance of education.
“I grew up half of my life on the reservation, and I was the first one in my family to go to college,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned through education is that there’s good and bad in every culture, race and community. It’s up to us to try to share that light and the good things, because we do better when we know better.”
“Round Dance in Paradise” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. today at UH West Oahu’s Great Lawn. It is free and open to the public. Masks are encouraged, and a COVID-19 vaccination card or proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours is required to enter. All UH employees and students will need to use the LumiSight UH app to check in.
For more information and to watch a livestream of the event, visit facebook.com/ONNO808.
Jayna Omaye covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.
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