Published on August 29th, 2016 | by AberdeenMagazine
Tied to Cultural Tradition
Central High’s Native American Student Association Honors Graduates
On April 30, 2016, the Native American seniors of Aberdeen Central High School and their friends and families gathered together to share tradition, song, prayers, and a meal to celebrate the upcoming graduation.
It started with an order of eagle feathers from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository – long feathers to be given to male graduates and fluffy plumes to be given to female graduates. About a week before the honoring ceremony, parents gathered together to prepare the feathers. This included purification with the smoke of burning sage of those handling the feathers and the feathers themselves, as well as the porcupine quill decorated medicine wheels created for the feathers. This purification process is called azilya (ah zeal ya). At the April honoring ceremony, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate spiritual leader, Danny Seaboy, again blessed and purified the feathers and spoke to the graduates about their responsibilities of receiving the feather. The feathers are tied in each student’s hair during the ceremony.
In a beautifully personal celebration, each graduate received a star quilt from the Aberdeen Public Schools’ Office of Indian Education. Graduates also spoke about their future plans and introduced each family member who came to support them. Some graduates received personal gifts or guidance from their family, including words of encouragement, a personalized quilt one graduate received from her grandmother, and a traditional song. The honoring included special recognition of the efforts of Doug Neuharth, Coordinator of the Office of Indian Education. It was noted that during Mr. Neuharth’s tenure, Aberdeen demonstrated some of the highest Native American student test scores statewide and was successful in prestigious Native American college scholarship applications. Mr. Neuharth demurred that the students made him look good.
One grandparent summed up the honoring ceremony’s spirit of encouragement when he reminded the crowd that the graduates are all of our grandchildren.
Prepping of Feathers
Members of the American Indian Parent Advisory Council and parents met prior to the honoring ceremony to assemble the feathers and medicine wheels. Feathers came from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository. Preparation included purification with the smoke of burning sage of those handling the feathers, the feathers themselves, and the porcupine quill decorated medicine wheels created for the feathers. This purification process is called azilya (ah zeal ya). // – By Dani Daugherty