In a celebration of culture and tradition on the birthday of the founder of the Baha'i faith, Lakota hoop dancers shared their talents and stories with the public at the Sunset Playhouse on Saturday.
Loren Ritacca, a Baha'i Elm Grove resident who helped organize the event, said the dance was a fitting celebration of their holiday because of the variety of cultures that have adopted the Baha'i faith. Baha'u'llah, who founded the religion in the 1860s, believed all religions were stages in the revelation of God's will and could ultimately unify.
"Baha'is embrace the oneness of mankind," Ritacca said. "Cardinal principles in the faith are unity and diversity, and so many people don't know very much about Native Americans."
Ritacca estimated there are about five Baha'is in Elm Grove and about 20 in Brookfield, but the event was free to the wider public, paid for by the Baha'i community. More than 100 people, from toddlers to seniors, filled the theater.
Dallas Chief Eagle, who is Baha'i, came from South Dakota to lead the program. He said he hoped the night of sharing would help build allies in mending what he called a broken hoop — a disconnect from nature, history and family. For his community, he said, the break has led to abuse, addiction, bullying and suicide.
"People need to know that mending the hoop is a very serious effort because it's busted up so much," he said. "We're trying to be responsible for mending our own hoop. That means we have to get to know each other, and know each other's pain."
His daughter Starr Chief Eagle, who said her friend recently died by suicide, called upon the audience to reach out to those around them who may be suffering.
"Tell your kids every day you love them. Some kids don't hear that from their parents," she said. "If you see a random person, a stranger, smile. That smile could save that person's life."
In their performances, the father and daughter linked hoops together into the form of wings, domes and cocoons as they danced and spun.
The dancers also taught volunteers from the audience to make wings, and then picked out the two kids who could stay frozen for the longest. The winners sat in a nest of rings as the other kids swarmed them and lifted them into the air as trees.
Facing the truth
"Many of us are removed from our larger family, and deal with the big loneliness," Dallas Chief Eagle said. "I felt we made some new friends tonight that are going to be instrumental in going through transitions."
Between dances, he talked about suffering on reservations nationwide, and of the need for partners in healing. He said many of the representations of Native Americans, like in museums and classrooms, are romanticized. Instead, he said, it's important to have honest conversations about problems and solutions.
"It feels like they have us frozen in time, but we're living and breathing people trying to get out of this predicament we're in," he said. "We've got layers of suffering and hurt, but underneath it all, there's some good things happening. We're preserving our culture and values."
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