GREAT FALLS — With 12 tribal nations among Montana’s population, programs such as the Indigenous Education Department in the Great Falls Public School District works hard to expose Native American students to their cultural identity. Most recently, the department hosted its first annual naming ceremony.
Dugan Coburn, the program director, explained, “We are going to be doing a celebration of giving out these Indian names so that these kids can be more connected with the tribes that they come from.”
Getting an Indian name is a tradition for many tribes. However, not many Native students in the Great Falls community get a chance to receive one.
“At the eagle feather ceremonies, we give the graduating seniors beaded eagle feathers to signify their transition as warriors. I would see the kids get up to the elder and he would ask them for their Indian name. It’s on a day that they’re celebrating, they are receiving the honor of that eagle feather and becoming a warrior and the kid would have to tell the elder that they don’t have a name,” Coburn explained. “So I saw kids that were at this height of, 'I’m getting this eagle feather' kind of get let down, and so I want to save kids that and give them these names.”
The naming ceremony enables indigenous students to feel more connected with their culture and heritage.
Royal Deserly, a sophomore at Great Falls High School, felt a range of emotions before receiving his name. “Just happy and grateful that I am going to be named and have a name. I’m nervous but, mostly happy,” he said. He received the name Crow In The Rain, bringing pride to himself as well as his family.
The naming process involved a questionnaire that high school students and sixth-graders received. The questions addressed personal likes and dislikes, as well as a section for parents to fill out. The names were personalized to each student, ensuring that each of them received one that fit them best.
Dugan noted, “It feels great. You know, it’s just one of those things where you feel really good about being able to do this. I feel really good about it and I think my staff feels great about it. This is an opportunity for us all to help celebrate the kids that we work with and the families here in Great Falls to get better connected.”
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