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Dancing for and with their ancestors, the Eagle Horse brothers travel year round to share the culture and customs of the Lakota Nation. Photo by Phil Houseal

The Eagle Horse family will speak and dance at the Bandera Powwow on September 3, 4, 5, 2010. Information at www.celebratebandera.com. The Eagle Horse family can be reached at 830-328-9992.

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Dances with ancestors

by Phil Houseal
June 30, 2010


While growing up in South Dakota, TaCha Eagle Horse endured a lot of teasing. He is Lakota, and his classmates made fun of his long hair, braided with a red cloth, and his Native ways. They sometimes made him cry, and sometimes made him angry. Even worse? His classmates were brothers of the Lakota Nation.

“They did not understand us,” TaCha said between performances recently at the Pioneer Museum. “They always made fun of us, and said we were little girls. They didn’t believe in men having long hair. But my Nation always had long hair - that is our strength.”

Ta Cha was stoic, but by the time he was 16 he was fed up with the abuse. “I wanted to fight them, but I knew that wasn’t the answer. I did not want to fight my own Nation.”

Instead, twin brothers TaCha and Tatanka, 21, brother Sunkmanitu, 15, and their parents, Dennis and Diane Eagle Horse, took that negative energy and turned it around, educating and sharing the culture with both Native and non-Native people. The family travels year round to powwows, historical sites, and living history events to demonstrate the songs, dances, regalia, and customs of the Lakotas.

Their father, Dennis, who is a traditional artist, considers himself a conduit from the culture of his ancestors to his boys.

“My path is the way my grandparents raised me,” he said, turning to his sons. “Like I tell them, what the higher power has taught me, they are there to talk with the people. I am very proud of them. This is what they want to do.”

“A lot of the young people are ignoring it,” said TaCha of the Native culture. “They are ashamed of who they are - they don’t want to be themselves. They see somebody else doing something they think is better.”

The Eagle Horses also live in those two worlds. When the boys go to their home in Bandera, they put on blue jeans and T-shirts. But doing their shows is their escape, when they go back in time to bond with their Nation. Sometimes that escape is more real than reality.

“When we are dancing out here, we can feel the presence of our ancestors dancing with us,” TaCha said. “They come down and support our family.”

Sunkmanitu nods his head. “I feel proud of who I am and I am dancing for my ancestors.”

The boys tailor their show to the mood and interest of the crowd. But during a typical demonstration, TaCha, who handles the speaking duties, tells of the history of the Lakota Nation and describes the dances and customs. He and his brothers take turns performing those dances. Authenticity is important. They set up a real tipi, and wear the clothes of their ancestors, complete with leather leggings, chest plates, feathers, and regalia.

When I first met the boys several years ago, I hesitated to take pictures, in fear of intruding. But they welcomed my interest and curiosity. They sincerely enjoy interacting with kids and grownups alike, and will talk for as long as anyone cares to listen.

TaCha laughed at the reactions. “Kids don’t believe that we are real Native people, because they see the movies where the Cavalry wiped us out. Adults are fascinated, and they are thankful and happy that we are doing this.”

The Eagle Horse family knows there is a chance their language and customs will be wiped out. That makes them more earnest in their quest to preserve the culture, especially among their own people

“Ten years from now my hope is that my message gets out to Native people,” TaCha said. “We hope to see more young people learning about it in the right way.” TaCha thought back to his persecutors from his school days. “Yes, we are trying to teach non-Natives so they understand us, but we also teach Natives - everyone  - what we are all about.”

TaCha, Tatanka, and Sunkmanitu posed for a photo with a young visitor. Then they picked up their gear to head back to the tipi for the next show.

“That is why we do what we do here, to keep our side going for the people. We are doing it for those who can no longer do it for themselves. It is a very spiritual thing for my family to do for the people. I am very proud of who I am, and who my Nation was, and who we still are to this day.”