Peterson Yazzie Jr. and Koby Jameson White are performing a fast-paced Native American grass dance on the sidewalk by Reclaimed Art Suppliez on Casino Center, moving rhythmically to the traditional sounds and techno beat.
The fringe of their bright regalia sways. Though Yazzie removed his checkered Vans to dance, the link between contemporary life and ancestral custom soars in the urban powwow sound of A Tribe Called Red, played during a break as a trio of jingle dancers moves in. “What people typically get wrong about native culture is that it no longer exists,” Yazzie says. “We’re here to prove that wrong.”
He and the other young performers in the First Friday exhibition are promoting their newly formed chapter of NERDS, Native Education Raising Dedicated Students. The peer-to-peer mentoring group emphasizes community service and is designed to help native youth excel in school and life.
“They’re embracing their culture,” says NERDS Culture and Traditions Mentor Fawn Douglas. “But we’d like to reach more. We’re urban Indians. There are a lot of people out there who are separated from their reservations.”
That White is Western Shoshone and Yazzie is Navajo doesn’t matter. NERDS was formed in California in 2012 by then-8th grader Dahkota Franklin Kicking Bear Brown to connect all native youths with their culture and help turn around high dropout and crime rates. Through events like the First Friday demo, the local chapter is raising funds for a trip to the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering later this summer in Washington, D.C.
“We’re getting ourselves out there,” explains 18-year-old Paloma Marcos, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. “We want to show that we have goals, that we’re individuals.”