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Old 12-01-2003, 09:10 AM   #1
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Smile Josh Richardson in the news

Sunday, November 30, 2003 9:10AM EST

'All-American' teen keeps tribal traditions alive in Harnett Co.




By BETSY POLLARD, , The Associated Press

DUNN, N.C. (AP) - At first glance, Josh Richardson might appear to be an average all-American teenager. He goes to school, studies to keep his grades up, relishes being a newly licensed driver and, like most other teens, looks forward to the weekend.

While most of his peers sleep in or play video games, Josh can usually be found at a powwow where he dons traditional Native American regalia and dances to keep his people's traditions and customs alive.

Josh, who lives in northern Harnett County with his parents, Glenn and Barbara, is of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. His parents are from Warren and Halifax counties.

"Where the two counties are joined is the seat of our tribe," Mrs. Richardson said.

"I like going to powwows, it has always been in my heart. Dancing has always been in my blood," Josh said. He described the powwow as a gathering of Native Americans to dance, sing, celebrate, see old friends and meet new ones.

The Richardsons raised their four boys in the powwow tradition. "When they were around 2, I made their outfits and put them out there. They danced barefoot as was the original custom at our powwows," Mrs. Richardson said.

"I never had to push Josh. Even when he was little, he was serious about it. He'd sit right there and watch the other dancers. I would have to make him eat," she said.

"Since all my brothers danced, we always danced around the house. They practiced and taught me," Josh said.

Unlike his brother James, a fancy dancer, and his brother Shannon, a traditional dancer, Josh chose to become a grass dancer.

"Grass dancing is unique. There are a lot of moves you can do, you can have your own style. In traditional dancing, the style and the way you're supposed to dance is limited. Fancy dancing is more showoff dancing, a lot of spinning. Grass dancing is smooth," he said.

"The original grass dancers were used to pat down tall prairie grass before a ceremony. To me, it means a dance of harmony, everything is balanced. If you do something on one foot, you do the same on the other," he said.

"Some say grass is a healing dance. Supposedly a crippled boy saw the dance in a vision, danced it and was healed. Still, some dancers stick out a stiff leg to represent that," Josh said.

"The grass dance is my favorite because of Josh," said Lea Barnes of Linden, a frequent powwow attendee.

"He makes it spiritual. His moves are so fluid. Each time I watch him, he just gets better. I can't look at anybody else when he's out there. He is the most beautiful grass dancer I've ever seen," she said.

His mother agreed.

"I'm excited when he dances. Something goes through my heart and my soul, like the first time I saw him dance," she said.

"Dancing to me is like a prayer," Josh said.

The regalia, which he makes himself, is rich in symbolism.

"I chose red and blue because those are the colors that my people wore into battle. The red crosses symbolize my brother Gary who died. The two blue crosses symbolize an uncle and cousin who died. When I dance, I dance for them," he said.

"I dance for my maternal grandmother, Lorine Anstead. She makes me proud. She still goes to tribal council meetings. I dance for my elders. I dance for those who can't dance," he said.

"I feel more proud and appreciate my regalia more than if I paid someone to make it for me. It makes me dance harder," Josh explained.

Dancing is especially hard on the moccasins.

"If I dance every weekend, they're gone in five or six months," he said.

Josh buys leather, cuts out his own patterns, sews his moccasins by hand, irons appliques on them and then sews beads over the appliques.

He said it was about a year ago when he realized that he was really good.

"When I dance, I see nothing, hear nothing, I block out everything except for the drum. If it's a good song, when I really feel it and get tingles, then I know," he said.

Grass dancing with the adults is more difficult, he said.

"The older guys are serious about it. Those who aren't have dropped out," he said.

The judging is harsh. Dancers are penalized if they bump into one another, which is difficult, he says, if like him, they block out everything but the drum. Dancers are also required to disqualify themselves from a dance if anything falls from their regalia.

Josh realizes there are responsibilities which come with being a rising star in the world of powwow dancing.

"It feels good to know that you're loved. Little kids follow me around. I always try to carry myself in a good way and respect people," he said.

Josh, who goes to about 30 powwows a year, has to get special dispensation to be away from school.

"My principal, Mr. Williams, is real cool about it and so is the guidance counselor, Mrs. Brown. They understand I go to powwows for a higher purpose," he said.

"I find him to be a nice young gentleman. He always exhibits politeness and he's well-mannered. He has my highest regards," Harnett Central Guidance Counselor Brenda Brown said.

"He keeps up with his schoolwork and he never complains about making up assignments. I respect the fact that he carries on his traditions," she said.

"I'm proud of him," Mrs. Richardson said. "It keeps him focused. He's a good A/B student. I'm glad he's proud of his heritage."

"If it wasn't for my family, I wouldn't be where I am now. They're very supportive," Josh said.

Josh would like to become a "champion" grass dancer.

"If you go to all the big powwows like Gathering Nations, Denver March and Red Earth, and you place, you're considered a champion," he said.

Because he can draw, sew and bead, he would one day like to have his own shop where he can sell Native American crafts.

In the meantime, he continues to dance every day, and teaches his younger cousins and nieces the grass dance he loves so much.

"Then they'll grow up and teach their kids the grass dance," he said.
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