From a young age, Briar Reedy has been in touch with his Indian heritage. The l8-year-old Warren County High School senior is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. His father, Jimmy, can trace their Indian roots back to Chief Alexander McGillivray, a principal chief of the Upper Creek Muscogee towns from 1782.
Briar started grass dancing at the age of 8. It’s a men’s powwow dance that originated from the central plains. Unlike most forms of powwow dancing, the grass dance regalia generally has no feathers, and consists of brightly colored fringe. The fringe represents the movement and swaying of the grass. In the past, actual prairie grass was used for the medicine or warrior dance.
“Growing up, I always enjoyed watching the grass dances,” said Briar. “My family was always going to powwows when I was young, and I really like the dance. Even though it’s not a Muscogee Creek dance, it’s just something you learn on your own.”
He was recently invited to dance at the University of Louisville’s Native American Night at YUM Arena. Despite bad weather conditions, Native Americans from across the country and Canada traveled to Louisville for the event, and to honor Native American basketball playing sisters, Shonie and Jude Schimel. The talented sisters come from the Umatilla tribe in Oregon.
It’s a rare site at a basketball game to see Native American dancers taking to the court, and this instance was no exception, with both men and women presenting an assortment of dances.
“It was truly an honor to be asked to dance, especially in front of a 20,000 plus crowd at a NCAA basketball game,” said Briar.
A powwow is a council or conference of Indians. It’s when Native Americans meet to dance, sing, socialize and honor Native American/ First Nations culture. At these gatherings, the public is invited to observe the culture, visit vendors, taste authentic food items and enjoy the dance presentations. Some of these powwows have dance competitions, with prize money presented.
“At a powwow we try to bring some of the old world to modern day,” said Briar. “We are trying to keep our culture alive, and we enjoy sharing our culture.”
The entire Reedy family is involved in powwows, with Jimmy serving as the arena director. His job is to maintain the arena, make sure dancers are in the right order at grand entry, to make sure the drums are prepared with the right song, and to ensure the dance arena is treated with proper respect. Son Rush is an apprentice to his father, learning to be arena director. Brother Zeke joins Briar as a grass dancer, and mom Lorie is a jingle dress dancer. She is also a textile artist and designs and makes all the regalia for the family.
The jingle dress is a healing dance, which includes a skirt with hundreds of small tin cones that make sounds as the dancer moves with light footwork danced close to the ground. The sound represents the sending of prayers to the creator.
Dancing has always been a very important part of the life of the American Indian. Most dances seen at powwows today are social dances which probably had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, the meaning and importance has not
“There is a lot to learn in dancing, and I don’t pretend to know it all,” said Briar. “I just know when I hear the drum beat, I can’t hardly not move. The drum beat signifies the heartbeat of the Earth, which gives us life.”
After high school graduation, he plans to follow in his brother’s footsteps by attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. He plans to major in American Indian studies, and is open to career options. He was recently notified a photo of him will be used as the cover for Indian Country Today Magazine in their special spring edition 2014.
The family will be participating in an upcoming event, the Chattanooga Powwow on April 5 - 6 in Chattanooga at the First Pavilion of Tennessee.
“There are not as many powwows around here as there used to be,” said Briar. “They are a way for us to dance competitively with our friends. We aren’t just dancing because of the competition, but because it’s who we are, and it’s something we do to keep our culture alive.”