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Riverside grad gets in touch with heritage as fancy dancer

Riverside High School student Marisa Antoine is a Colville Indian and active in powwow dancing. (Colin Mulvany)
Riverside High School student Marisa Antoine is a Colville Indian and active in powwow dancing. (Colin Mulvany)

When Marisa Antoine, 17, was in fourth grade, she attended a powwow at Spokane’s Riverfront Park. It changed her life.

Always aware of her culture but never truly involved with it, Antoine was captivated by the dancing and was determined to learn more – and do more. Affiliated with the Colville Confederated Tribes through her mother, Antoine asked her grandfather, Allen Antoine, of Keller, Wash., for help.

“He told me a lot, explaining the steps and the drums, and he and my whole family made my first outfit,” said Antoine, a senior at Riverside High School. She is now wearing her fourth outfit, which she helped design herself, selecting the colors – black, neon yellow, hot pink and green – as well as some of the symbols stitched in. She participates in powwows throughout Washington and Idaho as a fancy dancer, which involves the swinging of a shawl and is the fastest of the dances.

“I learned largely by watching and just dancing,” she said, “and am the first in my family to dance at powwows, and I kind of like being the first to do something.”

Antoine was raised by her mother, Shelly Antoine, a social worker with the Kalispel Tribe, and never met her father. “It’s just been me and my mom and my extended family, which has been just fine.”

She has a 3.85 grade-point average and is president of the National Honor Society and secretary of the Executive Associated Student Body. She also is treasurer of Star Club, a community service organization that put on a reunion for Chinese adoptive children this year. She is a role model for Washington Drug Free Youth, plays basketball and soccer, where she is captain this year, and is manager of the boys soccer team.

And on weekends, whenever possible, she dances at powwows. She has been immersing herself in her Native culture and is drawn to the spirituality of it, the relationship she sees with the natural world. For example, she is so much more aware of dragonflies, which are a part of her dancing outfit.

“I never noticed dragonflies before,” she said, “but now I see them all around me. They are more and more coming to me.”

There is a wonderful sense of spirit that comes with dancing, she added. “And with it, I’m not afraid to show what I can do. I’m not afraid to be different.”

This fall Antoine will attend Eastern Washington University, where she hopes to study physical therapy. And no matter what else she might be doing, she will be dancing.

“My grandmother, Fran Antoine, comes to every powwow with me, and I know that she and my whole family are really proud of me. Even some of my little cousins are getting into it,” she said. “I want to be a part of powwows and to dance as long as I can.”