University of Wyoming leaders were honored along with recent high school and college graduates at the 62nd annual Eastern Shoshone Indian Days Powwow in Fort Washakie last week.

President Ed Seidel; Scott Thomas, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the College of Education; and Gabrielle Allen, director of the School of Computing, were recognized with the gift of blankets for their work and commitment to education on the Wind River reservation. The event was in conjunction with the Eastern Shoshone Higher Education Department’s presentation of blankets and certificates of achievement to 2022 tribal graduates of high schools, community colleges and universities.

Also honored was Vanessa Peahrora, a 2019 graduate of UW’s School of Pharmacy and Eastern Shoshone tribal member who now works at the Indian Health Service clinic in Fort Washakie. She was part of UW’s recent “The World Needs More Cowboys — and So Does Wyoming” campaign involving alumni across the state.

Harmony Spoonhunter, director of the Eastern Shoshone Higher Education Department, invited the UW representatives and other dignitaries to congratulate each of the 54 graduates — 41 from high school and 13 from college. Following the presentation of blankets, a combined honor dance was held for the UW representatives and the graduates, with the procession led by Seidel, Thomas, Allen, Peahrora and Central Wyoming College President Brad Tyndall.

“It’s been thrilling and deeply honoring to be here tonight,” said Seidel, who was honored for continued commitment and numerous visits to the Wind River reservation. “We are absolutely committed to partnering with your communities for education and to work with you in the future.”

“It’s a distinct honor to have a few minutes to say thank you for allowing us to spend time with you at such an important event,” said Thomas, who was honored for his commitment and dedication to work with the Wind River reservation and improve higher education opportunities. “We look forward to our developing and growing partnership in the months and years ahead.”

Allen was honored for the work she has done through UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute to secure funding for a multiyear project titled “Understanding and Communicating the Role of Elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation.”

“I’ve learned a lot about elk and a lot about the culture of the Wind River reservation, and I look forward to continuing to work in the future,” she said.

Peahrora was honored for setting an example that educational goals are achievable.

“Just being here and giving back to my community, I can tell that we need it. We need that education,” she told the recent high school graduates. “I know most of us don’t have the easiest upbringing. It takes a lot to do this, but you can. I did it, and anybody can. I just hope that you push yourself, pray to the Creator for strength, do everything you can and bring it back to take care of the people.”

Earlier this year, Seidel led a delegation of UW officials for a two-day visit to the reservation that included the signing of revised memoranda of understanding with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

The blankets presented to the UW leaders at last week’s powwow were provided by the Chief Washakie Foundation, which last year established an endowment fund — the Zedora Teton Enos Excellence Fund — at UW to benefit the Wind River Indian Reservation community. In 2003, the Chief Washakie Foundation established the Chief Washakie Memorial Endowment, a scholarship fund.

“Giving blankets is symbolic of our tradition that giving and doing more for the community is highly valued as opposed to accumulating wealth for oneself,” said James Trosper, chairman of the Chief Washakie Foundation and the director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute. “If wealth is acquired, it’s important to share that with the community through ‘giveaways.’ The Wind River reservation tribes are committed to keeping our culture alive, and education is a key to doing so. It is a collective effort.”

“As Eastern Shoshone people, we recognize the importance of education and knowledge. It is one of the core values of our people,” said George Abeyta, a UW graduate and longtime teacher and coach at Fort Washakie School who is one of the powwow’s organizers. “Heavenly Father has made it known to our leaders, in the political arena as well as the spiritual aspect, that education must be a priority. It was Chief Washakie who said, ‘I fought to protect our land, our water and our hunting grounds. Education is the weapon our people will need to protect them.’”

The Eastern Shoshone Indian Days Powwow is a three-day celebration featuring food vendors, arts and craft for sale, traditional Indian games, a parade, carnival games and traditional dancing to the sounds of several drum groups. Hundreds of dancers come together to compete for prize money and celebrate the culture and traditions of the Eastern Shoshone.

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