Dancing for Sister

Powwow commemorates life of slain nun

(Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

A young dancer closely watches how a couple of older dancers move their feet Saturday evening during the Sister Marguerite Bartz Memorial Powwow in Fort Defiance.

By Diego James Robles
Special to the Times

FORT DEFIANCE, Ariz., Nov. 7, 2013

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Hundreds of spectators came out Saturday night to the Sister Marguerite Bartz Memorial Powwow here.

Of them, few knew of the slain Bartz and even fewer knew her personally. But for the handful who did and those who subsequently learned about her through the powwow, her memory is cherished and her deeds will not soon be forgotten while there is a powwow bearing her name.

In its third year in existence (but first as a contest powwow), the St. Michael Indian School-sponsored event saw a huge surge in popularity in terms of spectators and especially amongst seasoned powwow dancers. A parent of a St. Michael Indian School student and a powwow committee member himself, Michael Warren was surprised by how far the powwow has come in a relatively short amount of time.

"It's so much bigger this year with our new venue and the fact we have between 75 and 80 dancers or even more," Warren said. "And even for gourd dancing, last year we had three or four and now more than 25."

Maybe aware that not many people knew of Bartz since she served the community of Navajo, N.M., the school and powwow organizers made admission free and asked for a canned food donations in her honor. They also offered to pray for any community members who have lost anybody recently or if they have a family member fighting overseas in the military.

Bartz, who was 64 at the time of her death, was murdered in her home in 2009 when she tried to fight off a robber by hitting him with her slipper. In April of this year, 21-year-old Reehahlio Carroll pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the crime and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Veteran grass dancer and area local Edd Scott could sympathize with Bartz' mourners. He sponsored a grass special in honor of his late son Gabriel, who was murdered in 2011.

"As a grass dancer, I dance hard for my people, the families who are in need of care and loving," Scott said. "This is a reminder of all that we lost, it's a reminder that it hurts and it's painful but we do it in the memory of our loved ones."

Scott and his family have been early supporters of the fledgling powwow and expressed great pride in seeing it grow in popularity.

Visiting home on vacation from Rapid City, S.D., northern traditional dancer Shawn Smith was impressed with the caliber of dancers in the grass special. He felt Scott added a lot to it by the way he danced amongst the younger dancers and how they collectively represented common values.

"Scott has a lot of heart and his special was outstanding and very influential on our Native American culture," Smith said.

With the powwow in full swing on Saturday night, Jessica Cozart of the development office at St. Michael Indian School organized and carried boxes full of canned goods for the mission. She estimated that she and other volunteers loaded approximately 20 boxes of cans for transport.

"Many people are bringing canned goods instead of paying admission and we take these over to the mission pantry that serves many local families," Cozart said. "We've probably taken in 300 or 350 cans so far."

Standing at a towering 6-foot-7-inches, St. Michael social studies teacher and basketball coach Michael Ferriter was enjoying himself with his family in the top bleachers of the gym.

"The event got so big our school gym couldn't handle it," Ferriter said. "Sister Marguerite was murdered before I got here but we do this in her memory and as an outsider, I am always amazed of the beauty of Navajo or Native culture in general and how beautiful these powwows are."

Although she never got to meet her, the new powwow princess Kayola Denny, 15, was proud to represent St. Michael and the memory of Bartz. Denny tried out to be the powwow's princess because she liked the fact the committee advertised the crown as a learning experience for newcomers. In order to be crowned, she had to memorize an introduction in Navajo, learn some history behind the event and promise to represent it well throughout her powwow travels.

"I didn't know the sister except what happened to her a few years ago but I've learned she was a terrific lady," Denny said.

A Catholic all her life, Yolanda Curly was one of the few people who personally knew Sr. Marguerite Bartz. Curly considered her a friend and knew her for about 10 years. She said the sister was instrumental spiritually for the Navajo people in the area and in Navajo, N.M. in particular.

"She touched so many people with her kind heart and though all the different retreats we went on," Curly said. "You have no idea how very uplifting this powwow has been for me and how it's touched my heart."

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