In history class, Cherryland member Samantha TwoCrow remembers feeling nervous when the teacher asked her and her fellow students to turn to the chapter on Native American history in their textbooks. As the only Native American in her class, she was often called upon to answer students’ questions about her culture.
“Growing up, I didn’t know who I was, so often my answer was ‘I’m not sure,’” chuckled TwoCrow.
It’s easy for TwoCrow to laugh about her experience today. It’s now her job as the cultural representative for Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to be an advisor for teachers and lend authenticity to their lessons about Native American history and culture.
“My job is amazing,” she said. “It gives me a great sense of pride to be used as a resource for TCAPS and to help build my community’s sense of identity.”
TwoCrow has taken great strides from sitting in that history class to becoming the go-to cultural advisor for TCAPS. But, in her opinion, the most significant step toward embracing her culture was discovering beadwork.
At the age of eight, TwoCrow picked up beadwork and found out quickly that she had a knack for it. “I started by making bracelets for my friends. Then it just took off,” she explained. “It wasn’t anything I imagined doing.”
She defines her beadwork as “contemporary Native American,” as it ties Native American influences with contemporary beadwork. “By taking regular clothes and incorporating Native American-influenced beadwork, we can show who we are and be prideful as a community in modern times.”
The commercial success of her beadwork motivated her to quit her job at an accounting firm, return to school, and devote her life to learning about her culture and sharing it with others.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.
Being a cultural representative for TCAPS means that no two days are alike, explains TwoCrow. One day she is giving a formal presentation to a history class. The next day she is teaching students to plant a traditional Three Sisters Garden. But of those activities, the one she is asked to do regularly is to showcase Pow Wow dancing.
TwoCrow is an accomplished Pow Wow dancer. At a young age, she learned to dance from her mother and friends, as well as make the regalia. Later, through programs offered by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, she danced for audiences across the country.
“Dancing is a great visual representation of who we are,” explained TwoCrow. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.” Today, TwoCrow, often with her husband and four children, dance for school presentations and travel across the state to dance in their free time.
Whether it’s dancing, beadwork, or giving presentations to students, TwoCrow’s goal is the same: to be there for others and lend a helping hand to those searching for their identity, like she was years ago.
“All my life, I was trying to build the identity I didn’t have. Today, I hope to share my experiences, build identity and self-worthiness into our community, and promote togetherness.”