Going overseas, dancer spreads native heritage

By Ronald MacArthur

This past November Boe Harris of Seaford was in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey. She took 24 different flights, at least 10 bus trips and numerous taxi rides, but she was not on vacation. She spent the month taking part in the Great Plains Indian Dance Mediterranean Tour as part of a Department of Defense's Armed Forces Entertainment program. She was on the road, so to speak, from Nov. 6 to Dec. 6. As she explains it, she was actually in the air, as most of the stops to U.S. military and NATO bases in the region were made by airplane. Harris, who does Native American dancing programs throughout the year all over the United States, has taken part in the program for the past three years. In 2003 and 2004 she danced with the troupe in bases throughout northern Europe. Two Indian dance troupes are shipped overseas as part of a Native American Month each November by the Department of Defense. Harris is part Ojibwe (Chippewa) Indian. "It's an honor and a privilege for me to do this," she said. "A lot of the people on our bases feel they are being forgotten over there. "We are ambassadors of the American people and the Indian culture," she added. Harris and the Great Plains Indians Dancers traveled thousands of miles and performed as many as four shows a day on bases and in schools. She said that some were scheduled and some were spontaneous. "I particularly loved doing the shows at schools; they really touched my heart," Harris said.

They also reminded her of her youth spent in Germany from 1962-64 as an Army brat. "It does help with morale because you have to think that each of the children probably has a mom or dad in Iraq or Afghanistan," she added. Harris was not dancing a traditional Indian dance as she has in the past. During the tour this year she was doing a jingle-dress dance with flute playing. The dance has special meaning to her because of the dress she wears. The dress was a gift from Sgt. First Class Mitchelene Big Man, who is currently serving her second tour of duty in Iraq. The dress is adorned with two patches worn by the sergeant during her first tour in Iraq. Harris said that the two danced together in powwows and became close friends. "The dress is a healing dance dress and I wear it in honor of her and all people stationed over there and not just the U.S. troops," Harris said. She said that she takes time during every performance to explain the significance of the healing dress. Sgt. Big Man's husband is also in the military and is also serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. The couple's two children are being raised by their grandmother on a Crow Indian reservation in Montana. She added that there wasn't a lot of down time for sightseeing during their whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean area, although they did have a few "off" days. "Believe me, we didn't unpack at any point on the trip," she said. Although she keeps "November open," Harris said that she wasn't sure that she would be taking part in the tour this year. "I wasn't scheduled to go because they can only take seven, but someone got sick and they asked me again. I'm of the belief that if it was meant to happen, it happens," she said. Over the past three years, Harris has established several ongoing relationships with people she has met. One young Native American has taken up dancing and another family has started a Christian outreach program because of her influence. "Through my travels, I'm able to keep in touch with people," she said. "We are able to touch a lot of people's lives." Harris is married to Jeff and the couple has a daughter, Casey, who is in her third year at the University of Delaware. They are used to having their wife and mother go on her mission of love every November.

CORRECTION - A front page photo in the Dec. 22 edition misidentified a person. Her name should have been Tracy Tull.

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