Feb 3, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterWith a last-minute notification to participate in the presidential inauguration parade, Northern Arapaho tribal liaison Gary Collins quickly gathered dancers and drummers from the Wind River Indian Reservation to take part in the traditional event.
Collins bought one-way airplane tickets for the group with limited funds collected in the days between the notification and the trip.
The group received a $10,000 donation from the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and Collins contributed $5,000 of his own money. He said nearly $25,000 was spent, and donations to cover the remaining cost are still being accepted through the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union accounts open in Riverton and Lander.
The group reunited three days after the parade at the Wind River Casino, wearing the regalia they used at the parade and exchanging their stories with family and friends.
The group spent six days in Washington, D.C., and many of the participants said they didn't know each other before the trip. That didn't prevent them from enjoying the trip though.
"It was a group full of laughter, " dancer Fredrick Morgan said. "We came back as a family."
Morgan, 22, also participated in the 2009 inauguration parade.
The group was able to visit the Lincoln Memorial, Union Station and the World War II Memorial. While visiting attractions and boarding public transportation, Collins said many people interacted with the group and asked where they came from.
Morgan said that as the group waited in line before the dancing began, many other groups were curious and approached them with questions.
"It was a big culture exchange," Morgan said.
"They took pictures of us," Collins said.
Other dancers added that there was a lot of standing and waiting involved, and when it was their turn to perform in front of the president, they slowed down a bit even though they weren't supposed to.
"I didn't just dance in the parade for me," dancer Layha Spoonhunter said. "I danced for my community and for my family."
Collins said each day was hectic, especially the day of the parade, but the group maintained communication and tried their best to prepare.
"There were no complaints -- it was just amazing," Collins said. "I couldn't ask for a better group of people."
When they reunited Thursday, group members thanked Collins for the work he put in and the opportunity to be a part of the event.
"We seem to have seized the opportunity at the inaugural parade," Collins said to the group. "We wanted to put the Wind River Indian Reservation on the map, and I think we did that."
Some members of the group had never flown on an airplane before, and traveling as a group proved to be a challenge. Collins said at one point he and another person missed a train, and the group separated but they managed to find each other soon after. One of their flights included three stops and upon their return home, the community welcomed them and expressed pride and gratitude.
"It didn't end for us (after Monday)" Collins said. "It was just the beginning of the march."
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