February 7, 2023
Juanita Plentyholes shows children the steps of making traditional skirts. They can be worn at powwows, Bear Dance, and Sun Dance. (Clark Adomaitis / KSUT/KSJD)

Workshops in Towaoc connect Ute Mountain Ute children with their culture

KSUT | By Clark Adomaitis

At the Ute Mountain Ute Recreation Center in Towaoc, Colorado, a handful of children learned to make traditional skirts. This 4-day-long afterschool workshop is part of Tiwahe and Project PEAK, a well-being program for tribal families and kids.

The program is funded through a grant from the Colorado Department of Education. Project Peak includes workshops on fashion, healthy food, and outdoor activities.

Colleen Cuthair-Root shows Wayne Adams how to operate a sewing machine. (Clark Adomaitis / KSUT/KSJD)

“We're hoping that by attending these classes, it will engage the kids to learn more and stay on top of their studies," said program director Juanita Plentyholes. "So where they have a decrease in increase in school attendance as well as the increase in graduation rates.

Jaydalynn Percelliano sews herself a traditional skirt.(Clark Adomaitis / KSUT/KSJD)

A few relatives sat nearby while the kids worked on sewing machines. Plentyholes says the presence of relatives and elders at the workshops is vital for the children’s cultural development.

“There's a disconnect between the younger generation and the older generation, and this way, we're trying to bridge the two together,” Plentyholes said.

Juanita Plentyholes demonstrates adding some finishing touches to traditional skirts.(Clark Adomaitis / KSUT/KSJD)

Jaydalynn Percelliano and Wayne Adams are cousins. They stitched together fabrics and colorful ribbons, and they’ll be wearing their skirts at a powwow, Bear Dance, or Sun Dance.

“I wanted to learn how to make a skirt,” said Percelliano.

“I like to sew, and my auntie and my uncle are here to help me,” Adams added.

Colleen Cuthair-Root shows Wayne Adams how to operate a sewing machine. (Clark Adomaitis / KSUT/KSJD)

Sometimes, the program invites Native people who have excelled in their professional fields to inspire the kids. Kelly Holmes is a Cheyenne River Lakota woman who lives in Denver. She’s the founder and editor of Native Max Magazine, a fashion publication. Earlier in January, she taught a ribbon skirt workshop in Towaoc as part of Project PEAK.

“I brought down different materials, different colors, fabric, and ribbons. Some of the girls even just could not wait till after school. They would say, ‘Oh, I'm so happy and excited to be here,’” said Holmes.

Holmes has been in the fashion world for well over a decade.

“I was discovered as a model when I was 16 years old in Denver. When I did my first photo shoots and fashion shows, I was super scared. I was shy at the time. I was a teenager, but it really opened my eyes up to building up my confidence.”

With the workshops, she hopes to show young Native kids that there’s a way to fuse fashion with cultural identity.

Project PEAK will host a shawl-making class from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 at the Ute Mountain Ute Recreation Center in Towaoc.

Editor's note: All photos of children were approved by Durango 9-R and their parents. All parents sign a release at the beginning of the school year. No parent refused to have their children’s photos be used.

Voices From the Edge of the Colorado Plateau seeks to cover underrepresented communities in the Four Corners. KSUT provided editing and web production for this story.

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