NMSU prof. shows Native horsemanship to the Queen

June 12, 2012 • State News

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — An [auth] associate professor from New Mexico State University had the moment of a lifetime last month in England.

“I went to the Windsor Castle with those of us from the pageant to meet the queen,” said Donald Pepion, 67, an anthropology professor, via email. “We had tea and crumpets.”

Pepion, a Blackfeet Native American originally from Montana, was with 10 other Native Americans from different Plains tribes selected to participate in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, May 10 -13, on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

It was his first trip to England.

“Although I had many questions about the Native Americans’ participation in the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, I was willing take advantage of an opportunity to share Native American culture,” Pepion said. “Of course, my underlying passion as a horseman from a Montana ranch background lures me when I am invited to wear my traditional Blackfeet Indian regalia and ride a horse.”

Pepion’s Blackfeet, or “Pikuini,” name is “Iits-sim-mah-kii” or Stabs Down. He wore a traditional white, tanned buckskin suit with hand-beaded trimming and a headdress he earned in 1984 in honor of his leadership role in his tribe. He rode a spotted black, white and gray appaloosa stallion from Wales, while a few other Natives danced on a central stage.

“I believe it is a good idea to share our Native American culture with others around the world. I think it is important, globally, for all people to know that there are many indigenous cultures and peoples in North America long before 1492,” he said. “It has always been my quest to raise the consciousness of all peoples regarding the vibrant and living cultures of the indigenous peoples of North America and the United States.”

Pepion is the coordinator of the American Indian Studies program at NMSU. He lives on the East Mesa and has been living in Las Cruces for the past 12 years. He has his master’s and doctoral degrees in education from Montana State University. He has been a full-time instructor at NMSU since 2007.

During the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, more than 1,000 people from all over the world were invited to show off their horses and their cultures. They danced and performed for four days for audiences and for Queen Elizabeth II on May 13. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrates the queen’s reign over England for the past 60 years. The pageant was part of this event.

“It is wonderful to see the different world cultures participating in the pageant,” Pepion said in his email. “I have always been intrigued with the African nations’ song and dance. The Masai, Watusi and others from places like Kenya are great! The Oman horsemen are terrific to see as they lance a tent peg at full gallop. The Brazil group with their dancing horses are amazing. The India people’s horsemanship and dancing is an amazing sight. There are many others: Aborigines of Australia, Hawaiians, Cook Island people and other indigenous people from around the world are here.”

Clay Maier, coordinator for the American contingent of the Diamond Jubilee, was responsible for Pepion’s and the other Americans’ trip to England. It’s a long story, but Maier met Pepion through a friend of a friend for the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky., in 2010. That network of people, plus Pepion, performed ceremonies and opened the games that year, because Maier thought it would be a good homage to the Plains Indians, who are historically renowned horsemen.

Once the Jubilee came up, who better to send to England than Plains Indians and some American cowboys to demonstrate their cultures and horsemanship for the queen?

“They wanted the horse people throughout the world; so the Natives have their horse culture,” Maier said. “Don was someone who rode a horse well, spoke well and he was a good representative.”

Out of all the different country groups, three to four people were selected to meet the queen at a reception in Windsor Castle. From the American group, Pepion and two others were chosen by Maier, he said.

More than 550 horses went through that arena during the Royal Windsor Horse Show, which took place during the day — with the pageant in the evenings — for the queen, who is a “very avid horse person,” Maier said.

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