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Ann Conway

A Benefit to Bring Warmth Into Lives of Indian Children

June 23, 1987|Ann Conway

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier . . .

--From the song, "Greatest Love of All," by Michael Masser and Linda Creed.

A fancy hamburger was on the menu for Jason Brave Heart, 9, when he dined before a benefit at the Irvine Hilton and Towers Saturday night.

"That was good , " said Jason, ankle bells jingling, as he padded out of a private dining room in beaded moccasins. "But, I like buffalo burgers better."

Jason was one of several Indian children who had come from the Sioux Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D., to give an exhibition of tribal dance, the highlight of a $200-per-person fund-raiser for the Red Cloud American Indian Society. He had dined early, chaperons said, to digest his food before his performance.

And while the benefit's VIPs enjoyed a cocktail reception in a posh 12th-floor suite, Jason strolled wide-eyed through the hotel's marble lobby.

"Warmth. . . . That's what Orange County is giving American Indian children tonight," said Phillip J. Stevens of Newport Beach, Red Cloud society founder and benefit co-chairman with actress Connie Stevens (no relation).

"The children are 20 feet off the ground. We took them to the beach today," Phillip Stevens said. "When we drove over the hill on Jamboree, one spotted the ocean and yelled: 'Look at the big, blue cloud!' They've never been off the reservation before."

Getting American Indian children off the reservation was exactly what the benefit was about, said Joan Stevens, his wife of 35 years, who was gowned in a cloud of beige lace and taffeta.

"Education is the ticket. If the children don't get an education, they'll end up unemployed--like so many of their parents."

Phillip Stevens, president and board chairman of Ultrasystems Incorporated in Irvine, founded the Red Cloud American Indian Society after visiting South Dakota in September. Part Oglala Sioux, he has been an activist on behalf of American Indians for two decades.

"In September, I met some of the Jesuit priests who operate the Red Cloud Indian School, and they asked if I would help with some fund-raising," said Stevens, who sported full tribal dress, including a war bonnet that trailed white eagle feathers below his knees.

"I said I'd help if they would visit Orange County and bring their best dancers with them. I hope this event can help clear the way for the Sioux children. The Sioux reservation has 85% unemployment. We want to help the children get a good education."

Rev. Father Peter Klink, school director, said Red Cloud--actually two elementary schools and one high school--has an enrollment of 700.

"American Indian children are like any children--inquisitive, bright," Klink said. "The tragedy comes when the brightness begins to be dimmed by the devastation of poverty. They start to think: 'I can't,' rather than 'I can.' We want to reverse that."

Klink said benefit proceeds would be used to buy computer equipment.

Both the U.S. and Sioux flags were presented before the 400 guests--mostly from Orange County's corporate sector--recited the Pledge of Allegiance and received spirited welcomes from the co-chairmen.

After dining on petit filet, shrimp and ice cream with hot apple compote, the crowd settled back to enjoy a dazzling exhibition of American Indian dance. Included was a parade of Indian princesses, the traditional dance of the Sioux (in which Jason Brave Heart participated), an eerie Apache devil dance and a pounding exhibition by world champion fancy war dancer Joe Bointy and his son, Joey, 7.

Connie Stevens, shimmering in a hot-blue ensemble flocked with glitter, was mistress of ceremonies, along with MC actor Patrick Wayne.

"American Indian youth are in desperate straits, and people just aren't paying close enough attention," she told guests.

Earlier, during the private reception, the actress had cited an example of that desperation: "In Wyoming recently, 29 American Indian teen-agers killed themselves, a copycat kind of suicide.

"It didn't even make Eyewitness News in Los Angeles. The kids are caught in a cultural gap. (While they are on the reservation they feel as if) they don't belong to any America. I feel so badly. I just keep asking my friends to help bring awareness to the problem. We hope to be the catalyst that will bring these children some answers."

The actress, who is also of American Indian descent, is founder of Windfeather, a nonprofit group that provides funds for American Indians.

Wayne said he had decided to appear on behalf of the cause because "people should be treated with dignity and respect." He attended with his son, Anthony, 10.

Among the guests was Jack Stafford, executive director of the Orange County Indian Center in Garden Grove. He said 25,000 American Indians live in Orange County.

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