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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2018

Sunnybrook residents meet, learn from member of Kickapoo tribe

May 01, 2018
Photo by: Gretchen Teske Rudy Vallejo, a member of the Kickapoo tribe, encouraged Sunnybrook residents to dance with him during his visit Friday, April 27. Vallejo performed several native dances for the residents of Sunnybrook as part of a session in life-long learning.

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


Rudy Vallejo, sometimes known by his Indian name, Shipshewahno, has been performing traditional eagle and war dances for crowds for over 20 years. Vallejo, a member of the Kickapoo tribe of Kansas, visited Sunnybrook on Friday, April 27, to entertain and educate residents on Native American traditions.

Twenty residents gathered in the main room to watch Vallejo perform. Sunnybrook tries to provide at least one guest presentation a month in an effort to keep tenants entertained. Team leader Erika Calcagno explained that the staff asks residents what they are interested in learning about then take those ideas and try to provide something similar. “Life-long learning is our biggest thing,” she explained. “You’re never too old to learn something new.”

Since retiring 15 years ago, the East Moline, Ill. resident travels to nursing homes, schools and various other events to turn his childhood hobby into a full-time job.

“I always danced when I was a little guy,” he said. “It’s just something that fell into place.”

Vallejo did not grow up with the tribe, but often visited the family he had there. When he was nine years old, his grandfather gave him his Indian name, Shipshewahno: vision of a lion. The name is of Potawatomi origin, as is his tribe, the Kickapoo.

His experiences with the tribe inspired him to continue the traditions of his family and teach others as well. “As a little guy, to watch your grandmother dance, that really stuck with me,” he said. Vallejo now travels all over to perform the traditional eagle and war dances.

The eagle dance is an honor dance traditionally performed in honor of the elders of the tribe. He explained that real feathers are used in the dance, but are received from the National Eagle Repository in Colorado. Because it is illegal to pick up Eagle feathers from the ground, Native Americans can apply for them through the repository.

In order to prepare for the dance, Vallejo had to dress accordingly. On his head, he wore a head roach: a traditional headpiece fashioned of porcupine skin with red, white and blue feathers atop. On the floor lay a buffalo hide rug which he laid several noise makers and regalia on.

He then explained he would be performing a traditional war dance and encouraged residents to give out “war whoops” and get up and dance with him. “The Indians say it’s good medicine if you can walk around the buffalo,” he said.

For those who were unable to get up and walk, he handed noisemakers and encouraged them to join in. He then picked up his drum and led the group in a traditional chant. They began by singing the nursery rhyme, “Old MacDonald” then exchanged the words for vowel sounds, using the tune to sing together.

Vallejo’s wife, Debby, made the trip to watch him perform. She said his schedule varies but sometimes he performs every day of the week. “He likes me to come,” she said. “He has fun doing this.”

Residents were also pleased with his performance and said he was a favorite. Virginia Anderson, formerly of Farmington, has been living at Sunnybrook for the past five years. “We get kind of bored sitting here,” she said. “(But) it was all good, I learned a lot. We’ve had different speakers, but I think he was the best.”

For more information or to inquire about a visit, Vallejo can be reached at: or 563-320-0693.

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