Farmington Public Schools has joined forces with other south metro school districts to host its first-ever powwow for graduating American Indian students.

Students from Burnsville, Lakeville, Shakopee and Prior Lake-Savage schools will participate in the South of the River Pow-Wow to celebrate their cultural heritage and achievements. The public also is invited.

The event, held in collaboration with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Prairie Island Indian Community, will recognize more than 25 American Indian students Saturday, May 20, at Burnsville High School.

Numen Smith is one of the leaders behind the event. Smith began working for the Farmington district last year as its first Indian liaison. In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature approved funding that gave Farmington about $27,000 to develop its American Indian educational programs.

Smith works closely with more than 40 Indian students and their families, supporting them on their academic goals and offering cultural education opportunities. He even hosts potluck events, where his family cooks traditional Ojibwe food, to bring families together.

This weekend, two of Smith's students will be attending the powwow.

Smith said for some students, the May 20 event will be their first powwow.

"A lot of these kids are really disconnected from their culture," he said. "I'm glad I get the opportunity to bring it back and show them how beautiful our culture really is."

Smith and Burnsville's liaison, Dominic Good Buffalo, teamed up, along with the surrounding south metro districts to form the South of the River American Indian Home School Liaison Committee. As powwow season approached, the committee decided to put on an event for students. The two got to work and raised $10,000 for the event. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community contributed $500.

The all-day event will feature dancers, Indian vendors and a silent auction. A A grand entry of dancers starts at 1 p.m. Seniors will be honored with a presentation and song. Ringing Shield will be among the featured drum groups.

Twins Dante and Dayton Buck will both be recognized. The 18-year-old lacrosse players and Farmington High students will be attending Colorado State University-Pueblo next school year. Before moving to Farmington last year, the twins lived near the Prairie Island Indian Community near Red Wing. It's been a long time since both of them have been to a powwow, they said.

"It is important to keep the tradition alive," Dayton Buck said.

The two said their family members will be at the event to support them. Dante Buck said he is encouraging his lacrosse team to come, too.

"If you don't share it [the culture], it will eventually go away," he said.

Good Buffalo hopes the event helps students connect with their culture and with one another in the south metro area, which has a relatively small population of American Indian students.

"It's to let them know there are other native students in these south metro districts," he said.

Good Buffalo plans to pass the event on to students someday, so they can plan it.

Farmington High School Principal Jason Berg said the event will allow students to experience learning about American Indian culture outside the classroom.

"It will give the community an authentic experience," he said.

Some districts like Prior Lake and Shakopee have held their own smaller-scale powwows over the years. Good Buffalo said the May 20 event is expected to attract more than 1,000 people.

"It has never been on this scale," he said.

Powwows are a long-standing American Indian tradition that include singing, dancing and feasting. Tribes from across the state will be in attendance.

"It's breathtaking," Smith said. "If you have never been to one, you will never forget it."

The free event will not only be a learning event for students but for the community as well.

"This will bring education to the community where a lot of people ... don't know what a powwow is," Good Buffalo said.

Beatrice Dupuy • 612-673-1707