You can dance it. You can draw it. You can write it down, or speak it. You can sing it if you like.

The point is: It's your story. You want some say over how it gets told.That's why Utah's American Indians are taking a tighter grip on their own stories -- celebrating their past on special days, in libraries and museums and perhaps at the 2002 Olympics.

Denise Hooper of the Goshute tribe says that when she was in school textbooks did not include the American Indian perspective. Native people were hardly mentioned -- except in the context of "the Indians were hostile to the settlers." Hostile and savage. She remembers how it felt to sit in school embarrassed and offended by those words.

Hooper came to Salt Lake City from Ibapah, Tooele County, on Friday. She drove a van full of students to the State Capitol to watch Gov. Mike Leavitt sign a proclamation declaring November to be "American Indian History Month" and making the Monday before Thanksgiving an annual "Indigenous People's Day." That means this year it will be Nov. 22.

Christina Clover, 14, said she was glad to have such a month and such a day, because "there's a Columbus Day and there's a Martin Luther King Day." And the Goshutes go way back, way before the pioneers, added Dellewis Bishop, 13.

Young as they are, these students know they can tell the history of their tribe. They first came to see themselves as historians four years ago, when teachers John Thomas and Marilyn Linares asked them to illustrate the story of how the Deep Creek Mountains came to be. Next spring the University of Utah press will publish "Pia Toya," the storybook they illustrated.

Emboldened by their publishing success, the students in Bonnie Thomas' class decided to write to the governor and ask him to set aside a day and a month for the Indian people.

Kristin Moon, who is now 12, wrote a letter to the governor and drew a mountain for the book. Charmetria Hooper, 16, also wrote, and drew a coyote and a hawk. The students say they had never heard the legend before their teachers told it to them and asked them to illustrate it.

Did their parents know the story? Denise Hooper says yes, she knew it -- but never thought to pass it on.

She'd taken to heart her American history lesson. She believed the ways of her people had no value.

Invisible people

That was the lesson Larry Blackhair learned as well, growing up Ute in the Uintah Basin. He talks about how invisible Indians are when the Olympics are on TV. There has never been anything shown about native people when the U.S. hosted the Games, he says. Not in Squaw Valley, not in Lake Placid, not in Atlanta.

There were the athletes to be proud of, though. Especially Billy Mills, a Lakota Sioux who won the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Olympics. Blackhair was proud again this fall when Billy Mills spoke up for him.

At the annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., Blackhair introduced a resolution on behalf of the Native American 2002 Foundation, a nonprofit organization he directs. Mills, one of several hundred tribal leaders at the congress, spoke in favor of the resolution. Blackhair says that's probably why it passed unanimously.

The resolution says, in part, that neither the U.S. government or the Olympics' Salt Lake Organizing Committee has done enough to recognize native peoples of the United States or actively sought their participation in the 2002 Games. It says a native presence is important at all Olympic Games, as evidenced by how well they were received in Calgary, Canada, in 1994.

Blackhair does credit SLOC with putting him on five different Olympic boards. He says he thinks organizers are giving American Indians a chance.

His foundation has already made several proposals to Games organizers. They want to be seen and they care about how they are seen, Blackhair says. "We want our children to see us as contemporary people."

Shelley Thomas, senior vice-president for public communications for SLOC, says organizers welcome the 2002 Foundation's proposals, as well as proposals from individuals or individual tribes. She encourages anyone in the community to volunteer or apply to be a vendor or to take part in the arts and cultural Olympiad.

Sharing a voice

For his part, Hartman Lomawaima is touched by the willingness he sees on the part of many Utahns to help American Indians tell their own history. Lomawaima is Hopi. He is also associate director of the Arizona State Museum. He came to Utah recently to the third annual American Indian Economic Development Summit to talk about tribal libraries and museums.

Utah government administrators also attended the conference. They represented the state's museums, libraries and historians. "That was really neat," says Lomawaima. "Those people made an important non-verbal statement to the Indians."

Lomawaima says museum curators are starting to realize that they are outside observers. They are starting to see that people from every community have their own stories, their own contributions to the big picture of human experience. He laughs when he thinks of the millions of museum artifacts labeled with the phrase, "probably used for ceremonial purposes."

Modern Indians know a lot about why certain objects were made and what they were used for, Lomawaima says. This is just one of a dozen reasons why local tribal museums are coming into being.

Currently the tribes have the choice to send their tribal records off to a federal repository or to keep them themselves. As more tribes choose to keep their own records, they become a place for researchers to visit. All over the West, he says, whole villages are starting oral history projects. The Gila River Indian community in Arizona just hired an archaeologist to teach them what to look for as they develop their own museum and cultural center.

As curators, "we are happy to provide technical assistance," Lomawaima says. "We are sharing our voice with a host of people who have equal or better knowledge."