RIVERTON - As members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe danced, drummed and displayed veterans' flags in President Barack Obama's inauguration parade, 14-year-old Kanani Shoyo noticed a section of bright light ahead of them.
Dressed in the tribe's traditional ceremonial attire in frigid Washington, D.C., Shoyo and others in the group saw America's 44th president beaming at them from a secure spot above the procession.
"It felt like I was already cold and then I felt chills," the junior high student in Fort Washakie said about seeing Obama.
The tribe served as representatives of the Wind River Indian Reservation as well as Wyoming's ambassadors in the ceremonial parade.
"We're grateful we got the chance to come here and be a part of this," Shoyo said in a phone interview with The Ranger on Wednesday morning from the Washington area.
"It means a lot to me because him being the first African-American president, I know that he's trying to make a difference in the United States, and I think he can. I can't vote yet, but in my mind I was thinking because of how he speaks, he's really fluent, and I think he's going to make a difference," she said.
The experience for Shoyo and the roughly 20 other tribal members attending Tuesday's inauguration ceremony was one they will not soon forget.
"It was really cool, like not very many people will be able to experience that in their lifetime," said Jessica Swallow, 15, who is a freshman at Lander Valley High School. Swallow, who was one of the dancers from the UNITY Youth Council in the parade, said the most exciting part of the day arrived when she saw the president.
"We walked down and then there were really, really bright lights, and we just kept walking," she said. "Obama was just standing there waving. It was just way sweet."
Obama serving as president is symbolic of larger issues involving race relations in the country, she said.
"I think it's really good just because … like the minority is kind of in charge of the U.S. now, and it's just opened people's eyes that other races are just as good," Swallow said.
The tribe members arrived at the parade staging area Tuesday morning as the crowd continued to swell to an estimated 2 million for the gathering. They passed through strict security measures as temperatures reached just above the freezing mark.
"I mean it was real cold," said Lyle Wadda, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council. "We had a wait outside maybe a couple two or three hours in cold temperatures. Just a lot of time getting through security and the staging area and getting called out and sent out."
While Obama delivered his inauguration speech, the tribe's members had gathered in a bus waiting for the parade to start.
"We heard that as we were sitting in a staging area on a bus. That's how we saw that on TV," Wadda said of watching the president taking the oath of office. "We were in a staging area, and it was just a mass of people, bands and marching units."
John St. Clair, the chief tribal judge for the reservation, said he could not see the president and others as the tribe passed along on the parade route.
"Of course passing the president, that was one of the highlights," said St. Clair, who marched as part of the veterans' color guard.
"I think what was really inspiring as we proceeded along the route, the reception and the applause by the public and their presence made it all worthwhile," he said. "It was an honor to be in the parade as participants and a once-in-a-lifetime thing and to represent the state of Wyoming."
St. Clair is optimistic for the country's future with Obama as president.
"Especially for the young people. I have a 13-year-old daughter, and some of the other participants in the entourage here today are around that age," St. Clair said. "I think for them that great inspiration will hopefully motivate them to apply themselves to try to achieve the dreams and goals they have, and this is an example of actually achieving their dreams."
St. Clair, who participated in the parade as part of the veterans' color guard, said Obama's election serves as an inspiration to all Americans.
"I think he depicts the American story of how anyone can achieve their goals if they just apply themselves," he said. "It displays the fact that any person from any ethnic group if they apply themselves when they're young and throughout their lives they can achieve the top."
Layha Spoonhunter, 18, has dedicated much of his time over the past several months to campaigning for Obama, so participating in the inauguration was extra special for him.
"Through everything that I've been through this year, I think this inauguration is just a perfect - I don't want to say conclusion - but a perfect thing to follow up on being at the Democratic National Convention, being a delegate, being on his campaign, on his committee," Spoonhunter said. "This was a perfect finish to all that."
Now with the inauguration, "This is the beginning," he added.
Spoonhunter, who serves as the chairman of the Wind River UNITY Council, said he listened to Obama's speech as they prepared for the parade to start.
"What I heard was a feeling of hope, change, what good will come out of this presidency," he said.
"Working on his campaign, just the feeling of excitement on the night he won and just being able to experience yesterday the inauguration is something that I will treasure forever. I know this marks a new beginning in American history," he said.
For Pauline Siers, 13, a junior high student in Fort Washakie, the trip has been "an opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "It was pretty awesome."