2002 Chico Pow Wow offers something for all the senses
It’s Saturday, and there are already what seems like a few hundred dancers, some of them coming from as far away as the Dakotas. A family decked out in all its fringed Native American finery passes, the man toting a folded purple stroller under one brightly garbed arm. Family, it seems, is the first order of business at the Chico Pow Wow, from the immediate family one is directly a part of to the extended family of all Indian nations.
The Chico Pow Wow is in its second year and is organized locally by a board of volunteers. One of the missions of the pow wow is “to promote a better understanding and appreciation of Native American culture.” One of the volunteers and vice president on the board of directors is Bebba Aguayo.
Aguayo stands a little over five feet tall, has long black hair and keen dark eyes. On Saturday, Aguayo is bustling about, making sure things are running smoothly. She promises to track down someone who will explain the intricacies and particulars of the pow wow, so in the meantime CN&R photographer Tom Angel and I take in the scene. We have been told beforehand to ask permission before snapping pictures—some of the contestants and participants can be understandably sensitive about that sort of thing. However, we also have been told that taking pictures during the grand entry is perfectly fine.
Until then, I purchase some food tickets and avail myself of the “Indian Taco” booth set up just outside the pavilion’s south door. With an authentic fry bread base, the “taco” more resembles a tostada, piled with beans, hamburger, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. The fry bread is a thick, golden brown, deep-fried discus. With the first bite, I immediately understand why Thomas, a character in the film Smoke Signals, is so smitten with his grandmother’s fry bread. After the meal, I go back and this time purchase a fry bread discus sans the taco accoutrements, asking to have it wrapped. It’s for later, you understand.
By now it’s time for Saturday’s Grand Entry. Dancers of almost every age enter the pavilion from the east, their regalia reflecting their particular tribal backgrounds, the pounding of the drums and cries of the drummers creating a mesmerizing effect. The dancers move into a clockwise-directed circle onto an assembled grassy area of about 20 x 30 yards. Amidst folding chairs set up around the perimeter for the participants and their families, among those nearest our particular grandstand section, a small girl, possibly 2 years old, whirls and swoops like a hawk in her fringed shawl. Her face is the visage of pure joy.
It is Sunday before I am able to corner Aguayo long enough for an interview. Seated at a picnic table well within aroma distance of the fry bread booth, we talk about the pow wow. Aguayo teaches a cultural class at Four Winds Indian School, a local institution dedicated to instructing Native—and non-Native—Americans in their people’s traditions. Three years ago, she and a small group of students would sometimes present dance exhibitions at the Farmers’ Market in Chico. Response was so positive, a decision was made to look into hosting a local pow wow.
“We had 4,000 people [attending last year],” Aguayo states. This year, 6,000 in all are anticipated before the gates close later on Sunday. She goes on to say that 348 dancers have registered for this year’s pow wow. “There are probably 300 different nations represented out there,” Aguayo says. The Chico Pow Wow is one of the largest in Northern California, and Aguayo would like to see it remain that way.
“It’s just a really good dream,” she says. “Bringing the people together here with song, dance and drum, bringing our culture together.”
I mention the young dancers, and Aguayo is quick to respond.
“Oh yes," she says, happily, "those children are our future."