Pow wow pride
Native dancers keep traditions alive at Chico event
As rain gave way to sunny skies at 20th Street Community Park, dozens of dancers prepared for the Grand Entry dance, the official start of the Fifth Annual Chico Pow Wow. Distinguished elders adjusted their long, feathered headdresses, and toddlers wriggled as jewels were applied to tiny faces for the “tiny tots” competition.
Hundreds looked on as, clad in native dress, the dancers circled the large, grassy event center to the sound of increasingly louder drumbeats.
Some songs were ceremonial, others celebratory. But all had significant meaning, and participants came from as far away as Montana and New Mexico to share their traditions.
As Steve Santos, chairman of the local Mechoopda tribe, strolled the site, he was also readying himself to offer an invocation and welcome. “When you go to an area or a land, you pay honor to the Native Americans of the area,” he explained. In turn, he said, “It’s an honor to have them here.”
Crafts and merchandise booths included hand-carved flutes, Pendleton blankets and a sea of T-shirts with spectacularly subversive sayings, including the popular “Homeland Security” shirt referencing the invasive date of 1492.
For many of the indigenous people at the pow wow, it was a chance to celebrate their culture in a way that was once forbidden by the United States government.
As he introduced the gourd dance, arena director Shadowhawk mentioned that between 1880 and 1935, the federal government, acting out of ignorance and fear of the Plains Indians, made all cultural activities by Native Americans illegal.
“There was no dancing, no ceremonies, no songs,” he said. To keep their traditions alive, “people had to go underground.”
In recognition of the Native Americans who have been held captive by drugs or alcohol, the pow wow also had a sobriety theme, “Sober Nations,” and health-related booths set up along one edge of the park.