UCR’s Annual Pow Wow

The University of California Riverside Sports Complex was home to the 31st Annual UCR Pow Wow that took place on May 25 and 26.  With over a dozen tents all strategically circled in the middle of the grass baseball fields on the corner of W. Blaine Street and Canyon Crest Drive, the UCR Sports Complex was transformed into a Sacred Circle where this inter-tribal social gathering celebrated Native American culture and traditions. This year’s event began Friday night at 5 p.m. when a ceremonial blessing of the land and dance took place inside the Sacred Circle. The blessing prepared the land for the traditional singing, dancing and storytelling that the various tribes would partake in until Saturday night at 10 p.m.

This year’s theme was “Honoring Our Warriors.” As UCR students, families, vendors and other Native Americans gathered at the beginning of the evening, they were met with the sounds of the Bird Songs. Nona Chubb explained how the traditional songs tell the stories of the Native Americans’ journey around the world twice and how they populated the world. “They teach the youth about their roots and the creation and migration of our people.” Chubb said, while she extended her arms out to gesture to all the young children and elderly dressed in their regalia and ready to dance. Chubb said to all watching, “We are celebrating life.”

As the Bird Songs continued, three men began singing and shaking their rattles in sync with one another. They invited all the Bird dancers to join them in the Sacred Circle. Three Native American women entered the circle, faced the men singing and moved their feet to the beat of the rattles. Each song was matched with a unique dance. At times the women took small steps side to side; other times they moved their knees to the rhythm of the music. Victoria Castro, a bird dancer of 12 years, said she enjoys keeping her culture alive while dancing. She said, “It is a good feeling to be dancing with my sisters and brothers.” As the Bird songs and dancing continued inside the Sacred Circle, the audience along the outer edge of the circle grew larger.

Amongst the audience was six-year-old Noah Little Hawk Toro and his grandmother Helen Toro. “Little Hawk” was dressed in his red and yellow regalia and he indulged in his nachos while watching his brother, Michael Spirit Bird Toro, perform the Gourd Dance with his cousin and grandfather as the sun began to set on the Sacred Circle. The Gourd Dance, which is also known as the Warriors Dance, is performed in honor of battles fought by warriors during their migration from the northern plains (Oklahoma). Spirit Bird stood behind his cousin in his red and blue outfit. “Spirit Bird” was one of the youngest to partake in the Gourd Dance, but he is highly respected by the older men because of his discipline and dedication to the warriors. 12-year-old Spirit Bird followed behind his cousin and grandfather, who are all Shoshoni Black Foot, and danced close to the outer edge of the circle to the rhythm of the drums while shaking the gourds (rattles).

While the dancing continued, guests were able to treat themselves to traditional Native American foods. A favorite amongst the crowd was frybread, which consists of deep fried flat dough that can be decorated as a dessert with honey, powdered sugar and cinnamon. Frybread can also be enjoyed as a meal and is the base of a Native American taco that is garnished with meat, tomatoes, cheese and lettuce. Either way, frybread won the crowd’s approval. Other vendors sold hand made Native American jewelry, clothes, bags, dream catchers and artifacts that all contributed to this cultural event. For two days UCR’s Sports Complex was transformed, allowing participants to taste, hear and witness the beauty of a Native American Pow Wow.

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