BY: ARIELLA RAMES AND ALISON TRUAX
Keeping the traditions of American Indian culture alive may seem like a hefty task to accomplish, but through the practice of American Indian pow wows, Native Americans are sharing and renewing their rich culture and passing it on to natives and nonnatives alike each year. On March 9-10, California State University, Long Beach will be hosting the 43rd annual Pow Wow, the largest spring event of its kind in Southern California. The celebration encourages people of all ethnic backgrounds to join in the celebration of singing, dancing, crafting, eating and renewing of and making friendships.
Held on the upper campus quad, this event brings together people from all walks of life to partake in the two-day long celebratory ceremony.
The Pow Wow, started at the University in the late 1960s , remains a free two-day event, attracting more than 6,000 students, staff, professors, alumni community members and long-distance travelers annually.
CSULB Professor Craig Stone participated in the Pow Wow for over 20 years before organizing the Pow Wow in 1989. “The Pow Wow is an intercultural, intertribal event that is intergenerational and celebrates the American Indian Studies Program at CSULB that is the oldest program west of Mississippi.”
Native American pow wows have evolved with contemporary culture to embrace modernity while still incorporating many traditions of the past. While these events were originally designed to bring together natives only, they now invite individuals of all backgrounds to join in this annual homecoming and celebration of life.
“Historically, people came and danced and traded,” said Professor Stone. “Today, vendors come and pay a fee that helps to pay for the Pow Wows. Many vendors family members are also singers and dancers.”
Over the years, tribes have banned together at pow wows and the song, dance and attire has evolved to represent the union of many groups as well as individual tribal traditions. Songs, formerly tribe-specific, have been modified to honor individuals, veterans and students. At the CSULB Pow Wow, a mix of recently composed and traditional songs can be heard.
As the music has transformed, so have the dances. Dancing at pow wows has become an innovative practice, yet still holds on to aspects of the traditional. The Oklahoma Two Step is danced late Saturday night at the event. This dance involves a woman asking a man to dance and while courtship used to be the main focus, the Oklahoma Two Step is now about socializing and light-hearted fun.
Traditional garb, called regalia, which is worn at pow wows during dances and throughout the celebration, has also been modernized throughout the years. The garments, which represent each individual’s identity, have become brighter and more daring, incorporating sequins, neon colors and a range of fabrics.
Though times and styles have moved through the centuries, the vitality of American Indian pow wows still blossoms. Families flock from around the country and across state lines to come to CSULB every March for two days because, for American Indians, it brings unencumbered joy.
“It’s like a huge family reunion…no matter the tribe,” said Stone.