The Native American Student Union (NASU) held the 36th annual Davis Powwow on Saturday in the ARC Pavilion to kick off Native American Culture Week.
“A powwow is a social gathering of the tribes,” explained April Negrette, co-chair of the event and a first-year undeclared major. Powwows are seasonal events beginning in March and ending in October, taking place across the nation.
The festivities began at 10 a.m. with the Pomo dancers and ended shortly after 11 p.m. following the switch dancers.
The Powwow, which has been absent from Davis for two yearsdue to an unusually low Native American population in the student body, was made possible thanks to the efforts of the Powwow Committee, chaired by members of NASU, and a rise in Native American population.
“There was a big boom in the Native American student population this year,” said DJ Worley, a Davis graduate and current graduate student in Native American studies, and long standing member of NASU.
The event is focused around competitive dancing categorized by age and gender, with prize money being awarded to winners in each category.
“We’re here to encourage cultural diversity on campus, to bring our community to the Davis community,” Negrette said. “This is our first big event on campus this year, and we’re really excited to be able to bring back the powwow.”
Negrette, a Shoshonia-Paiute Native American, was in charge of vendors and facilities. Multi-colored hand woven rugs, ponchos, handbags, a variety of shirts, jewelry, dream catchers and musical instruments were all available for sale.
For most in attendance, this was their first powwow of the year.
“I’m so glad this is happening. It’s so much more than I expected,” Negrette said. “Every time I hear the jingling of the regalia, I get excited, I’m ecstatic.”
Regalia refer to the elaborate multicolored feather- and bell- covered outfits worn by many of the dancers. A dancer’s regalia determines which dance they compete in such as the Men’s Fancy or Men’s Traditional.
Donnie LeDesma danced in his first powwow in five years this weekend, competing in the Northern Men’s Traditional. Of the Southern California Mission Band, LeDesma has been coming to the Davis Powwow for 35 years.
“I come to see family and friends,” LeDesma said. “A powwow is a social event where you can have fun in a family atmosphere. Everyone comes together – all different nations. It’s an intertribal gathering.”
LeDesma’s wife Dolores is of the Navajo tribe. “Every tribe has their own style [of dancing],” LeDesma said.
This powwow featured a northern and southern drum. LeDesma explained that the southern drum was more traditional, while the northern drum tended to focus more on an intertribal style.
“I just like watching young people come out, I like to see the next generation respect and honor the tradition of the powwow,” LeDesma said. “It’s real respectful, honoring different generations, and it shows we’re still proud of what we do and how we dance. This tradition is strong in our culture.”
The largest powwow, called the Gathering of the Nations, is held in Albuquerque, N.M. at the end of October, LeDesma said.
Cason Macbride, a UC Santa Cruz graduate now teaching art and theater at East Bay Arts in Hayward, travels across California for powwows competing in the Men’s Fancy and hopes to someday be able to attend the Gathering of Nations.
“I like the respect for everyone,” Macbride said. “There’s not a lot of cultures that men’s dancing is so accepted, and here it’s all about being yourself. You dance to express yourself.”
In one season, Macbride won over $4,000 dancing, “and that’s not much compared to some of these guys,” he said.
Dancing is not the only thing that draws a large crowd here.
Wailaki’s Indian Taco stand, which set up shop outside the southeast corner of the Pavilion, estimated selling over 600 Indian tacos alone, said manager Marcia Hoaglan.
The Indian tacos are served on a deep fried fluffy dough called fry bread and topped with chili beans and bison meat, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.
“Next year, we’ll definitely have more food stands,” said Hailey Ferroni, a first-year psychology and Native American studies major, in reference to the enormous lines at the taco stand.
“But I’m really glad that the students came together like this,” Ferroni said. “there was a great turnout. A lot of people showed up and we definitely look forward to it next year, we want to expand it more, get more advertising.”
“It’s been a good powwow,” Hoaglan said. “For the first one being back they did a really good job. There were singers and dancers from all over.”
Karla Marquez, a senior international relations major, read about the event on a poster in the quad. She came after attending Danzantes del Alma.
“There’s a similar sense of culture and community,” Marquez said. “I like that this allows you to really feel like a part of the event. We’re all surrounding dancers and you can feel what they’re are feeling.”
Other students heard about the event through Native American studies classes, like Angela Medina, a first-year human development major, and Gabby Glucksman, a sophomore animal sciences major.
“I loved the tiny tots. They were hilarious,” Medina said. “The one looked like he was trying to be an eagle; we definitely plan on volunteering next year.”
“It was awesome, I loved all the cool regalia the dancers wore,” Glucksman said.
Negrette’s favorite part was the switch dance, when the men dressed up like women and vice versa. Ferroni liked the tiny tots, where children 5 years old and under competed.
“This was a lot more than we expected,” Negrette said. “I’m really happy that so many people cared to come up here.”
CHARLES HINRIKSSON can be reached at email@example.com.