Four hundred people from approximately 20 tribes across the western United States gathered Saturday at the ARC Pavilion for the 38th annual UC Davis Powwow.
The celebration, entitled “Honoring Our Elders,” was the grand finale of a week of events that included a game of “stickball” on the Quad and a powwow dancing workshop. Sponsors included the Native American Student Union, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, ASUCD, the Native American Studies Department, the Native American Faculty and Staff Association and the Cross-Cultural Center.
First-time participant Michelle McCauley and last year’s Head Woman, Crystal Howell, made the drive with family members from Nevada to attend. Howell was proud to represent her mixed Paiute and Lummi background, while McCauley was present to honor her Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone heritage.
“The good drums and dancers give me a sense of pride,” McCauley said. “To see the culture doing well makes me very happy.”
Dancing, drumming and singing were in full swing throughout the day. Just before noon, Native Americans dressed in elaborate costumes performed a Gourd Dance, which originates from Oklahoma.
Traditionally, Native American dress is separated into four different styles. There is the Northern traditional style, which includes eagle-feathered bustles as opposed to Southern traditional outfits, which have no bustle. Fancy Dancers dress in neon with two bustles while the Grass Dancers are garbed in fringe, said Percy Edwards, a Native American of the Colville Confederated Tribes.
All four styles were on display during the Grand Entry, when approximately 100 participants, ranging from infants to adults, processed around the Pavilion.
This year’s theme was “From Our Roots We Gain Strength for the Future.” Part of the powwow’s significance is to build community and pass on traditions. Young children were seen learning about their heritage from their elders throughout the day.
“[I love to] encourage the little kids to get on the floor, teach them traditions and just get them out there,” Edwards said.
Edwards explained the importance of respecting elders, especially chiefs and Head Men. Once a man becomes chief in the Colville Confederated Tribes, all of his material belongings are taken away. The tribe provides for the chief, enabling him to focus solely on the betterment of the tribe.
“Honoring the elders is so important. All information and livelihood is passed through them. Without them, we would be lost,” said Edwards.
Donnie LeDesma of the California Band of Mission Indians, attended the powwow with his wife.
“We’re part of the Golden Age, we’ve been here since almost the beginning of this tradition,” LeDesma said. “I’m glad to hear that they’re recognizing the elders this year, especially now that I am an elder! It is good to hear that they’re still continuing very time-honored traditions.”
SHAWNA APALDEMIR can be reached at email@example.com.