Surrounded by tall commercial buildings and a busy downtown scene, more than 1,000 people attended the American Indian Heritage Pow Wow, a two-day event in San Diego’s Balboa Park on May 10-11. The intertribal exhibition pow wow, a type becoming rare these days because of the popularity of larger competition pow wows, was organized by the American Indian Heritage Committee, the San Diego Unified School District’s Title VII Indian Education Program and San Diego American Indian Health Center.
Pow wow founder, organizer and announcer, Randy Edmonds, Kiowa/Caddo, said the goal of the pow wow was to, “brings many different tribes together to celebrate their traditions, their culture through song and dance, prayer and the gathering of different tribal groups to come together as a Native people.” Edmonds, who is originally from Oklahoma, said he started the pow wow in 1978 to boost economic opportunity for local Natives. He wanted them to have a place to sell their wares and their food, at least once a year.
David Shockey, had one of the more popular booths amongst the few dozen or so encircling the pow wow grounds. Surrounded by an assortment of ancient tools, fossils, old bones, hand-made bows, ropes, pottery and other primitive artifacts, Shockey passionately informed curious people walking by and anybody who would stop and listen, that all of these “old things” came from San Diego and were once used by people to survive and even thrive before the advent of recorded human history.
“This represents the material culture from the last 13,000 years,” Shockey says while picking up diverse things and describing their primary use, as well as what he suspects were their secondary uses.
“I want to honor the people who lived here for thousands of years,” he adds while handling an aquatic carrying net.
The pow wow, or this type of low-key non-competition pow wow was something new for 12-year-old Alexandria Roubideaux. The Southern Ute/Kiowa/Caddo dancer from Ignacio, Colorado, represents her tribe as the Jr. Miss Southern Ute Powwow Princess.
“The pow wow is okay.There are more people who dress differently than in Colorado,” she said about the number of diverse of people and their style that she’s not use to seeing in pow wows on her reservation. Nonetheless, Roubideaux was happy to see something different including the beach; something her land-locked state does not have.
Elizabeth Molina was taking in the sights and sounds of the pow wow wearing the traditional, colorful “atuendos.” The San Diego native of Azteca descent, was part of the Danza Azteca Calpulli Mexihca dance troupe and was invited to perform a handful of songs in the pow wow arena. Molina praised the pow wow and the “really great vibes” people were giving her as well as the feeling of joy she and her sister experienced from the invitation from her “Native American brothers.”
Mother and daughter pair, Bobbi and Gina Tiger, Lakota, found it difficult to stay seated for more than a few minutes as the pow wow drum kept calling them. The duo liked the pow wow’s format and carefree atmosphere.
“I think it’s a nice gathering, for this community” Gina said. “It’s nice for a lot of people who are from this area to be able to come out and enjoy the drum and the dancers and the food and some of our traditions.” The two dancers prefer intertribal pow wows because people from different Native nations can dance together in harmony and fellowship. “Basically, we are all from the same tribe,” Bobbi said. “We all dance to the same drum.”
Edmonds was sitting down in a comfortable folding chair away from the action while the Aztec dancers performed their high intensity routine complete with drums and smoke. He reflected on the more than 50 tribal groups that attended his community pow wow. “If you want more dancers — the elite portion of the dancers — you then put in an amount of money so that they will come.”
“But ours is just a gathering of community members, and people who want to come and be a part of the pow wow itself,” Edmonds said. “We are all related, and we are all Indians.”