More than 150 dancers from as far away as the Navajo Nation and some originally from the Dakotas and beyond, descended on the temperate and shade-covered grounds for the inaugural University of Redlands Powwow on March 29-30.
A healthy mixture of Native and non-Native spectators hovered around the pow wow circle on Saturday afternoon with dancers and their relatives seated under trees, next to their pow wow rides and under store-bought canopies.
Alex Boberg was in town to watch a baseball game, but decided to attend the University of Redlands Powwow. “I love pow wows,” Boberg said. “I want to dance so badly, like that bird dance,” he said, referring to the chicken dance taking place as he spoke.
This was the university’s inaugural pow wow and the brainchild of California residents Vernon Motschman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and Nora Pulskamp of the Navajo Nation. Working for Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, Inc. since 1994, Motschman said the pow wow is not only about giving local Natives a pow wow, but also about trying to building a shared sense of identity among the students. “Last year we were looking at having a pow wow with the student programs and we were trying to build it up as much as possible, but this year we finally got it going,” Motschman said.
No stranger to putting on pow wows, Pulskamp saw the pow wow as an important victory for Natives in the area. “We tried to have a pow wow here for the last two years,” Pulskamp said. “The university never had one, and we finally had them approve it in December.”
Pulskamp said the pow wow is not only a big deal because it’s the inaugural one, but because the Redlands could be a prime location for Natives in Los Angeles and Riverside, putting it on the map.
The pow wow drew Northern traditional dancer Nathan Lee, Lakota, who was surprised by the large turnout for an area that’s not predominantly Native. Lee said that he was “impressed by all this grass” (referring to the land and not the category) and the way the committee organized the event.
Skye McMichael, La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians, was looking forward to the fancy dance competition. “We’ve got a lot of good competition,” said McMichael. “It’s going to make my job hard, but it’s pretty nice getting my masters here and participating in my own school’s pow wow.”
David Montellano was new to the pow wow scene, but captivated by the grand entry, the regalia, and saw something unique about the pow wow.
“I thought it was pretty impressive,” he said. His favorite part was watching all the dancers in their traditional attire.
As the night wore on, and the pow wow drums drowned out the noise of frat parties nearby, Pulskamp let it all sink in and said that in the last two years the Native student community has accomplished a great deal, and thanks to this pow wow, “we are going to reach triple the amount of people [next year].”