The 16th annual Intertribal Pow Wow at Modesto Junior College on April 20, 2014, will have all the bells and whistles pow wows are known for: singing, dancing, beautiful regalia, delicious food, camaraderie among tribes, and booth after booth of handmade Indian jewelry, arts and crafts.
But according to Mitch Mitchell, the pow wow coordinator and a Lakota native from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, this Northern California event will be something extra-special. “We’re expecting a pretty good turnout this year because of our first-ever contest – a Fancy Shawl Competition for all ages — and we are running a sock and shoe drive for the children of the Pine Ridge reservation.”
Mitchell, who is president of the campus-based Red Nations & Friends club, a native student group that is sponsoring the pow wow in conjunction with the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and the Black Oak Casino Resort, said the Pine Ridge reservation is like a third-world country, and he has made it his club’s mission to educate people about the squalid conditions there.
“Pine Ridge is the most impoverished place in the United States, and we wanted to reach out and help our people,” he said. “It has an 86 percent unemployment rate, the alcoholism rate is over 80 percent and the average house is an old, beat-up 1970s mobile home with up to 20 people living in it.” He emphasized the urgency for assistance: “They don’t have propane or much food. The elderly and young people freeze and starve to death.”
Support from the community for this cause has been overwhelming, said Mitchell. “We’ve collected hundreds and hundreds of new and used shoes, clothing, blankets, jackets, sleeping bags … we’re picking up a load every week on campus.” What’s more, the college’s Black Student Union has chipped in by holding a drive of its own, and it will present its donations to the club on pow wow day. Mitchell said there will also be donation bins set up at the event for pow-wow attendees who want to contribute, too.
All the donations will be presented to Canupa Gluha Mani — a Lakota elder from the Pine Ridge Reservation, a Wounded Knee veteran and member of the Strong Heart Warrior Society – who will be a guest speaker at the pow wow.
“We decided that the best way to promote the pow wow is to have someone come out and educate the people in California about Pine Ridge. … Because of the Indian casinos and Rancherias out here, a lot of non-Indians think that Indians equal casinos, which equals big money, and they don’t realize the poverty that is going on in Indian country.”
Mitchell, a Marine who fought in Desert Storm, is especially proud that he pow wow will honor military veterans for their sacrifices to our country. At the opening ceremony, the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard will carry the U.S. flag and the Strong Heart Warrior Society will carry the eagle staff and tribal flags.
New to this 16th annual pow wow is a Fancy Shawl Competition, open to women of all ages. It is being sponsored by head woman dancer Rucha Diaz, an award-winning dancer who is well-known on the pow-wow circuit.
For more details on the 16th annual Intertribal Pow Wow at Modesto Junior College on April 20, 2014, e-mail Mitch Mitchell at: firstname.lastname@example.org.