Pow Wow brings traditional Native American dance, food to CSULB

The booming of drumbeats, jingling of ornate Native American costumes and smells of fresh fry bread filled the air Saturday as the 43rd annual Cal State Puvungna Pow Wow kicked into gear.

Introduced in the late 1960s, Cal State Long Beach’s two-day Pow Wow remains the largest spring event of its kind in Southern California, according to American Indian studies professor Craig Stone. Attracting tribes from as far as West Virginia, the event is an opportunity for non-Native American and Native American people to join together in celebration.

The event, held on the Tongva people’s sacred land, Puvungna, is a gesture of respect and acknowledgement to the culture and history of Native American people, according to a CSULB American Indian Student Council press release.

Publicity Coordinator for the American Indian Student Council James Suazo and tribe member Jicarilla Apache said they have been participating in the event for four years.

“Less than 1 percent of students here are native,” Suazo said, “yet this is the largest student-run event. We are expecting over 6,000 people over the two days.”

Suazo said it’s rare for people outside of the Native American community to experience an event like the Pow Wow. The event gives community members, students and faculty a chance to ask questions and learn about native culture in a safe, open environment.

“It’s an opportunity to demystify stereotypes that surround the culture,” Suazo said.

Long Beach resident Michelle Cordova said she has been attending the Pow Wow with her son, Christian, for two years. Cordova, who is of Native American ancestry, said she came to the Pow Wow to experience the festival and buy sage to traditionally bless her new home.

“It’s a lot bigger this time,” Cordova said. “There are a lot more people and a lot more vendors, which is cool. But it makes it harder to see the dancers with so many people around, and the dancers are my favorite part.”

Set up around the central dance arena were various tents where handmade goods, art and jewelry were available for visitors to browse or buy as they took part in the event.

At Bella’s Creations booth, Louis Espinosa and his sister sold jewelry and moccasins. The sisters said they are of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe and have been selling their crafts since they were children.

“My sister started selling rings at Pow Wows and bull riding events when she was a child,” Espinosa said. “I helped her, going from person to person, selling them from a little box. That’s how it started.”

Dancer and Navajo Tribe member Phylicia Baca said she has participated in Pow Wows across the country for 10 years and that it has become her favorite pastime.

“My favorite part is the Fancy Shawl Dance,” Baca said. “It’s a dance just for women to show off all our colors. My mom hand-beaded the back of my regalia to show my home in Arizona.”

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