On the ancestral lands of the Kumeyaay people, 40-50 dancers and a few hundred spectators flocked to the coastal campus of the University of California San Diego for the 7th Annual UCSD pow wow, on Friday and Saturday, May 19-20, 2017. They all received a big-hearted welcome.
“What’s special about our pow wow is we crown a UCSD princess and she earns a $1,000 scholarship to continue in higher education,” chair of the Native American Student Alliance and pow wow organizer Burgundy Fletcher, Peoria, said.
Fletcher, an ethnic studies major who will graduate from UCSD next month, explained the goal of the pow wow “is to bring people here, make them feel welcomed on campus, and for the young people, especially Natives, to feel this is a place they can come to college eventually.”
First-time pow wow goer Marielle Teng, a UCSD political science freshman, said she and her friend heard about the pow wow and decided to give it a chance. “I noticed they do a lot of hand-shaking and show a lot of respect for their elders, which is really cool. As an Asian American, it’s very similar [to my] culture and it’s good to know everybody respects their elders.”
Formerly a combat engineer in the Marine Corps, Joe says he was forever changed after making two trips to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock. He described it as a brutal scene yet one with modern-day indigenous heroes. “Second time I was there in December, it got so cold they couldn’t use the water cannons no more,” Joe said. “That’s when they started shooting us with beanbags, rubber bullets, shotgun pellets with smiley faces on them, and CS gas.”
Joe was encouraged by what he saw at the pow wow and how people were awakening the Native Spirit and the warrior within. “I like the pow wow because it’s bringing history back to the UCSD college students, real history, Native history that is not taught in any college class. So if you really want to know about Native history, come to the pow wow and talk to us.”
One of the more popular attractions of the weekend was the handsome Wanblee Ista Wicapi Sapa (The Eagle is Black but the Eye is a Star), who joked, “My Indian name is Steve Garcia.” The Tongva/Apache/Yaqui headman hypnotized both the spectators and dancers alike with his highly expressive eagle dance.
“It was given to me when I was a young boy,” Garcia said of his dance that mimics a great eagle in flight. “They told me they kept seeing an eagle dancer and that someday I would be bringing that dance to the people.”
It took the chiseled quinquagenarian five to six years to obtain the necessary eagle parts and feathers from the National Eagle Repository. “When I got those wings and they sent the feathers,” Garcia said that instead of making a bustle, “I brought back that dance.”
Natalia Shaw, Ojibwe, was crowned the new UCSD Pow Wow Princess with much fanfare. The jingle dress dancer graduated earlier in the month from the University of Redlands with a degree in environmental science. “As the pow wow princess, it is my duty to represent the UCSD pow wow in a good way and to be humble, to be social, and to be a role model for young princesses or those aspiring to enter the pow wow circle,” Shaw said after illustrating her plan to attend at least 50 pow wows during her reign.
Before commencing studies for her masters at Northern Arizona University in the fall, Shaw will intern at the Central Arizona Project in the tribal water resources department, where her ultimate goal is to “increase Native representation within environmental policy decisions because environmentalists are making decisions that are impacting Indian country and a lot of time there isn’t Native representation.”
With the sun sinking on the horizon on Day Two, pow wow organizer Fletcher reflected on the natural beauty of the sacred ground beneath her feet. “We have a lot of the local Kumeyaay and Luiseño people here,” she said. “And so, a lot of the people whose homeland this is, they’re dancing and participating today.”
All 2017 UCSD Pow Wow photos by Diego James Robles: