More than 1,000 spectators and 100 dancers descended on the mission grounds in Oceanside, Calif. to celebrate the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians 21st Annual Inter-Tribal pow wow.
Weaving through a thick crowd of pow wow-goers and the jam-packed canopy tents lining the pow wow circle, northern traditional dancer Kale Flores was impressed by the tremendous turnout. “I’ve been here probably the last four years and it’s gotten progressively bigger each time,” the northern traditional dancer said. “I have to say — good marketing.”
“For us and a lot of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians around here, this is a big victory because we get to come back here and say we weren’t defeated. We get to come back and dance on this land where our ancestors were slaughtered,” said Flores.
Diana Caudale is the treasurer on the board of the California Indian Basketweavers Association for 15 years. Fulfilling the purpose of the association“to perpetuate and save our traditions for the basket weavers in the community,” The Luiseño weaver and her colleagues were one of dozens of booths and vendors lining the outskirts of the pow wow grounds. “Traditionally we used them for cooking, for gathering, for storage, for gifting, for ceremony, for death, and births,” said Caudale.
Caudale shared a similar sentiment as Flores. “This was our land, this was our village here, and the missions were the intruders. That’s why a lot of people don’t like to come to the mission grounds,” Looking out at the hundreds of people gathered for the tribe’s big annual event. Caudale said “We don’t look at it that way, we look at it as we are reclaiming what we lost.”
BobbyJohn Garcia, 68, stressed that his family’s attitude toward their Native heritage changed drastically with his generation. “I take pride in being a Native American. Most of my life I was Mexican or Chicano and then it started coming out and I found out I am more Native than anything else,” Garcia said.
“Growing up, my dad and all his brothers and sisters were not allowed to recognize themselves as being half Indians because you couldn’t vote, you couldn’t buy alcohol, you were a ward of the federal government, you belonged to them and they wanted nothing to do with being Native.”
The captain of the Luiseños, Mel Vernon, thought the pow wow was just right size. “I think it’s really special… you get a front row no matter where you are seating. The drums are here, the excitement is in your face and in your ears and you really feel a part of it.”
Vernon explained that his tribe is perpetually in the process of federal recognition. Vernon said that although recognition is a valid goal to strive for, it is in no way a prerequisite to being a tribe and a people.
The Luiseño captain contemplated the larger meaning behind their annual pow wow. “I cannot help but think even back then, the pride of being Native and doing these dances and traditions were still held very strongly,” Vernon said. “And I think in that spirit, acknowledging our ancestors for what they did and surviving— is a way of acknowledging them in a good way.”