Celebrating American Indian Heritage in Cabazon

Plenty came to celebrate their American Indian heritage on Saturday at the 24th annual Thunder & Lightning Powwow in Cabazon.

Hosted by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the event is part of a 50-year-old summer "powwow circuit," where many dancers, artists, concessionaires and announcers make their living.

Competitive dancing and drumming for prize money is a relatively recent powwow development, but it still offers American Indians a chance to showcase to outsiders a variety of styles, including Cahuilla bird songs, gourd dancing, women's jingle dress and men's grass dance — all in full regalia.

"The thing I like about it is it's a big community gathering, where everyone can be together and live traditions and give a piece of them to others," said attendee James Siva. "Then again, that's also what I don't like about it because it turns culture into a consumer good."

Siva has been going to powwows since he was a baby and chose to bring his 8-month-old son to his first powwow Saturday.

Entire families boasting American Indian ancestry came to share in the powwow experience. 

"The fry bread is great, and I come here to teach my kids my heritage," said David Wiggs of Fullerton. "It's awesome to see these different tribes come together."

David Wiggs' mother Sharon Wiggs lives on the Morongo reservation and spent the day with his wife Tracy Wiggs, seven children, sisters, and niece and nephew.

Other participants were frustrated they couldn't get their families to attend. 

"I've just been watching the dancing, and I think everybody should come out to see it because it's part of Americana," said Louis Burch of Yucaipa. "That said, I can't get my kids to come see it. They'd rather watch TV."

Those taking a break from the dancing could peruse a bevy of booths and shop for American Indian jewelry, crafts and clothing.

Elaine and John Centeno's granddaughter was keeping them at the powwow while she looked for the right thing to buy.

"The dancing is good, but the merchandise is too expensive," Elaine Centeno said. "We've been here probably every year, and cultural events like these are very important."

John Centeno said he was of the Yaqui tribe in Tucson, which doesn't participate in the Morongo powwow.

"I've never seen one yet," John Centeno said. "I wish they were here."

 

By: Dave Nyczepir
The Desert Sun
September 27, 2014