The longest running pow wow in the state, the 47th Annual Sierra Mono Museum Pow Wow & Indian Fair Days, bringing tribal members from as far as Bishop and Sacramento, was held Aug. 5 and 6 at Minarets High School just off Highway 41 in O’Neals.
With more than 25 categories for competitors to participate in, Indian Fair Days was a weekend of great energy and colorful dancers.
Pow wows provide opportunities for people to come together to sing, dance, make friends, and renew old friendships.
Kelly Marshall, who has served as president of the North Fork Sierra Mono Museum for 17 years, said the pow wow is important to the tribal community.
“Everyone comes out in their full regalia and we have mothers and fathers dancing with their children,” Marshall said. “The dancers do not compete against each other, but against the drums, and the judges watch them all closely.”
There were more than 50 dancers at the event in 15 different dance divisions including Tiny Tots, Junior Boys and Girls Traditional, men’s Shawl, women’s Hat, and men’s and women’s Fancy and Jingle.
Tom Phillips, who relocated to California from Oklahoma, is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and the Red Buffalo Drummers & Singers who get together from different towns in the state, and travel to pow wows throughout California most weekends during the summer.
“These drums represent the heart beat of our people and our world, and the drum beat also is an inspiration to us,” Phillips said. “The drums are the center of our ceremonies. Mother Earth has a heartbeat herself as she rotates around her axis.”
Phillips said pow wows are important to perpetuate tribal traditions.
“We get together to sing and dance - the purpose of pow wows is to perpetuate our culture, and to hand it (tribal culture) down to our children and grandchildren. We don’t teach from books, or from classrooms. We teach them here on the ground.”
Every regalia is very different, personal and represents many religious symbols and stories. The design and colors of the regalia is a reference to the history of the tribe that each person was born into.
Today, pow wows have become an intertribal event and are a time when older customs and ways are brought to the present day and age. It is more than just Indians dancing and singing. These cultural events help to solidify Indian communities as well as provide an opportunity to teach and learn many traditional customs.
The annual pow wow wouldn’t be complete without the sounds of Native American drums, the smell of incense floating through summer afternoon heat and Indian Tacos.
“We want people to come to our pow wows and meet us or be reintroduced to our way of life and belief system,” Marshall added. “It helps to break down the stereotypes of who people think we are.”