CSUDH Pow Wow Postponed Due to COVID-19: Native American Community Shows Resilience in Troubled Timescsudhbulletin April 23, 2020 0 COMMENTS
The Head Man (left), Johnny Velasquez from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, led all the other dancers into the arena at last year’s pow wow. Photo by Glenn Marshall.
By Yeymy Garcia, Managing Editor
The elemental sounds of nature replicated by the flute and drums, the powerful singing of those who call to their ancestors, and the sacred connection of body and spirit as dancers move gracefully to the beat of drummer as the beads of their intricately fashioned regalia hit their bodies, are sounds and sights that mark every spring at CSUDH.
But they were only memories last weekend, as the university’s 10th Annual Pow Wow , which was scheduled for April 19, could not be held due to the coronavirus and California’s law against the gathering of more than 10 people.
Pow wows were cancelled all over the country, but that did not stop the Native American community from celebrating virtually.
Cheryl McKnight, CSUDH American Indian Institute director, said she and her team were saddened to cancel the event, but the short-term loss will be worth the long-term gain.
“Of course we are sad and disappointed, but it’s for the good of everyone,” said McKnight. “What we need to focus on is helping each other and doing what we can. We cannot let disappointment overshadow the larger picture. This is the time to remember who we are and we are truly all in this together.”
One percent of students on campus are American Indian. CSUDH lies on Gabrielino-Tongva land and has had the honor to have Tongva Spiritual Leader and Pipe Carrier, Jimi Castillo, lead prayer at every CSUDH pow wow.
Pow wows allow tribes from all over the world to come together to celebrate their tribe’s traditions and educate others in order to keep their history alive. “Pow wow” is actually supposed to be “pau-wau,” until the white man changed it. “Pau-wau” is a healing ceremony conducted by the spiritual or religious leader of a tribe that usually involves music, dancing, storytelling, and prayer.
Even though pow wows were canceled all over North America, the Native American community joined together through social media to dress up in their regalia, dance, and pray for everyone’s health against the coronavirus.
“I am so proud of our Indian communities showing that they are truly a resourceful and resilient people,” said McKnight. “As powwows were cancelled across the country, dancers from all over showed what a powwow is really about. Dancing is a kinetic prayer, and seeing children dancing for everyone through the ‘Social Distance’ powwow is awe-inspiring.”
The Native community, which consists of 574 distinct tribes in the U.S. alone, joined together to share their various cultures and traditions in the Facebook group, “Social Distance Powwow.”
The group was founded by Dan Simonds (Mashantucket Pequot), Whitney Rencountre [Crow Creek Sioux (Dakota)] and Stephanie Hebert (Mi’k maq) on March 17 and it currently has over 150,000 members.
Members share videos of them singing and dancing, and they are also welcome to sell their goods on the Facebook page. Simonds told Indianz.com that he is depressed because his career is based off of powwows. Vendors like himself have lost $10,000-$40,000 so he hopes the group can help others.
Storytelling to uplift others is another central theme of the Facebook group. According to Indianz.com, one member posted a video and shared a story of a young Native man who was killed by an enemy tribe and his father dreamed of his son who took him to the spirit world. There, he discovered his son was not allowed to pass into the spirit world because his family was grieving for him.
“For everybody who’s losing their loved ones to the coronavirus or to natural causes, I really hope this video may comfort you,” the young man who posted the video said. “We know as Indian people, we know this as the circle of life.”
The tragedies of the pandemic have only brought the Native community closer together through storytelling and dance, and McKnight asks everyone to join them.
“The saying is ‘I dance, so the people might live,’” said McKnight. “I think as people are panicking over groceries and paper goods, if they stop for a few minutes and watch these dancers, who are dancing for all of their relations throughout the world, they, too, will come to remember who they are.”