Sixty-six-year-old Carolyn “Woman of the People” Reyes danced to the beat of the drum as the cone-shaped jingles sewn to her dress chimed. Her dandelion-yellow “healing dress” was embroidered with homemade turquoise beads that mirrored the sunny skies.
Tribes from all over the country gathered at California State University, Long Beach over the weekend for the 45th annual Pow Wow. American-Indian culture, expressed with dances, crafts and cuisine, filled the campus. Attendees strolled through the booths and watched the drum-driven presentations from bleachers and lawn chairs.
Reyes, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, came from North Dakota, to join in the Pow Wow celebration.
“When I dance, I actually dance for the people,” Reyes said. “This is [the Ojibwe people’s] cultural way of dancing; each jingle represents a prayer.”
Reyes said the tradition of jingle dancing started over a hundred years ago when the granddaughter of an elder in the Ojibwe tribe became ill. It is believed that God came to the elder in a dream and taught him about the dress and the dance.
Each tribe brought specific routines that correspond with their culture. The performers were separated into a number of different categories like tiny tots, junior and teen boys and girls, traditional and golden age men and women.
Women shawl dancers twirled in intricate capes with brightly colored fringe on the ends to mimic butterflies.
Shawl dancing originated in the Northern tribes when young women, in particular, really wanted to express themselves. They jump, spin and keep pace with the music, Reyes said.
“[Cultures are represented in] different ways [and] on different levels here in this one space,” said Larry Smith, 2015 Pow Wow Committee member and adjunct professor of American Indian studies at CSULB. ”Pow Wows are a temporary space for a decentralized urban indigenous population to come together in a centralized space and reconnect with each other.”
Siblings Storm and Wolf McMasters of the Cherokee and Creek tribes drove from Lancaster to perform in their personalized regalia.
The yarn from their attire blew in the wind symbolizing the sweet grass blowing in the prairie. Wolf said that the yellow represents the sun, red represents the people, blue is for protection and black is for the unknown.
The headdress the brother and sister wore took them more than a month to bead, using techniques they inherited from an elder. It featured a mirror that could mean a variety of things such as wealth or a portal to the spirit world, they said.
Attendees who were not competing shopped around through more than 30 vendor booths.
Passersby ogled the native jewelry, bags, dream catchers and tee shirts; they stood in line to buy traditional frybread and native tacos.
Sophomore Marleena Higgins, an art major at CSULB, said the frybread was like “heaven” because of its versatility being both dinner and dessert.
The event is one of the first powwows of the year; at these gatherings, people get to “be proud of who they are and be proud of being American Indian,” Reyes said.