“RAIN OR SHINE!” headlined flyers for the 49th annual Puvungna Pow Wow and Outreach at Long Beach State. Shine it did.
Each thunderous drum hit galvanized a resounding turnout of guests singing and dancing together on the Central Quad Saturday afternoon. One of the biggest events of its kind in Southern California, the Pow Wow reinforced Long Beach’s storied support for the American Indian community.
Led by several American Indian student organizations, student counseling services, and Associated Students, Inc., the weekend-long event invited visitors to celebrate American Indian culture.
“[The Pow Wow] is not a spectator event,” said Arlie Neskahi (Diné), master of ceremony. “It’s not a performance. This is the style that we have developed to share with one another and because it’s open to all, people can come and be here and experience.”
This was Neskahi’s fourth year traveling down from Seattle to be the Master of Ceremony for the event.
“It’s always been an amazing thing for me that as [a] Native [person],” Neskahi said, “How much spirit and how much medicine is created right in the middle of an urban area. We got brick buildings. We got technology all around. But when we come together like this, we bring this spirit that is ageless and these songs and ceremonial ways that go back [with] our people thousands of years.”
Neskahi said his goals heading into the event were to liven the crowd with the history of Native songs and dance, support the students as future professionals and thank the university’s administration for maintaining a good relationship with the American Indian community.
He also felt that this event presented an opportunity to combat harmful stereotypes established by the longtime, deceptive portrayal of Natives in the media.
“Especially with today’s political climate, it’s really vital that people have a face-to-face connection with Native people to see for themselves who we are and how we think,” Neskahi said. “Also, the understanding of the huge diversity [among American Indians.] We’re not just one people. We’re all these [different] nations.”
Over 15 different flags, each representing a different tribe, circled the arena that hosted the singers and dancers. Lines full of people ready to taste authentic fry bread and Indian Tacos were formed farmers’ market-style. From the ever-popular dreamcatchers to personalized leather bracelets, nearly 50 different vendors sold traditional and contemporary native art and clothing.
The Pow Wow is a unique opportunity for students to experience American Indian culture, a sentiment echoed by the support from nearby schools and universities.
Alex Lora, a Long Beach Polytechnic High School student, and Amanda Nguyen, a Los Alamitos High School student, saw the Grand Entry for the first time after their teachers offered them extra credit to attend.
“It’s really nice to see all the different outfits that they’re wearing to celebrate their culture,” Lora said.
Lora and Nguyen said that they hope the Pow Wow is a step in the right direction to end the general public’s “pattern of ignorance” pertaining to American Indian culture.
“I think there’s definitely stereotypes that go around that are very prominent,” Nguyen said, “But they have these events so we can experience the culture and understand and respect what they’re going through.”
For Cal State Los Angeles student Ethan Gonzalez, a history project encouraged him to see something he wouldn’t normally be exposed to.
“It’s crazy how music and dancing is just embedded in every culture,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. I didn’t realize how big this [event] was in general and how many people come together for it.”