The American Indian Student Council at Long Beach State hosted a virtual gathering on Nov. 20 to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has affected native communities, including Pow Wows.
This event was part of CSULB’s Native American Heritage Month Celebration 2020, organized by groups including the Office of Multicultural Affairs and American Indian Students Services at Puvungna.
Friday’s gathering invited Indigenous peoples throughout the U.S. to share what they have been doing during these past months as well as what the loss of attending Pow Wows meant for them.
Arlie Neskahi, who is a member of the Diné nation, which is a preferred term when referring to members of the Navajo nation, explained one of the stories he was taught about how Pow Wows came to be.
Once, Eagle was flying and saw people dancing, Neskahi said. When Eagle tried to dance with them, he realized he was too clumsy in his form to properly participate. But, Neskahi said, because Eagle liked the songs and dances, he wanted to give the people his feathers and his support so that his spirit would be with them when they danced.
“We are really closely tied to the earth, of things of the earth,” Neskahi said. “All the elements. When you go to Pow Wow and you look around you see all of that out there.”
Neskahi discussed that it was important for attendees to be cautious of the virus and compared it to how Europeans and Spainards brought diseases with them when they entered North America.
“We’ve been through this before and our elders, those who survived through it, their DNA, their blood is inside of us,” Neskahi said. “We need to use that to be very smart, we have to be smart. We must not fall prey to these diseases again.”
Attendees discussed missing the community behind Pow Wows, of getting to see family and friends and enjoy the food and the music. During the event, some attendees also performed live music, playing on their drum sets in their homes.
Sandra Sanchez, who is part Navajo, is a cultural coordinator for the Torres Martinez Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Office, explained how the organization is working to serve its native families while at home.
She started a virtual workshop for children that she described as “almost like a Pow Wow fitness weekly challenge.”
Families that signed up were given fitness measuring watches, an agility ladder and CDs from drumming groups so that people could dance and stay fit at home.
Sanchez said that she kept her own children dancing during this time in order to keep them engaged with their culture.
“I feel like culture keeps you balanced,” Sanchez said. “Whether it’s singing or whether it’s dancing, you need that spiritual balance in life.”
But Sanchez is not the only one that has gotten creative.
Tiny Morales, who is part of the Ojibwe people, created a Facebook page called Quarantine Dance Specials 2020 for the native community to post and share them performing traditional dances and upcoming virtual events.
“It’s not a Pow Wow by far, but we found a way to keep dancing,” Morales said.