Not so long ago, at least not when measured by our dreams, the horse was central to many of our people’s gatherings and ceremonies. A rider was once sent out – to send word to neighboring tribes. And when the time came to join in feast or celebration, the horse was once again pressed into service; carrying trade items, regalia, ceremonial goods, and often pulling a travois with more supplies.
In the urban sprawl of Southern California there are several hundred thousand Indian people. They are Diné, Apache, Cherokee, Lakota, Choctaw, Perupecha, Laguna, Hopi, Haida, Blackfoot, Shoshone, Chumash, Maidu, Tatavium, Gabrielino, Mexica, Seminole, Osage, Oneida, S’klallam, and every other nation imaginable. Some are members of recognized tribes, some are not; all of them depend on intertribal community gatherings, such as the Children of Many Colors Powwow, to keep their heritage alive in the concrete and asphalt jungles of the sunshine state.
Over the past decade, many intertribal family-oriented community powwows have folded. Finding affordable spaces to host gatherings has become a challenge. Most community powwows in California lack a tribal land base; they are held in public parks, at colleges and universities, or on private land. Public entities that at one time could afford to offer free or discounted space for cultural events, now have economic problems of their own. Other hidden expenses have increased also. For example, many venues now require insurance coverage, and powwows often provide meals for dancers and staff and sometimes lodging must be provided for key individuals that travel from other communities. The price tags for all these items (and more) have been rising, sometimes steeply.
The economic crunch has affected the Children of Many Colors Powwow also; it was “put to sleep” for seven years and then reawakened in 2004. In 2006, the powwow returned to Moorpark College, where it had been held successfully for a number of years in the late 1990s. Redbird, the organizational power behind the powwow, has been involved in an uphill struggle to bring the powwow into the black financially. The organizers have been blessed with the enduring strength and vitality of Native people, as supporters have returned and renewed their commitment to this all-volunteer, non-contest gathering.
This year’s upcoming powwow, to be held from July 16 – 18, was nearly cancelled in February for lack of funding. An overwhelming outpouring of community sentiment has encouraged Redbird to make it happen, money or not, at least one more time. In the face of stark financial realities, the powwow committee is “looking back to our past for help,” they are banking on a horse, “to carry our dreams.” To be exact, it’s a model horse, named Sacred Smoke.
Sacred Smoke stands just 20 inches tall at the tip of his ears; but he has presence, and his presence is making the rounds of Southern California gatherings. He will be raffled July 18 at 4 p.m. at the Children of Many Colors Powwow. Tickets are $1 each, and the powwow committee hopes that by the time Sacred Smoke finds his new home, they will have sold enough to bring the powwow into the black.
While the horse has presence, it is the full Plains style Native American regalia that has people stopping to stare. All of it was created with painstaking attention to detail from natural materials, and in some cases, from very special materials. The saddle, a tall woman’s saddle designed to support a travois, is made from hand-hewn cedar boughs and pine planks, wet-wrapped in elk skin and hand-sewn with sinew. The stirrups are wet-wrapped cow hide. The braided bosal bridle is adorned with seven feathers. The full wing fan that hangs from the saddle is hand-stretched and wrapped. The travois is loaded with bundles of herbs, gourds, a strike a light bag, firewood, furs and other necessities for a woman’s journey.
The elk used to create Sacred Smoke’s regalia – nearly a quarter of a hide’s worth, is special too. In 2007, a gourd dancer asked artist Corina Roberts to make him a pair of leggings for his dance regalia. In the winter of 2008, this dancer made his journey to the Spirit World, sooner than anyone had expected. The elk that makes up the breast-collar, side drops and saddle skirt, as well as the saddle itself, are the scraps leftover from making those leggings.
The horse itself has undergone some modification. Originally a Christmas gift, it was a toy, a buckskin colored Morgan who had outlived the fancy of his child owner and found himself at a garage sale in Bakersfield. Gary Pickett, a flint-knapper and Redbird board member, saw the horse and knew where it belonged.
“I knew Corina could do something with him. I’ve seen her take a plain plastic toy horse and make it into something with spirit – that looks alive. I knew she could do something really nice with this one. I had no idea she would make him into a powwow icon.”
Roberts refers to this new piece as a replica of a “1800s Northern Plains motor home.” She describes it to potential ticket purchasers accordingly; “ … power steering, power antilock braking system, four wheel drive and independent suspension, custom paint, leather interior, air conditioning, fender skirts and bumper guard, fully loaded detachable trailer, runs on biofuels, and in a pinch, it was edible.”
Sacred Smoke is a dark bay tovero pinto mustang gelding. His markings are realistic; where white is present on his face, he has a blue eye; three of his hooves are striped where white markings dominate his legs. Grey “mapping” separates the white and dark umber colors on his body. His synthetic mane and tail are black, as are the portions of his legs that do not have white markings. He is painted in acrylics, charcoal and pastels, and finished in dull cote, with sparkling eyes and glossy hooves.
You can help support the powwow and put your name in for a chance to win Sacred Smoke; the horse Redbird hopes can carry their powwow dreams. Tickets are being sold through the mail, at the local powwows and gatherings that Redbird attends; and of course, they will be available all weekend at the Redbird powwow, for more information see visit www.RedbirdsVision.org. Tickets can also be purchased by sending a check or money order and a note to Redbird, P.O. Box 702, Simi Valley, CA 93062.
The winner does not need to be present to win, or even present their half of the winning ticket. As long as their name and phone number is legible on the ticket that is pulled, they will be contacted. If they live anywhere in Southern California, Sacred Smoke and all of his regalia will be delivered in person. If the winner is from out of the area, he will be shipped, probably in two or three separate packages, via U.S. Mail. (The travois alone is 30 inches long and the full wing fan is delicate.)
To view more pictures of Scared Smoke, visit www.RedbirdsVision.org.
Harvest McCampbell is the author of “Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead,” and “Sacred Smoke, the Ancient Art of Smudging for Modern Times.” She also edits and moderates a popular Native News site focusing on Northern California at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ncanativeeventsandnews. You can learn more about Harvest’s writing from her Web site at www.HarvestMcCampbell.com.