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Dancers, Fireworks and Billy Mills Are Highlights of the Pechanga Powwow

Dancers, Fireworks and Billy Mills Are Highlights of the Pechanga Powwow

This year, the 19th Annual Pechanga Powwow is expected to draw more than 75,000 visitors from all over North America to the Pechanga Reservation Festival Grounds in Temecula on July 11-14.

“Pechanga has 44 dance categories,” said Randy Pico, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, the pow wow director. “Very few pow wows have that many dance categories and recognize all dance styles.”

“[It will be] the most spectacular fireworks show in all of California that rivals anything at any sports stadium,” Pico added. “A real neck-stiffer.” Pico also said that the explosive, colorful bursts in the sky will be choreographed to native-themed music, recorded by local singers.

Tom Phillips will serve as the pow wow’s Master of Ceremonies (MC), and the honorary MC of the event will be Olympian Billy Mills, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of his astounding, come-from-behind gold-medal win at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

In an exclusive interview with ICTMN, Mills,76, said that while he will never retire completely from giving inspirational speeches and making public appearances, he wants to focus his energy on Native American communities. He is especially looking forward to the 2020 Olympics back in Tokyo.

“I plan to be there with my wife and daughters, if they want to go,” Mills said. “Since my whole career basically started in Tokyo in 1964, it will be the closure of a very beautiful, sacred journey.”

After that trip, Mills said he will go into semi-retirement and back off a bit on travel, although he said for the rest of his life he will remain completely involved and dedicated to Running Strong (, a nonprofit organization he founded to create sustainable change in Native communities.

And what would a real pow wow be without traditional Native foods?

Suzie Wilson, caterer and owner of Taos Café in Stockton, California, will be one of a handful of Native American chefs who will serve the crowd at the pow wow.

Wilson and her husband, Dino, cater at least 15 pow wows a year. There’s always a demand for her native fare, but she has chosen to share her culinary talents only at pow wows.

“Our community really appreciates what we do,” Wilson said.

Some of the must-try items on Wilson’s menu – ranging in price from $3 to $8 -- include Indian tacos, veggie tacos, an apple fritter fry bread, rez dogs, taco salad and deep-fried buffalo burgers.

In fact, Wilson said her buffalo burgers set her apart from other food vendors. “We are the only ones who sell 100 percent buffalo meat,” she said. “It is the leanest piece of meat you can get – leaner than chicken or turkey.”

When she’s not making delicious food for pow wows, Wilson works with high school students as a community liaison. Many times, she and her husband, at their own expense, will take a number of students to the pow wows to help in their food booth. Students earn a little extra money, and Wilson gets much-needed help preparing and serving dishes to crowds of hungry attendees.

“I want to make sure these kids succeed in life. So many parents lose interest when their kids get to that high school age, and they just need to know that someone is out there for them, trying to help them succeed.”