What do you think of when you hear "pow wow"? Do you think of eagle feather bustles bobbing and spinning to the heartbeat of the drum? Does your mouth water at the thought of an Indian taco with extra salsa? Do you empty your wallet into your lap to see if you can afford that magnificently beaded barrette?
You are right to think of those things, but if that is all that comes to mind, you're missing some of the most important aspects.
A pow wow is not only a commemoration of traditional culture - it is also an ever-changing and growing celebration with emphasis on extended family, values, respect and most of all fun.
The newly released "Urban Pow Wow" captures all of these aspects and provides a rare glimpse behind-the-scenes at a big-production pow wow.
The 34th annual Southern California Indian Center Pow Wow at the Orange County fairgrounds in California took place Aug. 23 - 25, 2002 and provided the stage for the 87-minute documentary that highlights the hidden as well as the flashy elements of the gathering. The cameras capture massive tent riggings, sophisticated sound systems, and the coordination of more than 500 volunteers, not to mention the organization of vendors, performers and dancers.
Nearly 25 hours of footage was shot during the three-day event as part of the summer 2002 InterTribal Entertainment Production 101 class. InterTribal Entertainment (ITE), administered by Southern California Indian Center, Inc., is a vocational training program aimed at preparing American Indian individuals for rewarding careers in California's most visible industry - entertainment and multimedia.
The "Urban Pow Wow" documentary fits well with SCIC's vision statement, "There is future in tradition ? We must pass on our traditions, songs, dances, creation stories, and most importantly, our languages and religions?"
As a prime endpoint of the 1953 Indian relocations, Southern California became home to what is now the largest Indian population in the United States. While local tribes such as the Acjachemem still have a strong presence in the area, the majority of the pow wow participants had distant origins. Sioux, Navajo, Creek, Iroquois and countless others assembled to form a new community.
Arena director Tom Gamboa, Choctaw, said in the film, "Following protocol is very difficult, especially in an urban area because we are such a pan-Indian group."
These "urbanized Indians" have adjusted their gathering to allow for greater tolerance of other tribe's customs. Southern California's Indians have a diverse community which exhibits a greater open-mindedness and wider acceptance than is commonly seen in more bucolic groups.
"[Identities are] very tribal specific on reservations. My kids identify themselves as Indian because they never lived home. They were born and raised in San Diego ? All of a sudden that sense of self has changed. We have really become Indians ? [The term] Indian was a European invention - so all of a sudden we reinvented ourselves," said Gamboa.
The documentary gives a taste of the slightly defensive attitude of the urban group because of their unending battle for acceptance from both white and Indian societies. While they struggle to define their place in the world, their ability to redefine themselves is ultimately one of their greatest strengths.
For those seeking romanticized stereotypes - "Urban Pow Wow" offers that. It features many dancers in dazzling regalia, soul-wrenching singing, interesting vendors, local storytelling and lots of chubby-cheeked kids in cute outfits.
For those seeking a modern reality - "Urban Pow Wow" has plenty of that too. The SCIC Pow Wow with a reported $10 million annual economic impact shows youths and elders acclimated to urban society, holding regular jobs and shuffling hectic schedules to volunteer on the weekend to use state-of-the-art technology to flawlessly pull off a gathering with many hundreds of participants and several thousands of spectators.
The overall message of "Urban Pow Wow" could be summed up as - tradition is important but progress is OK too. And home is wherever you find a supportive community, warm friends, and maybe a little frybread.
It is an American Indian's tale as reflected through the eyes of American Indians.
For more information, write to InterTribal Entertainment, 3440 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 904, Los Angeles, CA 90010, phone (213) 387-5772, fax (213) 387-5772 or visit www.indiancenter.tv.