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Not Everyone Watched Football on Sunday: The Laney College Pow Wow

Not Everyone Watched Football on Sunday: The Laney College Pow Wow
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Over the weekend, hundreds in the San Francisco Bay area passed on the chance to sit like slugs in front of their televisions and watch football games. Instead, they choose to celebrate a different American tradition.

"Pow wows are very important for us," said Tom Phillips, to Phillips is a social worker instructor at California State University Stanislaus who has been announcing pow wows for 45 years. "They serve as a way to define and preserve our culture, and pass it down to the children. For me, it's therapy. It sustains me."

At the annual pow wow at Laney College in Oakland, the sports fans who did attend ate fry bread instead of Cheetos, danced traditional dances instead of made-up touchdown dance celebrations and enjoyed listening to drums, not a booing crowd.

“This is my life, this is more important than football,” said Gabe Castro, a member of the Tubatulabal tribe who also spoke to He traveled to Oakland to watch his daughter dance during the 5th annual pow wow.

But, Castro didn’t hesitate to show support for an NFL team. He was wearing a beaded, Native-inspired 49ers medallion on his neck. “It’s important for me to represent,” he said.

The American Indian Child Resource Center hosted the pow wow which drew participants from throughout the West Coast. Many of them travel to a different pow wow every weekend hoping to see old friends and make new ones.

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Damian Wilson comes to a pow wow at least once a month. “It's a chance to see people, sit and visit," Wilson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "And plus you always meet new people.”

Participants carry their tribal flag at the Laney Pow wow (Sam Wolson/Polaris)

“When I walk around the foothills in my Washoe sweatshirt, people always ask, 'Who's your grandma?' Usually we're related," said Bill Marin, Washoe, to the "Or sometimes it turns out we're related by just being friends."

Marin and his wife travel across the West selling T-shirts and her Native beadwork. It’s a chance for him to revisit his Washoe traditions and even learn new ones.

Everyone showed off beautiful regalia: an array of vibrant feathers, deerskin, shawls and dresses. Several different tribes were present including the Ohlone the Sioux and the Washoe.

The day was filled with dancing, drums, singing and ceremonies. Kids and adults formed circles as drummers played, setting a joyous mood.

"Some people say, 'Hey, we don't do this kind of dancing back on our pueblo’," Marin said. "But, hey, you know what? We're not there anymore. We're here. So let's enjoy the feathers and drums and have a good time."