With pale green eyes and golden skin (not from resounding Indian heritage, but from countless pow wows dancing under the sun) in a 20-year-old buckskin dress, Corina Roberts dances with scores of Native pow wow dancers – her people – during the Children of Many Colors Powwow in Moorpark, California.
“This pow wow is ‘people way,’ before money,” says Roberts, Osage/Cherokee, who coordinated the pow wow. “We are here to have a good time.” Hosted by her Redbird organization to promote the preservation of Native American culture and a myriad of related environmental issues, the pow wow was held in Moorpark Community College, on July 18-20.
The small gathering, in its 14th year, started as a fundraiser on a horse ranch and after a misunderstanding during its promotion -- and perhaps wishfulness on the part of eager dancers --it became an impromptu pow wow. “We had only 12 dancers and it was triple-digit heat and we were in a horse corral,” Roberts said. “But the very next year we totally out grew the horse corral.”
The pow wow still does things differently than most. As was the case of the grand entry, when a dozen grass dancers from different tribes and ethnicities danced before the pow wow procession, ceremonially stomping down the grass in the pow wow circle. “Once upon a time, this had meaning and it had a purpose,” Roberts says. “The grass dancers went out first and they made the way good for other dancers to come. We don’t need them to beat the grass down here, it’s manicured, but in a spiritual sense, they clear the way for the dancers to come.”
Odette DeVleeschouwer loved what she saw. Visiting from Belgium with her Dutch husband, the Englishwoman’s first pow wow exceeded all her expectations. “This is my dream to come to a place with real Natives,” DeVleeschouwer says of the small but diverse gathering of tribes. She felt pity however, that more Americans are not aware of the origins of Native people and the plight they faced during America’s expansion. “For me, this is the America,” DeVleeschouwer says. “It’s the beginning of America, and I hope the following generations will fight back and keep the traditions.”
Randall Hogue, Oglala, spent hours talking to anybody who would listen. An unusually skinny elder with long silver locks, and dressed in head-to-toe buckskin, Hogue welcomed party after party of inquisitive people inside his small tipi. There, amid well-worn hides and Spartan commodities, he recycled speeches about his proud people and their use of tipis, or the “first American mobile home,” as he sometimes proclaimed.
“Traditionally, in the 16th and17th centuries, the tipis we had were no taller than 14-16 feet tall because they were made out of female buffalo hide,” Hogue says of his quaint 16-footer. “The only thing the man did was kill the buffalo, the woman skinned the buffalo, she tanned the hide, she softened it by chewing it – the leading cause of death for Native women was tooth decay,” he explained
But, there was a sadness inside Hogue’s tipi.
Partly due to the fact that “the elders are so desperate to pass down this knowledge to the children,” he says. “The children are not interested in this knowledge, they want to get off the reservation.”
And partly because the pow wow was his anniversary pow wow, where he married his wife 19 years ago to the day. Even though she died a few years back, he thinks about her often. “Constantly,” he says. “She is still the guiding light of my life, one of the primary reasons I came out here and do all this work,” Hogue said.
With the pow wow drums in full force and everybody’s attention elsewhere watching the dancers as they entered the pow wow circle, expert flint knapper Gary Pickett took the opportunity to get some work done. Representing the Bakersfield Knappers, Pickett carefully notched small flakes from a large 16-by-4 inch piece of rainbow obsidian. Slowly but surely, he was improving the shape of the primitive tool with a pointed tip and sharp edges.
As a child in Missouri, Pickett spent time in creeks, searching for, and sometimes finding, old arrowheads. Because he was self-taught, he said, he didn’t produce anything worthwhile during the first five years of his flint skapping career. But, by attending pow wows like this one, he usually does so 30 weekends out of the year, Pickett hopes to pass his skill to those who are interested and receptive.
“It’s hard to take on students at pow wows because of liabilities,” he says as he put the finishing touches on his prized obsidian. It would be auctioned later on that night to benefit next year’s event. “It’s for show, something to set on the mantle.”
Saginaw Grant is in high demand these days -- and not just when Hollywood calls. The elder Sac & Fox/Iowa/Otoe southern straight dancer and actor with the quintessential Native American face, posed for pictures with other dancers and non-Natives. Among his numerous acting credits, Grant has appeared in quirky films like The World’s Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins and The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp.
“I think this is a great pow wow,” Grant said. “A lot of people came because everybody gets along here, everybody knows about this pow wow.”
Just as happy to be part of the inclusive pow wow and the community as a whole, Chrissy Shoaf, Blackfoot/Choctaw, was celebrating her coming out in new buckskin regalia. “It’s a chance for people to see that I paid my respect to the elders and that I am following the right path on the Red Road,” Shoaf said. She said that the name of the pow wow, Children of Many Colors, resonated with her and made her feel welcomed among the Native American community.
Pow wow organizer Corina Roberts is proud of her organization’s pow wow.
“To me if we were going to do a pow wow, cultural continuity and cultural preservation obviously is our foremost concern,” she says while contemplating the reason for putting on an event as difficult as a pow wow. “It’s definitely cultural preservation – and it’s fun.”