More than a 1,000 spectators and approximately 50 dancers crammed into the ample yet not big enough Leuzinger High School parking lot in Lawndale, Calif., for the 19th Annual Wildhorse Pow-wow. Always in the second week of February, and often landing on Valentine’s Day, (this year was no exception), the event served as a kind of opening ceremony for the Southern California pow wow circuit.
“You can say I go to a lot of pow wows,” Meredith Hills told ICTMN while bragging about her busy pow wow schedule. She and her three-year-old son Braden, a rambunctious little grass dancer start their pow wow year with the Wildhorse offering. “The thing I like about this pow wow is that it starts the pow wow season in California,” Hills said while trying to dissuade her young son from following a jingle dress dancer into the ladies room. “There is a lot of good feeling here, a lot of singing and a lot of good spirits in the arena.”
The Wildhorse Singers formed almost 30 years ago out of necessity. One of its founders and the current pow wow organizer, Jorge Lechuga, formed the group as a sober drum for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. “Not to get us confused with the Canadian Wildhorse world champions, but our group started in 1985,” Lechuga said. Although he and his family are Diné, his drum group is often as diverse as the more than 150,000 Natives living in the greater Los Angeles area.
Diego James Robles
Northern and southern traditional dancers come into the pow wow circle during grand entry on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 14, 2015, during the 19th Annual Wildhorse Pow-Wow, in Lawndale, Calif.
Today, the Wildhorse Singers and their supporters from the Wildhorse Native American Association, are dedicated to the Native community. “We started the pow wow because we wanted to do something for the community,” Lechuga said. “And a lot of the pow wows that used to be here 20 years ago have disintegrated due to the big casino pow wows.”
Unlike the big California casinos, the Wildhorse pow wow is almost exclusively funded through its food sales. “Our little food stand basically pays for this pow wow,” Lechuga said with a chuckle. Often whatever is left over from the pow wow goes into a few small scholarships that are then given to young Native adults already in college. And although their scholarships are seldom larger than $500, any little bit helps Native students Lechuga said.
One of the big winners at the pow wow, Katianna Warren, Diné, 16, was ecstatic after winning the pow wow princess contest on Saturday afternoon. Warren and two other girls performed a traditional talent for the pow wow committee the day before, and the day of the pow wow, they competed in the only contest of the social when they squared-off against each other for the crown.
“I wanted to be the princess because it’s part of my culture, and I want to represent my family back home,” Warren said.
As the sun went down on Sunday afternoon, Darryl Montana, Tohono O’odham, finally made it to the pow wow after work. Montana has been singing for Wildhorse Singers for the past 20 years. He joined when he was 18, during a time when he was living on the streets and often making the wrong decisions. “I was in the direction of trouble,” Montana said. “And I quickly turned away, and found a new love with the Wildhorse Singers.”
Now, Montana is a family man, and is active with the group and the youth focused community outreach they do. He’s proud of how far the singers -- and the pow wow -- has come. “It warms my heart to see that the Indian community still supports us,” Montana said. “They evolve and grows with us.”