TIME FOR A POWWOW : Indian Center Get-Together Aims to Raise Cultural Awareness, Bury Stereotypes

<i> Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Few things are as tedious as other people’s reunions. Wedged between the three-bean salad and Jell-O mold, you’re regaled with photos of unknown grandchildren and seemingly endless ancestral tales.

But this weekend, the Southern California Indian Center hosts a family get-together that outsiders might actually want to crash.

According to John Castillo, a member of the Apache tribe who serves as executive director of the center, the 23rd annual event will reunite families from the 200 Indian tribes found in Orange and Los Angeles counties while giving non-Indians a “chance to enjoy Indian hospitality and exchange cultures, understanding and friendship with their neighbors.” The powwow, which features competitive and social dancing, traditional foods and a large arts and crafts display, runs Friday through Sunday at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

“This is an opportunity to raise cultural awareness, to see old friends and meet new ones,” said Castillo during a phone interview from the center’s Garden Grove office. “It’s a chance for us to share our heritage with the non-Indian person, and to show we’re not the Hollywood Indians that everyone sees on TV.


According to Castillo, Southern California has the largest urban population of Indians in the state. Predominant tribes include Navajo, Sioux, Hopi and Cherokee, as well as a smaller population of Apache. Many came to the area as a result of government relocation programs in the 1950s, he said, while others were drawn by the Southland’s employment opportunities.

The Southern California Indian Center serves about 100,000 American Indians, native Alaskans and native Hawaiians through employment counseling and training, continuation high school classes, child and family guidance and other programs, and educates the non-Indian community via a speakers bureau and traditional dance demonstrations. All the center’s programs are funded in part by proceeds from the powwow.

Dance competitions and exhibitions by more than 400 dancers from around the country and an opening-day parade of dancers in full tribal regalia are among the highlights of this weekend’s event, said Castillo. On Friday evening, children from preschool age to 11 will perform, followed on Saturday and Sunday by adults competing in such categories as the jingle dance, the Southern straight war dance and the fancy war dance. Non-competitive intertribal dancing will also be held. Viewers will have an opportunity to join the dancers in the ceremonial ring during several friendship dances.

Because each has its own unique story, the dances serve as vibrant history lessons in Indian culture, said center assistant director Paula Starr-Robideau. The fancy war dance, she explained, contains fast and intricate steps created by the tribes of the Great Plains to inspire warriors before battle and to celebrate victory afterward. The jingle dance is believed to have come in a dream to an early medicine man of the Chippewa tribe, and in its modern form, is performed by dancers wearing jingling cones made from the metal lids of chewing-tobacco cans hung from their clothing. For more complete descriptions, a booklet on the history of each dance will be sold at the powwow information booth, she added.

Actress Connie Stevens, a strong supporter of the Southern California Indian Center, and American Indians who served in the Persian Gulf will be honored in special ceremonies at the powwow, said Castillo. An extensive arts and crafts area is also planned, where Indian artisans will sell a variety of pottery, paintings, jewelry, rugs and other items at more than 75 booths. Traditional Indian foods, including fry bread and Indian tacos, will be available.

What: Southern California Indian Center’s 23rd annual Powwow.

When: Friday, Aug. 16, from 2 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 17, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 18, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Where: Orange County Fairgrounds, 66 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: Costa Mesa (55) Freeway south to Fair Drive exit. Turn right on Fair, then right on Fairview Road and right again on Arlington Avenue to parking lot.

Wherewithal: $5 for adults, $3 for ages 12-17 and senior citizens, $1 for ages 6-11. Under 5 is free.

Where to call: (714) 530-0221.