COSTA MESA : Powwow Celebrates Tribes' Traditions

A black thunderbird sends a message from the Creator to the crows fluttering through a burnt sky, and the crows then deliver that message to the people.

That Indian legend is depicted on a goatskin drum at the 23rd Annual Powwow at the Orange County Fairgrounds this weekend.

The drum, made by Toby Christopher, is one of many handcrafted items on display and for sale at the powwow, which is one of the largest in California.

Christopher, who is half Choctaw and now lives outside Fresno, began making drums, war clubs, dolls, breastplates and carvings as a 9-year-old in Oklahoma.

"I never quit studying the Plains Indians," said Christopher, 57. "I'd ask the elders how they did it, to make a bow or a shield. I try to do things in the old way and see how they did it 150 years ago.

"I want people to see how it looked if they went into a Crow village and saw this, with the natural paints and authentic markings."

A breastplate similar to one worn by Kevin Costner in the movie "Dances With Wolves" hangs from a stand. A large buffalo tooth dangles from its center.

Although many of the powwow vendors say the recession has hit them hard, many also said they are benefiting from an increased interest in American Indian culture.

"It's like all of a sudden the white world is waking up and seeing that we're human beings," Christopher said. "I feel that in this day and age, the Native American culture has a lot to offer the rest of the world in its way of life and spirituality."

The powwow attracted representatives from 100 tribes from across the United States, including some from Alaska and Hawaii, said John Castillo, executive director of the Southern California Indian Center Inc., which sponsors the event.

In addition to the crafts and Indian food, there will also be traditional dancing throughout the weekend. Dancers from several tribes will appear in costume in dances such as the gourd dance and the intertribal Grand Entry, in which dozens of the dancers perform inside a large area. There will also be contests and other events.

"This is one of the better powwows," said Joan Renk, who traveled from Albuquerque, N.M., to sell silver jewelry, much of it inlaid with turquoise, and lapis and shell stones. Her stand has bracelets, earrings and pins by about 30 artists, most of whom are Navajo.

"There's a real nice, peaceful feeling at this one," said Loretta Murphy of Laguna Beach. "I don't know what it is, but it was this way last year too."

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