‘A Little Flavor of What American Indians Are’


Moving to the beat of a drum made of redwood, moose hide and eagle feathers, Native American elders danced with children inside a large circle of spectators at UC Irvine’s second annual powwow Saturday at Aldrich Park.

Co-sponsored by the American Indian Student Assn., the celebration of traditional dancing, music, arts and crafts drew about 250 people to the campus.

“This is a little bit of education and a little flavor of what American Indians are,” said 24-year-old Tonantzin Carmelo, a volunteer at the event. “We’re still alive.”


Held within a circle, powwows are a time for Native Americans to gather, dance and socialize, said volunteer Liz Whipple, who helped organize last year’s powwow before graduating from the university with a degree in dance.

“We’re out here in a huge city, we’ve left our reservations, so we’re trying to maintain our ties,” she said. “But we also want to share our culture with other people in the area.”

Saturday’s gathering opened with the grand entry dance and a prayer led by Head Man Saginaw Grant. Many of the participants wore colorful costumes for their dances to traditional music by the Soldier Boyz.

T. North Star of Garden Grove likened the gathering to a university course because those who attend learn something new at each session: a story, a dance, a joke.

“There’s not too many of us left,” he said. “But we are still around and will always be around.”

Amid the music and dancing, vendors offered Native American arts and crafts at the edge of the circle. Robert Davis, a 53-year-old Navajo and Huron Indian from Trabuco Canyon, offered medicine wheels for sale, explaining to prospective buyers that the decorated wooden circle symbolizes four seasons, four medicines and four stages of life.


“Everything in American Indian life is sacred--from trees to mountains and people,” he said. The arts and crafts, too, have sacred meanings.

Grace Bullchild, visiting from Cabazon with her four children, said that besides being a social gathering, powwows nurture her spirituality, particularly the rhythmic drumming and singing.

“Hearing the drums helps me through the rest of the week,” she said. “The drums and the arena feed my soul and soothe my heart.”