The smell of fry bread wafted through the air as traditional Native American chants and music pulsated outward from a central arena at the grounds outside Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula.
Thousands of people showed up to partake in this experience; they ate Native foods, listened to Native music and purchased Native artwork over a three day period from July 11 – July 13 during the 19th Annual Pechanga Pow Wow.
Pow wows are events where various American Indian tribes gather together to celebrate their cultural traditions. Singing and dancing are the primary form of celebration, but Pechanga adds their own flare with a firework display on one of the nights of the event.
Many Southwest Riverside residents attend the event on a yearly basis; they pack the stands located at the center of the grounds to watch Gourd Dancing and other traditional forms of dance before staying for the display.
This year’s fireworks took place on the evening of July 12, the second day of the event, and cars from all over Southwest Riverside descended onto the three southbound lanes of Pechanga Parkway en route to the grounds to find a spot to watch.
They started shortly after 9 p.m. that evening and the sky erupted in brilliant and iridescent displays of green, blue, pink, orange and gold.
The colors of the fireworks were almost as bright as the colors of the regalia worn by the dancers, many of whom participated in traditional Gourd dancing.
Gourd dancing is a form of dance believed to have originated with the Kiowa people. Dancers move their feet in tandem with the beat of a drum as they travel around the inside of a circular area; often there is singing involved. There were many different classes of dancers, and classifications were usually made based on age.
There was a “Boys and Girls” class, “Juniors” class, “Teen” class, “Adult” class, “Golden Age” class and “Golden Golden Age” class; the “Golden Golden Age” class consisted of dancers who were 63-years-old and older.
Each of these groups participated in various competitions throughout the course of the three day event. On each of these three days there were grand entries, when dance participants of all ages gathered together in the circular arena to dance.
But dancing was not the only way that American Indians at the event celebrated their heritage. Song was another way for these individuals to not only connect with their culture and their history, but to share those things with members of the audience.
On June 12, Tiinesha Begaye of the Navajo-Cree performed a song that she composed herself in her native language. So did Blackfeet singer Aurora Bearchild Mamea.
The event was emceed by Thomas Phillips of the Kiowa-Muscogee Creek. Phillips remarked to his audience that he’s been to the Pechanga Pow Wow for many of the 19 years that it’s taken place, but that it always seems to grow with each passing year.
“Every year it gets better and better,” Phillips said, pointing to the green lush grass in the circular area where the dancing was taking place. He said he thought the various classes of dancers would appreciate such a nice area to celebrate their culture and dance.
Food was another part of the event and there were dozens of options to choose from. There were barbeque booths as well as booths offering up traditional Indian staples like fry bread, a kind of flat bread that is made with lard and flower.
Fry bread has a history dating back to the time that Natives were fist being sent to reservations. They were given portions of certain staples like lard and flower and these were used to make the dough, which is often served up as a base for tacos.
Lucy Hale’s Indian Tacos was a favorite for fry bread at the event for many who attended. Dozens lined up on July 13 to get a taste of the bread.
Sandra Hale, owner of the booth, said she learned to cook the fry bread from her 77-year-old mother Lucy and added that her booth was different than others because the dough for the fry bred wasn’t pre-prepared.
“We make our own dough,” Hale said. “Some of those other dudes, they use a machine.”
Hale said that she mixes the ingredients and makes the dough right before it gets fried. She said freshly-made dough results in fluffier fry bread than the kind that’s already prepared. She said that as of that day she had gone through 20 bags of flower.
“You can tell people like it,” she said. “Just look at the line.”
The three day event ended at 5 p.m. that day and dancers were presented with awards.
The sun may have set on the Pechanga Pow Pow but it will be back this same time next year and guests will be able to eat, shop and watch dances once again.