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Thunder & Lightning Powwow Offers Beauty In All Forms

An impressive train of American Indians in vibrant regalia danced into the giant tent beneath the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa in Cabazon on Saturday.

Drummers played their brethren in during the grand entry signifying the start of the second session of the 23rd annual Thunder and Lightning Powwow — hosted by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which ends Sunday.

Thousands of people bustled about the spectator stands, as well as the market outside, in an event projected to draw 30,000 people over its three days.

“I thought it was great. It’s beautiful,” said Stephanie Lape, a comparative religion professor at Riverside Community College, who is interested in the cultural differences in religion. “Their concept of religion isn’t cerebral like reading the Bible but active, where they’re moving and keeping in touch with the earth and their community.”

Lape, who attended the event with her family, said some of her students were at the powwow as well.

Drum groups and singers hailed from tribal nations across the U.S. and Canada and came to compete for prize money in bird singing, dancing and gourd dancing exhibitions.

One of the dancers was Joey Chief, a hereditary chief within the Northern Cree. In full regalia, most of his face was painted — a band of white around his eyes.

American Indian dances tell stories such as those of the hunter, and anything goes in competition, Chief said. His particular style of dance is Northern contemporary — a warrior’s dance.
“I usually like mimicking animal movements like those of the eagle, buffalo or wolf,” he said.

Other types of dances Chief said onlookers might see are the crow-hop, mimicking a bird’s movements on the ground, or the sneak-up, resembling how you might sneak up on prey or an enemy.

Outside, more than 50 vendors sold authentic American Indian jewelry, beadwork, pottery, clothing, and basketry.

Ryan Yazzie, a Riverside-based member of the Navajo Nation, sat at his stand and play a hand-carved flute for passersby.

“I play whatever I feel like playing,” he said. “It’s an instrument you play from your soul.”

Yazzie said most of the vendors were Navajo — it being the largest American Indian nation within the United States.

Some of the food vendors served American Indian tacos, tamales and frybread.

An event favorite, frybread was created in the 1800s as American Indians were displaced onto reservations and couldn’t easily hunt or fish. The bread consists of flour, leavening, salt cakes, and oil and is deep-fried in a skillet.

Dena Kohrt from Huntington Beach opted for the tacos, however. The group she came with joked they planned on getting the spiritual stuff out of the way before they tried their luck at the casino.

“We just ate and it was delicious,” she said. “We thought it would be awesome to see the drum call and look around before going to the casino.”


The Desert Sun
Dave Nyczepir
September 28, 2013