Opinion: Newhall Pow Wow

by Josh Tidwell, Staff Writer 598 views0

Dancers performed to the beats and chants of the Elders around the drum.

It’s hard to tell if it was the beating of drums or the pounding in my head that woke me. You could hear the Elders chanting while strategically striking the big drum all the way down Newhall Ave. Heaps of burning sage overwhelms my senses after I squeeze between the metal gates into Hart Park. We’ve all missed Hart Park at some point while sauntering to the DMV to begrudgingly wait in a tumultuous line. I can hear the conversation between the Elders and the City of Santa Clarita.

E: We would like to use Central Park.

TCSC: (pause) Uh yeah (pause) How about Hart Park?

The tucked away and hidden park opened up to a bubbling community of merchants, vendors and performers. There were hundreds of people aimlessly meandering from booth to booth; scavenging for the best deal of authentic Indian jewelry and clothing.

I overheard a lady next to me say, “It’s all fake and cheap. They’re all frauds!”

I refrained from interjecting with a brief history lesson full of small pox infested blankets and oil rich land in exchange for infertile basins of swamp. I also regretted to inform her that authenticity is bound to diminish if the merchant accepts Visa and MasterCard or if the person you’re buying from is nine-sixteenth Cherokee Princess.

Trudging through intricate craftsmanship and a few blatant Mexicans posing as Indians to pay the bills, I see an old Apache man with excellent merchandise.  Swirls of turquois covered his earthy skin and his long white hair streamed down his back. His old blue pick-up truck looked tired and worn out, handmade jewelry surrounded him and his wife.

“You got quality stuff right here,” I unconsciously said to him.

I then proceeded to drift in and out of conversation with the old Apache man. I only caught glimpses of dialogue and the fact that he came from Idaho and his reservation had become “civilized” because “we got a McDonalds”. I continued to listen for what seemed like hours. I finally had to leave so I thanked him for his time and showed appreciation for his craft.

I darted off like a hypertensive jackrabbit towards the only reason why people come to these pow wow’s: Fry Bread. The fluffy and slightly crunchy bread can be dressed with sugar and honey or with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese for an “Indian Taco”. Fry Bread goes down well after the monotony of shopping. While I let my food digest, I ventured over to the performers.

The Elders were under a white canopy and at the heart of a traditional native performance—left ventricle, right ventricle, left and right—pounding and singing in unison sending the blood flow to the feet and arms of the dancers. The majestic dancers were in traditional Indian garb and you could hear the pleasant chiming of bones and beads as they moved.

The beautiful but unusual site caused the crowd to be silent. They were in awe of the performance as was I. But I realized the tragedy of it all.

Not many children were dancing. Mostly elderly and middle aged men and women. With tension and destruction on the reservation perpetuating, less and less tradition and culture is being passed down. These may be some of the last to really know their culture fully.

I had to think of something else. I was bringing everybody down. I could see sad faces of families sternly staring at my pathetic disposition. My mind shifted to a shirt I saw earlier of four Indians standing with guns and other weapons with the phrase “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism since 1452”.

While leaving and squeezing through the metal gates again, I couldn’t help but feel that I would come back to another pow wow. It was some form of duty I laid upon myself: a duty to listen and learn about another’s culture and a duty to support another’s culture by purchasing possibly fake and cheap trinkets.

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