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Native Americans display traditions through song and dance

Published March 11, 2019

Drumbeats and voices combined to fill the air with the sounds of Native American song while a line of people, adorned in traditional regalia and following in the lead of a man bearing a feathered eagle staff, celebrated the Grand Entry to the 49th annual Pow Wow at Long Beach State.

“The sacred places,” Master of Ceremonies Arlie Neskahi said to the audiences last weekend as the participants entered the Pow Wow arena. “The plants. The animals. Of the sea. Of the air. Deeds of our relatives. In our languages we speak to them. Speak about them as our brothers and sisters.”

The Grand Entry, along with the performances of songs and dances from different American Indian nations and the other methods of sharing of culture are part of the history of Long Beach State’s Pow Wow.

“I love all the elements of song and dance very deeply, but I’ve come to appreciate the words that are spoken, the stories that are told,” Neskashi, a four-time emcee of the campus Pow Wow and member of the Diné Nation said. “It’s through these stories that are told that the way of life, this will carry on.”

The campus’ Pow Wow, in its nearly five decades of history, has provided a gathering place for multiple generations of American Indian families to preserve their traditions and build friendships.

“L.A., Orange County and San Bernardino County, combined, we end up having the largest urban Indian population in the United States,” said Craig Stone, director of the American Indian Studies Program. “It’s a place where people come together for reunion.”

Stone also encouraged students of American Indian descent to apply to Long Beach State.

The American Indian Studies Program is commemorating its 50th anniversary at Long Beach State this academic year. Long Beach State was the first university west of the Mississippi River to create such a program.

Courses offered through the American Indian Studies Program provide paths for students to earn an American Indian and Indigenous Studies Certificate in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree. Other student options include a minor in Native American Cultures, and students working toward a degree in American Studies may declare a concentration in American Indian Studies.

Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera, working toward an American Indian and Indigenous Studies Certificate, has attended the Long Beach State Pow Wow for nearly 20 years. Her favorite moments at the Pow Wow have included young people entering the arena, who are then presented to the community.

Aguilera has Mexica and Tongva heritage and plans not only to graduate next year, but also to dance in the 2020 Pow Wow, an accomplishment that she said will show respect to the people who have raised and cared for her.

“It’s not only a gathering of different people, but a gathering of families,” she said. “In a lot of ways, blood doesn’t matter.”

The two-day event, which welcomed musicians and artists from several American Indian tribes, opened when two brothers who are members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, as well the Paniktum Bird Singers, welcomed the earliest arrivals on Saturday morning. The brothers demonstrated the traditional songs that tell the story of how their ancestors transformed themselves into birds while returning the lands of their creator, the modern-day Palm Springs area, to establish their homes.

The brothers, Eli Andreas and Corey Gilmore Jr. sang for about an hour, their words sounding over the rhythms of rattling gourds.

“We still have some of our culture and we’re still here, and we still practice it,” Andreas said.