The Beach is strengthened by and benefits from its vibrant diversity.
Honoring Tradition and the First Peoples
The CSULB Pow Wow returned to campus in 2023 after a three-year hiatus, finding its way back to the traditional land of the indigenous tribes of the Gabrielino/Tongva/Kizh and Acjachemen/Juaneño.
The longest running university-based powwow west of the Mississippi River celebrated its 50th anniversary with thousands of people coming from local communities and as far as the Pacific Northwest, Michigan and Canada.
Established by American Indian students in 1969, the powwow attracts Native American dancers and drummers from around the nation. It’s still the largest and oldest continuously running student-sponsored event on campus, where about .01% of students are American Indian, although more than 500 identify as being of mixed Native American heritage.
“This is the largest gathering of American Indians in Los Angeles and Orange County,” said Craig Stone, an American Indian Studies professor emeritus and director of the American Indian Studies program at Cal State Long Beach, who was chosen to be the event’s head man dancer. “You go to our powwow, and you’ll hear different languages spoken. Different languages are sung. There are different traditions and so forth, but it’s all part of one big celebration of life.”
Tribal histories locate the village of Puvungna, once a large and thriving community, within Cal State Long Beach. Puvungna continues to hold significance for several tribal groups and is used for ceremonies and gatherings.
A multi-acre site on the west side of campus, thought by many to be the only undeveloped remnant of Puvungna, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Lands Inventory. A restrictive covenant for this land was established in fall 2021 to protect Puvungna in perpetuity.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 3,” said Miztla Yolxochitl Aguilera ‘20, who is of Gabrielino-Tongva and Mexican ancestry. “This is my home powwow. I grew up here. Most of the people here have seen me since I was a little girl. This powwow has really been my support system, my family. I have essentially been raised by the people around me here.”
A significant part of the event is the traditional dancing, singing and drumming. Participants dress in outfits and regalia that reflect their tribes. American Indian arts, crafts and food are also displayed and sold.
Sarah Mueller, a student of studio art, volunteered at the American Indian Student Council booth. “I feel honored to be able to participate in this event,” she said. “I have attended multiple powwows …. I think it’s really important to have that representation, especially on campus.”
This narrative is not a substitute for information provided directly from tribes who are the authority on their cultural history.