Diego James Robles
Standing Rock Sioux grass dancer Michael Cadotte dances during an inter-tribal, in Oceanside, Calif., on Saturday afternoon, June 14, 2014.

'King of the Missions' Hosts Vibrant Powwow

Diego James Robles
6/23/14

In the shadow of a 216-year-old Spanish mission their ancestors helped build, the small and federally unrecognized San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians had their annual pow wow on Saturday and Sunday, June 14-15.                

Known as one of the bigger and more diverse non-casino pow wows in the San Diego area, the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians 18th Annual Inter-Tribal Powwow hosted more than 100 dancers and thousands of spectators on a temperate weekend in Oceanside, California.

“The pow wow came about as a sign and signature of pride in our culture and wanting to share and celebrate that Native American heritage with the larger community,” pow wow coordinator and tribal member Carrie Lynn Lopez told ICTMN. “Since we were not a reservation tribe, and all the other tribes in the region were starting to have pow wows, we wanted to do the same.”

Lopez said her tribe has been fighting for recognition for decades, including a formal federal petition for the past 30 years. Made up of approximately 550 voting members, the band of Luiseño Indians base its membership on lineal descent instead of the usual blood quantum like most federally recognized tribes. And this pow wow, on the grounds of the “King of the Missions” -- as it’s aptly nicknamed because it’s the largest of the 21 California missions -- is one of the tribe’s showcase events; a way to highlight their quality to the outside world, and to remind the more established local tribes that they are still here.

Hosting the pow wow on the mission was also a controversial decision; one the tribe didn’t take lightly.

San Diego native and grass dancer Tony Nelson plays with his pets during a pause in the action of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians 18th Annual Inter-Tribal Powwow, in Oceanside, Calif., on Saturday afternoon, June 14, 2014. (Diego James Robles)

“Without hesitancy we knew we wanted to do it here at the San Luis Rey Mission,” Lopez said. “It was not a popular decision with the other tribes given the history with the mission over the years, but they did come around and we have a special relationship with this mission.” And nobody seemed to mind or express their disapproval openly. In fact, some dancers and Native contingents posed for photographs in front of the towering mission and throughout its manicured compound.

Despite a drought in California, the grass underneath the waves of pounding moccasins didn’t get there by accident. Members of the tribe and pow wow committee watered and shepherd the event site months in advance because the mission generally doesn’t have use for the field located approximately 100 yards from their main buildings.

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