Culture Days attracts large crowd
SAN DIEGO - Mother's Day weekend was a picture-perfect time to hold the 19th Annual American Indian Culture Days in San Diego May 12 - 13.
It was sunny and warm outside, but there was a slight breeze coming in from the ocean, just enough to stay cool at the intertribal pow wow celebration in picturesque Balboa Park.
It was a small event when compared to the large-scale productions put on annually by nearby gaming tribes, yet full of spirit and talent.
Arena director Pete Buffalohead, Ponca, said this year's turnout was the biggest he had seen in recent years. ''Everyone is coming out of the woodwork,'' he said.
This was Buffalohead's first year as the arena director, but he brings previous arena director experience and years of knowledge in the ways of dances, protocol and the tradition of pow wows.
It was also the first year and time that Kyle Curtis served as the head man dancer. It was just two years ago that Curtis, Northern Paiute, re-entered the arena. He danced in his youth, but as time passed he drifted away from the circle. When he started coming back to pow wows, he slowly transitioned from dancing in his street clothes to wearing regalia. He soon found his niche as a Southern Straight dancer.
Curtis, 35, said words fail to fully describe the honor he feels for being asked by the pow wow committee to be the head dancer. ''Even though it's a small pow wow, it's an honor and a big deal for me,'' he said.
And to further boost his morale, his parents drove more than 600 miles from Susanville to watch him dance and offer their support. It was the first time since his childhood that they have seen him dance.
Cindy Toledo, Luiseno, was honored as the head woman dancer.
Randy Edmonds, Kiowa/Caddo, served as the master of ceremonies and brought more than 40 years of experience and funny jokes to the arena. This year he was happy to see an influx of young dancers.
''If the younger generation doesn't get involved at the ground floor, then they really don't get involved in traditional stuff,'' he said.
Alyssa Okuniewicz was honored as the head young woman dancer and Tommy Lachappa as the head young man dancer, both Kumeyaay and Barona Little Hawks. The Little Hawks are a youth dance group from the Barona Indian Reservation.
But without the drum, there would be no dance.
Red Warrior served as the southern host drum. Their drum keeper, Henry Mendibles, Mescalero Apache, was honored as the head Gourd dancer. The Green Valley Singers represented the northern drum.
Both drum groups feature singers from different tribes, but most of them live in San Diego and surrounding areas.
Notwithstanding, each year the pow wow committee selects an honored elder. Esther Abrahano, 74, Choctaw, was chosen for her decades of volunteer work with the local Indian Ministry and for serving on the board of the San Diego American Indian Health Center.
Terry DiMattio, superintendent of the Cabrillo National Monument, received special recognition for making it possible for the Kumeyaay Nation to have its flag erected at CNM for the first time last year during an annual event that celebrates Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo's discovery of San Diego Bay.
Prior to the grand entry each day, there was a mix of some great local, Native entertainment. The lineup featured Jon Meza Cuero & The Wildcat Bird Singers, Spiritual Storm (Navajo flute and drum), Tracy Lee Nelson & The Native Blues Band and storyteller Abel Silvas.