Diego James Robles
Northern traditional dancer and powwow headman Johnny Nieto, Tule River Yokut, proposes to his girlfriend Yendi Juarez during The Tule River Band of Yokuts Presents the 2014 Tule River Pow-Wow.

Put a Ring On It! Tule River Foothills Powwow Ends With Surprise Proposal

Diego James Robles

More than 150 dancers and a few thousand spectators attended the Tule River tribe’s last powwow of the season.

“The pow wow is here to bring all the people together, of all ages and from all over,” pow wow committee chairman Herald Santos said. “We have people from Canada, Washington, Oregon, and as far away as the Dakotas.” On September 19-21 in Tulare County, California, the Tule River Band of Yokuts presented their 2014 Tule River Pow-Wow.

Donna Devine, a tribal member, and the pow wow’s treasurer, explained that the pow wow was known throughout the region for its hospitality and inclusiveness, regardless of tribal affiliation or race.

Under the canopy of a small tent, and surrounded by intricate yet simply designed Yokut baskets, tribal member Linda Santiago-Peterson waited for people’s questions. The tall woman, adorned from head to toe with Native jewelry, often had to say “no” when asked if her baskets were for sale. “People always want to buy them, and I decline because I feel our Yokut baskets need to come home to us,” Santiago-Peterson said.

A cultural arts teacher and educational advocate, Santiago-Peterson’s mission in the pow wow was to teach as many people as possible, or as many who would listen, exactly what goes into a Yokut basket. Made primarily out of deer grass, and a combination of other smaller roots, the process is labor intensive and time consuming.

“The grass needs to be picked and cleaned,” Santiago-Peterson said. “To make a small, cup- size basket, it takes 20 hours of just gathering [the grass]; not to mention cleaning and everything else.”

Headman dancer Johnny Nieto entertained the crowd and also, shocked them with an announcement. 

“I want to do something crazy. Right in front of my home crowd, my home people,” Nieto said while addressing his girlfriend in the pow wow circle during his northern traditional special. “It’s about time, Yendi Juarez, will you marry me?” Nieto said as the crowd erupted with joyous drumming and Native wails of approval. A visibly stunned Juarez, with tears in her eyes and hands covering her mouth, nodded yes.

“I was speechless, surprised,” Yendi Juarez, Guatemalan/Mexican, later said of the proposal.

In many ways, it was a fitting place to do it because the two met at a pow wow in college. Juarez credits Nieto with changing her life for the better. “I was a party girl, drinking all the time, and he introduced me to his culture, and it caught my attention, especially spiritually [speaking],” Juarez said.

“Oh man, I was cramping, my body was ailing when I was proposing," Nieto said. "But my people taught me to never show weakness, and to always push forward.”


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