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California Indians Celebrate

A powwow is a traditional American Indian ceremony to celebrate culture and traditions. People come together to sing, dance, talk, eat, and share news. “[A powwow] is just a gathering to share our culture and to show others that we still practice our ways,” Dorothy Corbi, a Chumash, told the Santa Maria Times.

California Indians hold dozens of powwows each year. There is at least one powwow somewhere in California on most weekends from February to December. Some powwows are for a specific California Indian group. The Chumash have a powwow in October in Santa Ynez. The Pechanga powwow happens in Temecula each summer. Other powwows are celebrations for many Indian groups, such as the All Nations Powwow in Big Bear City.

Many powwows begin with a “Grand Entry,” a parade of people wearing traditional beads, feathers, and buckskin clothes. “It's definitely [colorful] for the eye,” says Paula Starr, a Cheyenne. Starr helps run California's biggest powwow. The event is organized by the Southern California Indian Center (SCIC) and is held in Los Angeles each July. More than 20,000 people attend the big SCIC powwow.

A Tradition of Dance

One highlight of any powwow is dancing. Special outfits are made for each dance. Some outfits have been passed down for many generations. Dancers compete in several categories, such as Men's Grass Dance and Ladies' Jingle Dress Dance. “They're out there flashing, moving, and circling with their style,” says Starr Robideau, a Cheyenne/Chippewa who helps organize the SCIC powwow.

Sharing Cultures

Powwows allow people to come together. Often, people from many Indian groups, as well as other cultures, enjoy the events together. Paula Starr says that one of the best things about powwows is that they help educate people. “What we try to do,” she says, “is share our rich culture.” Through dances, songs, stories, and ceremonies, people can see that California Indian cultures are not just part of the past, they are a part of the present and future of Californians.