News Column

Richmond's Native American community holds powwow celebration

June 21, 2014

By Robert Rogers, The Oakland Tribune



June 21--RICHMOND -- Drummers in two circles pounded rhythmically on the deerskin, the pulse energizing dancers young and old wearing traditional feathers and braids.

A kaleidoscope of color, sonorous chants and a thunderous percussion enlivened the overcast skies and whipping winds Saturday at Nicholl Park, where more than 300 people turned out for the fifth annual Richmond Native American Powwow.

"It's beautiful," said organizer Courtney Cummings. "It's a celebration of Native American culture and heritage in a city environment."

Native Americans representing dozens of tribes across the Western United States were part of the gathering, which annually draws residents from diverse backgrounds to enjoy free traditional dance, music and foods.

The itinerary Saturday included gourd dancing, a celebration originated by the Kiowa tribe of the Great Plains; a grand entry dance commemorating Native American military veterans; a crowning of this year's powwow princess; and a Poly Groove dance performed by a local Polynesian dance troupe.

Spectators munched on frybread, a staple created by the Navajo tribe from flour, sugar, salt and lard given to them by the U.S. government during a forced relocation.

"Frybread has become authentic to urban natives," Cummings said.

Cummings said the powwow differs from sacred native events in that it is an open, annual effort to continue and share Native American cultures with the public.

While the event focused on celebration, there were acknowledgments of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, whose nickname has long been regarded by native groups and their supporters as a slur.

The event's emcee, Tom Phillips of the Kiowa tribe, announced the event as a celebration that "breaks the binds of negative stereotypes" and pointed out the NFL team name as an example that should be effaced.

"The team name alludes to a savage, brutal custom," Phillips said. "It originated as a term the British used in the 1700s for the bounty they would pay for an Indian scalp."

Most of the daylong event focused on the beauty and dynamism of native cultures that originated on the North American continent. Kayden Washington, 12, was crowned as powwow princess, a title she'll hold for the next year as she appears at Native American events across the country.

"The powwow is a powerful demonstration that Indian country is still here in Richmond," said Native American activist Mike "Raccoon Eyes" Kinney.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.

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(c)2014 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)

Visit The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.) at www.insidebayarea.com

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Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)


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