Annual powwow celebrates Native American heritage and traditions

Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Native dancers dancing to the rhythm of the drums at the Thunder and Lightning Powwow the weekend of Sept. 27.



The 29th annual Thunder and Lightning Powwow hosted by Morongo Casino celebrated the traditional Native American culture through dance, music, and art the weekend of September 27. 

More than 25,000 people attended the event and got the chance to enjoy the highlighted grand entry, the vibrant parade of color and cultural sounding music from hundreds of dancers in traditional regalia, swirling to the rhythm their native dance.

Powwows are social gatherings of hundreds of Native Americans who follow traditional dance that started centuries ago by their ancestors. This cultural phenomenon became popular and commercialized by the 1980s. Its attention captivated non-Native American crowds to celebrate with Native Americans.

This was one of the most important and traditional events for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. Michael Fisher, who works for Morongo Casino said, “Powwows are an opportunity for tribes to share their culture with others, and for our guests to experience the distinctive cultures of Indian people firsthand. As a social gathering, it’s also a chance to see old friends, meet new people and reaffirm traditions and old ways.”

The Native celebrations emerged in the 21st century when Native Americans wanted to return old traditions and gatherings. The demand for the old terms, original cultures and customs began to appear in both competitive and non-competitive events. This is where the traditional colorful dances came to the modern era while bringing back traditional music, in hopes of renewal the interest in the ancient ways.

This year’s event began with the presentation of colors, starting with an Eagle Staff, American flag, the California flag, and the Morongo Tribal Flag. Dancers across North American and Canada participated in this event; more than 75 vendors worked to provide food, water and non-alcoholic drinks. Vendors were selling Indian tacos, tamales and fry-bread, beautiful Native American jewelry, as well as, beadwork, pottery, clothing and basketry.

Native American artist and jewelry bead vendor Raymond Trujillo who goes by the name Mr. Woo, has come to the Morongo Powwow every year and said, “I took what I learned from my grandmother and mixed a nerdy and native style to create native designs.” Trujillo’s native designs are a combination of anime, comics and iconic animations that we know today created in an authentic cultural design. Jewelry vendor Becky has also attended the Powwow many times and sells her mother’s jewelry beads and feathery dream-catchers. “My mother creates different dream catcher designs you won’t find anywhere else,” she said.

A Powwow event is not the same if it cannot express a story through dance and singing. The tribal dancers were singing bird songs. Birds singing is the song and dance of the Cahuilla Indians chronicle experiences and responses of the Cahuilla people as they migrated to the South. Through bird metaphor, allegory and visual art, the songs are also lessons which instruct tribal members about their experience and the different stages of their lives.

The beauty of Powwow gatherings and celebrations are found across North America with the motto: Honor, Respect, Tradition, and Generosity. Powwows are to be shared in society and to celebrate the culture and its beginnings. 

Estefania Moreira

I am a writer in soul, healthnut day and night, loves to watch movies, acting and film are muses, singing is my stress relief, and spreading truth with supporting evidence is my justice. <3

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