A child dancer during the Pow Wow competition Photo credit: @powwowsanmanuel

Cal State San Bernardino Athletic Field – From Friday, September 15 to Sunday, September 17, 2023, the annual San Manuel Pow Wow took center stage at Cal State San Bernardino’s athletic field. This vibrant event served as a mesmerizing showcase of diverse tribes from across the United States, offering a captivating display of tribal dances, traditions, and spirited competition for substantial cash prizes. In addition to the awe-inspiring performances, a multitude of vendors offered Native American crafts and delectable cuisine.

The event kicked off on Friday at 5 p.m., drawing to a close at midnight. On both Saturday and Sunday, the festivities commenced at 11 a.m., with Saturday’s celebration lasting until midnight and Sunday concluding at 6 p.m. Friday’s program featured the Blessing of the Grounds at 5 p.m., followed by Bird Singing and Dancing. Saturday’s schedule included Gourd Dancing at 11 a.m. and Bird Singing and Dancing at noon and 6 p.m. Sunday, the event’s grand finale, featured Gourd Dancing at 11 a.m. and Bird Singing and Dancing at noon. The victors of the competition were also officially announced on the @Powwowsanmanuel Instagram page.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians generously provided over $250,000 in cash prizes for participating tribes, encompassing seven distinct competition categories, each with varying prize amounts and winners. The Men’s and Women’s Dance categories celebrated six winners each, with the first-place recipients earning $1,500, and the sixth-place finishers taking home $200. The Teen and Junior Dance categories recognized four winners, with the top Teen Dance performer receiving $500 and the fourth-place finisher earning $100. In the Junior Dance category, the first-place winner secured $250, while the fourth-place winner was awarded $100.

The event also hosted a spirited drum contest with an impressive $100,000 in total prizes distributed among 17 victorious drum groups. The top group received $20,000, while the 17th-ranked group also took home $20,000. The Youth Drum Contest featured 10 potential winners, with the first-place ensemble earning $5,000 and the 10th-place group receiving $250. For further details about the contest, interested parties can visit www.socalpowwow.com/contests.
Beyond the captivating performances, Native American vendors enriched the cultural tapestry of the event with their offerings of traditional crafts and mouthwatering food. Food vendors, as well as the center stage and bleachers, were situated at the northernmost end of the field, while the lower side hosted craft vendors. Among the offerings were official Pow Wow apparel, with shirts priced at $20, sweaters at $35, and hats at $15.

The craft vendors were all Native American artists, showcasing items such as blankets, jewelry, and clothing, many of which were meticulously handcrafted, allowing them to convey more aspects of their culture. Several vendors featured blankets adorned with traditional Native American designs, and hand-knitted items, often depicting animals like coyotes, as well as modern characters from cartoons.
Handmade jewelry, including earrings and bracelets, was a prominent attraction, with some vendors even crafting pieces on-site during the event. Additionally, vendors offered items like hummingbird dangling decorations and dream catchers, imbued with deep cultural significance. Dream catchers, in particular, play an essential role in Native American history, as they are placed above a person’s bed to capture negative dreams, allowing only positive ones to pass through.

While many vendors adhered to traditional offerings, some incorporated contemporary elements, featuring t-shirts and sweaters adorned with traditional imagery, as well as creative interpretations tied to Native American heritage. These vendors also offered hats with similar designs.

Food vendors tantalized attendees’ taste buds with offerings such as fried bread, Indian tacos, and various beverages. Given the event’s inclusive nature and appeal to families, some vendors diversified their offerings. Indian tacos, a crowd favorite, were crafted from fried bread and topped with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, beef, and beans. Alongside these delectable options, vendors tempted attendees with funnel cake, lemonade, shaved ice, and Texas Twister drinks, a zesty concoction of lemon, lime, and orange juice. A frozen lemonade stand, Oreo sundaes, and root beer floats rounded out the menu.
This year, thousands of participants joined the celebration, with many expressing their desire to return in September 2024. The Pow Wow served as an opportunity for attendees to witness and appreciate the rich tapestry of traditional dances and Native American culture, creating lasting memories and fostering cultural understanding.

Alex Espinoza, a member of the Chemehuevi Tribe, shared his thoughts, saying, “It was great to see Bird Singers from the local area, and it was very meaningful to witness the traditions and culture.”
With each passing year, the San Manuel Pow Wow continues to be a resounding success, and it is expected to return in September 2024, offering another immersive experience celebrating Native American heritage and unity.

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