The 84-degree weather on Saturday set the perfect scene for a cultural celebration from at O’Neil Park. The event was the 22nd annual First Nations Fresno State Powwow.
The American Indian Studies Program, the anthropology department of the College of Social Sciences and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) cosponsored the free community event.
Some who know very little about Native Americans or the culture would wonder what exactly a powwow is.
“The powwow is a celebration of Native culture and wellness,” said Julian Garza, the club’s vice president.
Surrounded by tents of arts and crafts vendors, attendees watched and ate as the powwow began with the Host Southern Drum provided by the Hummingbird Singers. Also provided was the Host Northern Drum by the Young Wolf Crew. The drum groups sing at the start and end of powwow sessions and are essentially the musical provision for the dancers throughout the procession.
The Southern Drum is described as more of a bass drum to which gourd dance songs are performed, and the Northern Drum is more high-pitched singing, Garza said.
Also on Friday, Garza said the club had another important event. It hosted its first annual Native Family Education Gathering in the Peters Auditorium. More than 200 Native youths in grades 6-12 and their parents traveled from Bakersfield, Lemoore, Visalia and Fresno, he explained.
The event featured the governor’s tribal adviser Cynthia Gomez as the keynote speaker, program tours of engineering, education, business, nursing, math and science and a student panel with four current and former Native higher-education students. The day closed with a presentation from local spiritual leader Keith Turner.
Next year, the Gathering and Powwow will run together as a two-day event on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12.
A graduate student in the social work, Garza works for the Owens Valley Career Development Center Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) site on Shaw Avenue and Sixth Street and is a member of the Arizona Pascua Yaqui Tribe. He is also a United States Air Force veteran.
Also in attendance were the members of the American Indian Veterans Association, who marched as they were introduced during the powwow. They served as the event’s color guard as well.
The event provided a learning experience for the community, including Fresno State students. Garza said the tribes represented included Central Valley tribes, Cherokee, Apache and urban tribes from out of state.
First Nations member Christian Olivas said that he really enjoyed the event and feels that more people should take advantage of such opportunities to learn more about such a rich culture that is often underrepresented.
“There were people from a lot of different tribes, but it was one of the smaller powwows I’ve ever been to,” Olivas said.
A psychology student from Stockton, Calif., Olivas has Cherokee heritage and has attended powwows throughout California and Arizona.
He added that the Native Americans at Fresno State only accounts for 1 percent of the campus’ entire population, which could be part of why the club’s membership seems low in comparison to other groups.
Olivas said he learned about the club from a friend of his who was a member, even with their Samoan heritage.
“I remember thinking, ‘But you’re Samoan,’” he said with a laugh. He then learned that the club also can be identified as one for the first indigenous people or anyone who wants to learn.
Garza echoed Olivas’ comment.
“It’s about learning Native American culture, history, educating others and creating learning opportunities and activities to create pathways to higher education for Native Americans,” he said.