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GATHERING OF THE TRIBES : Traditional American Indian Music, Dance and Crafts to Be Showcased in Powwow at OCC

April 01, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

As a child, Wydale Silversmith didn't pay much attention to the way American Indians were portrayed in the textbooks and popular culture. As he matured, however, he began to take more notice.

And he wasn't satisfied with what he saw.

"When you're young, you really don't know," said Silversmith, a full-blooded Navajo who spent part of his youth on a reservation in Burntwater, Ariz. "But when you start getting into high school and college, you start understanding more. You begin to see that there wasn't a whole lot of truth in history."

In 1990, Silversmith and a handful of other American Indian students at Orange Coast College decided to do something about that. Through on-campus presentations, the school's tiny Native American Student Organization has worked to correct what Silversmith calls "the generic, Hollywood-style image" of America's first families.

On April 3 and 4, the group takes it message to the community for the third year running with its annual powwow, a two-day showcase of traditional dance, music, food and arts and crafts held in OCC's LeBard Stadium.

Admission is cheap: 50 cents per person or a canned food item. Money raised will go toward the group's scholarship fund for Indian students; the food will be donated to the Elders program of the Southern California Indian Center in Garden Grove.

Sharing their culture with the non-Indian public is a good way for the community to speak up, said Silversmith, 27, but he added that the emphasis here is more on celebration than on education.

The powwow "is the best way to bring a whole lot of Native Americans together and give people a way to see what we're all about," said Silversmith, who expects the event to draw participants from as far away as South Dakota and Oregon.

"It's a gathering, a family reunion. We just want people to come and enjoy themselves."

More than 100 participants representing about 50 tribes will be featured. Throughout both days, dancers ages 5 to 50 will don traditional Indian garb to explain and demonstrate a variety of dance styles, including the grass dance, jingle dance, men's traditional and the women's fancy shawl dance. Spectators can take part in several round and two-step dances.

Gourd dancing will be performed by members of the Golden State Gourd Society, and Indian singing and drumming styles will be presented. More than 40 vendors will sell Indian-made jewelry and arts and crafts and there will be a variety of traditional foods such as fry bread and tacos for sale.

As a forum for cultural exchange and friendship, modern powwows are largely similar to the early intertribal gatherings of Indians, Silversmith said. Southern California, which has one of the largest urban populations of Indians in the country, has several annual powwows, including the one held each August at the Orange County Fairgrounds by the Southern California Indian Center, which last year attracted more than 30,000 visitors.

The public's desire to better understand the Indian culture has risen markedly of late thanks, in part, to the entertainment industry, NASO member Ernie Whitecloud said.

"When I was a kid, there was a lot of racism, a lot more than there is now," said Whitecloud, 34, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe who will perform at the powwow with four generations of his family as part of the Whitecloud Singers. "But things started changing when all the movies like 'Dances With Wolves' started coming out.

"Just now, people are starting to be aware of who we really are."

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