A thunderous chorus of voices and drumbeats boomed from Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center lawn Saturday, April 4. Authentic
turquoise jewelry, handcrafted beadwork, quillwork and silversmith objects filled
the vendors’ booths.
The smell of Indian fry bread tacos and roasted corn from the
Wildhorse Café and the CCISA (Claremont Colleges Indigenous Student
Alliance) wafted through the air. Native Americans from different tribes, young and old, wore traditional dress: fringed buckskin clothing, feather
headdresses, jingly dresses, beaded shirts and satin shawls.
This celebration of Native American culture marked Pomona College’s
3rd annual Powwow: Honoring the Elements. At least 100 different tribes, over
20 vendors and at least 600 community members and students came together to celebrate Native American culture and traditions.
The Grand Entry, a procession of each tribe and their own music,
dancers and flags began at noon. Jimi Castillo, the
Tongva/Acjachemen Spiritual Supervisor, then blessed the center arena, where the
dancing and music took place.
Throughout the day, two different groups, “The Wildhorse
Singers” and “The Northridge Boys” (Northern
and Southern styles of music, respectively) provided powwow music for the
dancers. Later, a drumming contest was held for different powwow drum groups.
In addition, the community as a whole was invited in the arena to share in an
The dance performances and music are essentially spiritual
actions, which serve to thank the Creator, uplift and give courage to the
people, and remember and honor the ancestors of days passed.
Ernie Whitecloud, a member of the Laguna tribe, traveled to this
powwow from Laguna, N.M., to join his family from California in this
celebration. Together, they form the Whitecloud Singers, a three-generation
drum group that travels to the Bay Area, South Dakota and Southern California
to participate in powwows like these.
“Our dances and music are really important, not just to us,
but to our greater community,” Whitecloud said. “When we drum or dance, it’s not a performance
so much as it is a prayer. It’s for the world and the people, not
just our own people. I
really hope people come that aren’t normally familiar with Native American
culture, so we can share our culture and traditions with them.”
Julien Breistroff PO ’15 was one such newcomer. He happened upon the event while walking around campus.
quite know what it was at first, although I knew it was related to Native
American culture,” he said. “It’s interesting to see because I feel
like there’s not as much Native American representation on campus, so
this is cool.”
Megan Holman PO ’15, though, was much more familiar with the
“I’m from South Dakota, so I felt very
connected to Native American culture,” she said. “I enjoy going to these celebrations in
general, so I’m really glad that we host this here.”
The Pomona College Powwow began in 2011 as part of an effort to
start a Native American culture initiative, spearheaded by president David Oxtoby. The initiative included funding for the powwow and
programming throughout the year.
A powwow committee was formed, consisting mainly of 5C students
and some faculty members, which met regularly with Native American community members in
Claremont. In conjunction with the committee, the 5C Indigenous Student
Alliance of the Claremont Colleges helped organize and fund the powwow.
Sarita McGowan PZ ’16 has been on the powwow committee
since its inception, coordinating head staff, vendors, dancers and event
organization for the powwow. She worked closely with Scott Scoggins, the
Community Scholar in Residence at the Pomona College Draper Center for
Community Partnerships, as well as other 5C students for months in advance of the powwow.
Since the first Pomona-hosted powwow in 2012, McGowan
says she has seen an increased attendance and awareness of the powwow by the
“I’m so glad more and
more people are learning about it and attending,” she said. “It’s so important to
show that Native American culture is alive and well today. All students from the 5Cs are always welcome to participate.
It doesn’t matter where we come from; we all have to collectively
come together, and, in that way, we’re all related.”