Barona tribe prepares to dance and sing during 50th annual powwow celebration

women wearing brightly colored, traditional regalia dance in a powwow circle
Two young women dance fancy shawl at the Barona Annual Powwow in 2019.
(Courtesy of the Barona Band of Mission Indians)

After hosting a scaled-down event last year, this year’s event will come back full swing


As a child, Barona Band of Mission Indians Vice Chairwoman Beth Glasco grew up in the powwow circle.

She fondly recalls the first time she won a dance contest in the junior girls southern cloth category, and helping her family clean up the powwow grounds at Barona following the event each year. Even fonder memories come to mind when she thinks of being rewarded with a pizza party after completing the task.

“The powwow is the blessing of the community and it’s just encompassing your culture and your ceremony, the singing, the dancing and just every aspect that brings you together,” Glasco said.

Lauren J. Mapp on the San Diego News Fix:

Today, Glasco passes on the tradition of participating in the annual powwow to her four grandchildren, who are ages 2 through 7.

This Labor Day weekend, she and the tribe will celebrate 50 years of hosting the free, annual powwow, which Glasco said is the main event bringing tribal members and people from elsewhere in the region together each year.

Powwow visitors will be able to see Indigenous people from all over compete in dance contests, try traditional foods and shop from vendors who make jewelry and other wares. They’ll also see groups sitting around large drums made from wood and leather, which singers beat simultaneously, representing the community’s heartbeat.

Throughout the weekend, special contests will be held for men’s fancy dance, switch dance (where dancers emulate the style of the opposite gender) and team dance categories.

For drummers, there will also be a 49-drum contest after the Saturday evening dance session, as well as a hand drum contest. To help celebrate the 50th anniversary milestone, the tribe will also host its first-ever 5K fun run Saturday morning.

Barona’s annual powwow was established in the early 1970s by a group of Indigenous leaders in San Diego, including Glasco’s father, Albert “Boxie” Phoenix.

Glasco said that at the time, San Diego Indian Center President Wilbur Solomon of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska had wanted to organize a powwow to bring a greater sense of community to Indigenous people in the region. Phoenix got approval from his tribe to host the powwow on the Barona reservation, then they proceeded to organize the inaugural event alongside their friends from the Drum and Feather Club, including Pete Bailey and Gary Kodaseet.

Barona’s annual powwow predates the opening of the tribe’s casino by nearly three decades. In those early years, Glasco said her family and other community members would fundraise to support the event and the dance contest prizes.

This year’s event begins Friday at 6 p.m. with gourd dancing, a ceremonial dance honoring warriors and military veterans, the origin of which is often attributed to the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

During grand entry, all of the powwow dancers will dance into the arena to the sound of drum groups, which will include host southern drum Bad Medicine and host northern drum Iron Hill, the latter of which Glasco said will be recording a new album during this year’s powwow.

Grand entry will be held at 8 p.m. Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, grand entry will be held twice, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

This year’s dancers will be led by head woman Charlsi “Sammye” Kemble, head war dancer Joaquin Reagan “JR” Lonelodge, head boy dancer GrayWolf Alto, head girl dancer Emma Lonelodge and head gourd dancer Ted Grant. This year’s head judge is Verna Street; the arena directors are Pat Moore and Amos Littlecrow; and Tom Phillips and Harold Hill, Sr. will be the emcees throughout the weekend.

The powwow will take place on the Barona Indian Reservation in the Barona Sports Complex at 1095 Barona Rd. in Lakeside. For more information about this year’s powwow at Barona, visit