Goal of popular event is preserving traditions, sharing them with others
San Diego’s Native American community came together this weekend to celebrate their culture and traditions -- with a special Mother’s Day twist -- during the 31st annual Balboa Park Pow Wow.
The goal of the event is allowing Native Americans to both share traditions with their children and expose other local residents to tribal songs and dances, Indian tacos and fry bread, and other elements of the culture, organizers said.
“We have to keep our culture going because European people, over the years, have been trying to take the ‘Indianness’ out of our people,” said Native American Randy Edmonds, who founded the event in 1988. “They want us to do everything like white people.”
Similar pow wows are held throughout the year across California and the nation, including several others in San Diego sponsored by local universities and tribes such as Barona and Sycuan.
But the two-day Balboa Park pow wow is always on Mother’s Day weekend, giving it a special element. At one point on Sunday, every mother in attendance was invited into the event’s performance circle to be honored and revered.
“This one is special for us because both our mothers have passed away so we come here and honor them,” said Carlos Miranda, who came from La Puente with his son, Carlos Jr.
Gerald Danforth, a Native American from Chula Vista, said he attends most of the pow wows in the region each year with his wife and two kids.
“We want to share our culture and traditions so people have some idea,” he said. “It’s a good celebration to have with your kids and your families. It’s almost like a seasonal thing, from like spring to late fall.”
The event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, took over a large patch of grass on the southwest corner of Park Boulevard and President’s Way.
Singing and dancing and other performances took place in a large circle surrounded by onlookers in tents. They were highlighted by the “grand entry” at noon, which featured a color guard, dancers and other pageantry.
Outside the circle, eight food booths offered a wide variety of traditional Native Americans cuisine and other options, and 40 vendors sold clothing, jewelry, banjos and other items.
The event has been sponsored for the last six years by the San Diego American Indian Health Center, which treats it as a prime outreach effort.
The center offers medical care and counseling to members of 175 different local tribes, and also operates a youth center for at-risk Native Americans in Bankers Hill.
Paula Brim, the center’s leader, said it made perfect sense for her group to take over the event when the Indian Human Resource Center was struggling to keep it alive.
“Part of the benefit of having this is to share the heritage and culture with greater San Diego and let them know there are Native Americans among them,” she said.
The local image of Native Americans has changed since 1988, with many local tribes building resorts and casinos since then. But Native Americans remain only a small part of the county’s population – less than 1 percent.
Sunday’s session drew some local residents who had never heard of a pow wow before.
Margie Warthen of Mira Mesa said she heard about the event Sunday morning and decided to swing by because it sounded like “something different.”
After trying some Indian fry bread, she said the trip was worth it. “It’s really good – it’s comfort food,” she said.
Teenager Jackie Ruic, who stumbled onto the event with her family, said she was excited to find the perfect gift for her mother – a handmade willow device known as a dream catcher that she hopes to hang in their San Ysidro house to help ward off nightmares.
Brim said total attendance is usually 2,000 to 3,000 each year, but noted that organizers don’t prioritize getting an accurate count. Crowds were smaller on Saturday because of early rains and were larger on Sunday.