Noli Indian School on the Soboba Indian Reservation hosted its 16th annual Gathering of the People on Friday, April 7, the last day of school before spring break. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there was bird singing, horseshoe games, raffles, dancing and lots of fun activities facilitated by members of the Associated Student Body. Everyone was treated to a delicious lunch of chicken, chili meat, hot dogs, hamburgers, frybread and more, grilled and served by staff members.
Noli’s Culture Department Coordinator/Instructor Tashina Ornelas coordinated the event with assistance from the senior class. She said, “The significance of the Gathering of the People is to invite everyone to be together. These are our stories, our people; all are represented here today.”
That was evident in the featured appearances by the Luiseño Singers/Pechanga, led by Robert Villalobos; Ashaatakook Singers/Kumeyaay, led by Ral Christman; Avélaka Fancy Shawl Dancers, led by Tekla Diaz; TM Birdsingers/Desert Cahuilla, led by Derek Duro; and the Inter-tribal Birdsingers, led by Wayne Nelson.
Ornelas said the gathering is also very educational as students are involved with every part of it. She said reaching out to invite the different groups provides them with firsthand experience in public relations and helps them build relationships with the singers and their families.
Three ramadas that provided shade to elders, preschoolers and other guests, were built by Noli culture students with help from members of the Soboba Public Works Department who sourced the materials for them and helped guide them in the construction.
ASB President Luisa Rivera introduced various games for youths of all ages to participate in. One involved having a balloon tied around one ankle with the goal of popping someone else’s balloon while making sure yours stayed intact. After a lot of running and laughing, the game was won by 12-year-old Kolókolomay Temanxwanvish.
A watermelon eating contest pitted 15 contestants against each other and Nicholas Fernandez, 9, finished his quarter melon wedge first amid loud cheering from the crowd. A tug-of-war with boys vs. girls was won by the guys but not easily, as the girls put up a good fight.
Soboba Tribal member Tekla Diaz teaches a Fancy Shawl dance class and her students shared their skills at the event. Diaz currently has about 20 students of all ages. She said her youngest is three and her oldest is 15.
“Dancers create their own individual style, their own way to carry themselves when dancing,” Diaz said. “Some dance gracefully and others dance aggressively.”
She said her dancers have appeared at powwows and schools when invited. Each dancer’s regalia is personalized with color and design choices, further giving them each an opportunity to put their own stamp on their performances.
Sisters Shania and Avellaka Guacheno were making their first public appearance. Their mother, Stephanie Guacheno, said she used to dance herself and her daughters have always been interested. Both joined Diaz’s class about a year ago.
All the dancers came out for a Grand Entry followed by a presentation of different dance styles including a straight step. The finale was a Round Dance where guests were invited to join hands with the dancers in a large circle as they stepped in a clockwise fashion to the music. This culminated in everyone moving toward each other to close the circle and become one.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians