Soboba Powwow Draws Thousands to Casino Event Center

Native American dancing, singing, and socializing mark annual event ◆ By Chris Smith

Maintaining one's identity, heritage, culture and native language is important for all Americans, a people who have come together to form a country in the cauldron of what has been called the great melting pot.

The Soboba Powwow last weekend in San Jacinto was a celebration of Native American culture, a gathering of Native people to sing, dance, and socialize. Thousands of local residents turned out to attend and watch the celebration.

There were four highlights across the span of the weekend, four separate Grand Entries in which the participants dressed up in elaborate regalia and entered the arena to sing, dance, and play music dressed in an amazing display of Native American high fashion.

It turns out the word "powwow" is derived from the Narragansett language and refers to a gathering a Native people for the purpose of singing, dancing, and celebrating. This powwow took place at the Soboba Event Center next to the casino. It was free and open to the public and made a fun family outing to learn more about Native Americans. While most non-Native people may have had trouble differentiating the different sounds and songs, a great diversity of music can be heard at any given powwow.


Musical styles

A few of the musical styles one might hear are the Omaha dance, social dance, and intertribal dance. To someone of European descent, the songs may sound improvised, but in fact they are composed by singers who teach them to other members of the "drum," or singing group. The songs get passed along at powwows and through recordings.

There are different drumbeats that accompany the songs. Again, there are variations which may include the parade beat, the Omaha beat, social dance beat, accent or honor beat, and the drum roll.

To those who attend powwows regularly, it is clear which type of song is being performed depending on the drumbeat. Included in the powwow are competitions for best dancers, but there are other, noncompetitive dances so everyone can participate. Giveaways are often a common part of the powwow.

A facet of the powwow is the vendors who sell food and handmade crafts outside the arena, and this powwow was no exception. Goods ranged from handmade mugs and lamps to clothing, including expensive deerskin wedding dresses - we saw one beaded dress for $8,000 - to moccasins and silver jewelry. If you're looking for a unique gift for the person who has everything, a powwow might be the place to go shopping.

The Soboba Powwow was one in a series of powwows in the southern California region that will continue over the course of the next two months.


Upcoming schedule

While the Barona and Soboba powwows are now past, two more Southern California powwows are yet to come. Following is the schedule:

Morongo: Sept. 21-23
Location: Just off Interstate 10 in Cabazon, located in a tented, air conditioned arena just outside the hotel and casino.
Friday 4 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 12 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Grand Entry: Saturday, 8 p.m.

San Manuel: Oct. 12-14
Location: Cal State San Bernardino
Friday 1 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Grand Entry: Saturday, 8 p.m.