October and November hold so much excitement, cultural celebrations, awareness campaigns, and traditional holidays. For many native and indigenous families, this is the time to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 9. In November, American Indian Heritage Day is the 24, and Thanksgiving is replaced with the National Day of Mourning.
Community members can join in observing the native holidays by attending a powwow gathering and purchasing goods from native vendors. Or by supporting local governmental policy changes that will help uplift indigenous families.
In 2018 the Tejon Indian Tribe shared a video, produced by Mimetic Films, that encapsulated what it meant to attend a powwow. It showcased the many dances and vendors the public is expected to see, plus there was live music by experienced singers and drummers. Krystal Sanchez, the Tejon Pow Wow Princess that year, explained that her favorite parts of the gathering were seeing others getting ready in the morning while greeting each other and being able to reconnect with community members she hadn’t seen in a while.
Marci Diaz is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and her family is from Arizona. She is California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) Native and Indigenous Student Coalition President. Diaz is studying Business with a concentration in Marketing.
Another important element in Diaz’s life is performing the Fancy Shawl dances. Recently she was praised for her performance at the Honoring Our Ancestors Pow Wow hosted by Tejon Indian Tribe.
“Fancy Shawl dancing is basically a women’s only dance and it’s supposed to symbolize a butterfly. So how you’ll look into nature and see a butterfly flapping its wings…that’s kind of what we’re supposed to represent when we dance,” Diaz explained.
She further described the Fancy Shawl as being a long piece of fabric that spreads across the arms to resemble wings, and each dancer can make their own designs. Most designs can hold personal or tribal meanings. Diaz’s shawl displays a rain cloud which is symbolic of her native name Cloud Dancer. Her shawl also includes a sky band and a butterfly symbol.
Diaz cautioned that people should always refer to clothing that is handmade and worn by the native or indigenous community as regalia.
It is a widespread mentality to honor your elders within the indigenous community. One way Diaz does this is by showing her grandmother’s handprints on her regalia, which are positioned in the shape of a butterfly. The regalia Diaz wears displays the four colors that represent the Four Directions or the different sacred paths of life.
It’s vital to Diaz to support native representation because there was a time when people were persecuted for dancing or speaking native languages.
“Being able to express my culture helps give us that definition of who we are and helps others see the world the way we see it. In a way when we’re keeping to our traditions and culture we are able to tell our stories, and celebrate and remember the past,” Diaz continued. “Because in the past it wasn’t always allowed to be able to share our culture.”
The historical actions of boarding or residential schools ensured the erasure of many ancient indigenous languages and cultural practices. Global reports state that hundreds of native languages have gone extinct mostly due to the negative effects of colonization. Reports from outlets like NPR point to systemic problems that caused the erosion of native culture. Reasons include the physical and mental abuse inflicted by the United States boarding schools which were against food, clothing, and languages that were native.
Diaz stated that she would like to see more local agencies acknowledge the native land they occupy and support conversations around giving land ownership back to local tribes. Another major issue for Diaz is the lack of governmental involvement in locating missing and murdered indigenous women and families.
For more information on the issues, Diaz and CSUB’s Native and Indigenous Student Coalition are discussing visit their website here.
David Silva, the Tribal Liaison for CSUB’s Division of Equity, Inclusion & Compliance, spoke to Kern Sol News about upcoming events in the native community and why representation matters to him.
“Representation always matters, whether it’s mainstream media or just local. You want our youth to grow up and see people that resemble them so that way growing up they’re not ashamed of who they are or feel left out of the ‘norm,’” Silva said.
Silva expressed that he also thinks returning land back to the native tribes who originally owned it is an important part of uplifting the community. The Tübatulabals Tribe, indigenous people from the Kern River Valley, recently received some ancestral land back which totaled over 1,200 acres, which Silva mentioned he was happy to hear about.
“Our voices need to be heard, especially in local government,” Silva stated.
Recently, the Kern County Board of Supervisors made September 22 officially “California Indian Day.” Although the holiday has been recognized by the state for several years, this is the first year the county has specifically proclaimed the significance of the day.
During this board meeting Jeff Flores, representative of District 3, stated in his presentation that the Tejon Indian Tribe and the members of the Kitanemuk nation have provided major events in the community like the annual powwow Diaz performed in. Flores also stated that the county’s indigenous community are environmental stewards of the land, water, and resources that make Kern the town it is today, despite negative colonial impacts.
Indigenous youth in Kern County can reach out to several groups to get more involved. Bakersfield American Indian Health Project has an upcoming two-day event called “Gathering of Native Americans & Alaska Natives (GONA/GOAN)” on Saturday, October 7 and 14, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. located at 501 40th Street in Bakersfield.
The Eagle Heart Drum and Dance group is very inclusive and provides activities for the whole family. Youth interested in participating can attend a weekly meeting at 6 p.m. and are instructed to contact Riley at (661) 859-4322 for more information.
Silva and Diaz both want to see more positive representation of native and indigenous people in the media, television, and local government.
Silva recommended that individuals seeking positive representation on television should watch FX’s Dark Winds. Diaz suggested watching Reservation Dogs, for those tuned into Hulu.