Sycuan 21st Annual Pow wow 2010

galvinSycuan Tribal land is the Southern California location of this three-day gathering, September 10-12, 2010. It is a place of traditional Yuman singing and dance. The Sycuan people hosted visitors and friends to their 21st annual Pow wow. This weekend is a blessing from the Creator. All we can desire, need and enjoy was evident in the company of the most beautiful people in the world: Tribal People. Danny Tucker, Sycuan Tribal Chairman, is attentive and happy to see so many visitors attending. The outstanding well-manicured dance area is welcoming the dancers to step out and bust their moves. The Soaring Eagle dancers, mentors and parents appreciated the consideration and invitation of the Sycuan Pow wow committee to attend and participate in this wonderful experience.


From the early morning flag ceremonies to the Gourd dance mid-day honoring of our military warriors and dignitaries to the spectacular grand entry of the Sycuan Honor Color Guard and Tribal chairman, Danny Tucker bringing in the Indian staff, accompanied by tribal elders.


Hundreds of outstandingly spectacular outfits adorn the rainbow of dancers. Flashing cones, flying feathers, dignity and tradition in motion. It makes you heart jump into your throat to hear the flag song or the memorial song for those who are no longer with us. Female and male dancers fill the arena. Announced and identified by Mike Burgess, Comanche. He is selected for this years Emcee again. His wit and knowledge adds immeasurably to the diplomacy necessary to facilitate the Native American Intertribal Pow wow today.

In American Indian country, we strive to maintain balance. Our Indian children represent our tribal future and our respect is always for our elders. This year the Sycuan 21st annual pow wow honors Sycuan elders: Celia Tampo and Henry R. ‘Hank’ Murphy.


On the first day of the Pow wow Ron Christman spoke to the ‘new’ interest in our Tribal ways. For the past forty years, there was just the previous generation of established singers. Now there are so many young singers swinging gourds and participating! Teasing the girls, playing roughly and laughing as in years gone by. Believe me, many have been waiting for too many years to see this Tribal renaissance emerge. For many folks there has not been enough singers available and it is been difficult to see beyond a survival mode regarding the traditional CA Tribal singing and language.

We also need to acknowledge the success of the individual Tribal summer workshops on many local Reservations. Tipai Singing, vocational training and language programs like those offered by Kumeyaay College on the Sycuan Reservation.

The songs, Yuman song styles, Tucuk “Bird song”. Most will agree many of the songs have a distinct identity with the Mohave presentation series. Yet at the same time each is identifiable to the region singing the song: Northern or River or Tipai Kumeyaay. As Ron Christman jokingly said, “Only the Kumeyaay get them right.”


All around the dance arena, we see: Children smiling in play, Grandparents being protective and instructive to all children. Also, most evident, the women are always first in tribal country. Wonderful butterflies of color we see the dancers in the arena, bouncing and dipping in response to the songs.

Saturday late afternoon and it is still warm and sunny in the arena. Ron Christman and his competition-judging members announce the beginning of the dance and song singer competition. This long time resident of the Viejas reservation is in charge and is often called upon to establish the proper event orientation. He has long been a supporter of local Native American events and he and Tina Morales have been influential in organizing this gathering and pow wow dance from the first Sycuan Pow wow.


Yuman song style is very often is generally labeled Bird songs. There are from 12 to 14 variations of the Yuman song style. Yuman or Bird Song singers are a vital element in the Colorado River and Kumeyaay custom and tradition within the local Native American social structure.  Bird Singers occupy responsible roles. Traditionally, early in life, potential singers are introduced to established lead singers. During those associations young singers are evaluated to determine: commitment, capacity to learn, and qualities essential to group singing as opposed to individual performance.

Essentially, the Yuman or Bird songs are a series of epic song cycles in the oral tradition. These songs also fulfill a social role as entertainment and many times are sung just for the joy of the occasion. Further, these Bird songs may also be sung as a Kumeyaay Traditional Community presentation. At these occasions, protocol is formally defined and one must get up and dance when the proper song is sung.

There are regional variations in Yuman song but essentially the lead singer and helpers or singers begin standing or seated in a row. After a series of songs, variable to the occasion, the lead singer will rise and dance forward in a series of small steps. Then they will dance backward until they contact the seats or close proximity to the starting point.


A facing row of dancers will often assemble, mostly female, and guided by the gourd rattle and song complete the balance and the presentation. The dancing is often inspiring to the moment and lead singer song selection.

So often I have over heard comments on Bird Singing from observers to the culture, “They all sound alike.” also “They just go back and forth, over and over.” Yet, to the informed observer, these songs are a complex sophistication of multiple related songs. The singer may or may not elect to bring out double step, or triple step songs, spins or turns.


Maybe we will see you at the next American Indian event. It is wonderful to experience this energy and vitality in the continuity of culture. I am very glad I was there this weekend!
Thank you, Aho, Mehan.