What to see and do at Morongo Thunder & Lightning Powwow this weekend



The Morongo Band of Mission Indians will launch its three-day powwow on Friday in Cabazon, marking the 30th iteration of the annual event after COVID-19 forced its cancellation last year.

This year’s powwow will take place outdoors in a large open tent, said Morongo president Charles Martin, and will include an Indian market, handmade food, dance and drum competitions, birdsong and more. Admission is free and face masks are “strongly encouraged”.

“Powwows are incredible events full of color and sound that help preserve our traditions and heritage,” Martin told The Desert Sun. “These are places where Native American artists and vendors can sell traditional food, handmade jewelry, pottery, and baskets.”

Especially after missing a year of in-person powwow, tribe members, families and all participants will “finally have a chance to laugh and dance,” he said.

Morongo isn’t the only tribe in Southern California to bring back their powwow this fall; The Barona Mission Indian Band held theirs in early September in San Diego County, followed by the Kumeyaay Nation Sycuan Band Event. For vendors, dancers, and drummers who roam the national powwow circuit, the 2021 powwows also signal a return to a lost bread and butter last year.

“It will be invigorating and healing,” said Martin.

The dancers are pictured at the Morongo Thunder & Lightning Powwow a year earlier.

Art, food and other wares at the open air market

In 2019, the last time the Morongo Pow Wow was held, more than 75 vendors sold authentic Indigenous crafts including beadwork, clothing, jewelry, blankets, dreamcatchers and crafts. pottery, outside the large powwow tent.

One of those vendors planning to attend this year’s event is Rich Fierro, co-owner of Native Fits, a business he founded with his wife that sells custom Indigenous-inspired clothing and accessories. .

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Some of their popular items include colorful beaded sunglasses, denim jackets embroidered with tribal logos, beanies with the word “Native” on the front, and even baby clothes.

Fried bread, a staple at Indigenous events, from weddings to birthdays, has been a classic offering to previous Morongo powwows. Indian tacos also use fried bread as a base and can be prepared in a slightly different way. A Navajo taco, for example, contains ground beef, kidney beans, black olives, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and lettuce.

Bird singers from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians perform at the Cabazon XXXVIII Indio Powwow at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif. On Friday, November 29, 2019.

Dance and drum competition, bird songs

The Morongo event will feature dance and drum competitions for cash prizes, as well as open and non-competitive bird songs and dances: a tradition of the Cahuilla people of southern California, including Morongo and d other tribes of the Coachella Valley. Bird songs describe the Cahuilla experience as they migrated south, and function as lessons that educate tribal members about the stages of life, Morongo explained on his powwow website.

The bird sessions will be held in a round robin style each day before the big entry events, which signify the opening of each powwow session. A specific bird competition will take place at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Dancers and drummers can also compete in many different categories for prizes ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 25 for dancers and $ 10,000 to $ 2,000 for drum groups.

A dozen dance categories range from senior “golden age” men, or 65 and over, in combined northern and southern styles, to junior girls, aged 6 to 12, in traditional styles, fringed dress and fancy shawl.

Competitors gather inside the arena for the grand entrance to the Morongo Thunder and Lighting Powwow in Cabazon on Saturday September 28, 2019.

If you go: Full weekend schedule

The Morongo powwow fields are located next to the Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa, 49-500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon. Admission is free and open to the public. The tribe noted that times are approximate and the following schedule is subject to change.

Friday September 24:

  • 4:00 p.m. – Opening of the Indian market, registration for all activities, blessing of the dance area and song and dance of birds in the open sky
  • 7:45 p.m. – Drum call
  • 8 p.m. – Large entrance to Color Guard
  • Midnight – Closing, withdrawal of flags

Saturday September 25:

  • 10:00 a.m. – Opening of the Indian market
  • 11:00 – Open birds singing and dancing
  • 12:45 p.m. – Drum call
  • 1:00 p.m. – Color Guard Grand Entry, closing of powwow registrations
  • 5:00 p.m. – Bird song and dance competition, dinner
  • 7:45 p.m. – Drum call
  • 8 p.m. – Color Guard Grand Entry, Peon (men, women, boys and girls) starts quickly at dusk
  • Midnight – Closing, withdrawal of flags

Sunday September 26:

  • 10:00 a.m. – Opening of the Indian market
  • 11:00 – Open birds singing and dancing
  • 12:45 p.m. – Drum call
  • 1:00 p.m. – Large entrance to Color Guard
  • 6:00 p.m. – Closing

Amanda Ulrich writes for The Desert Sun as a member of the Report for America corps. Contact us on Twitter at @AmandaCUlrich.


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