Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cuyamaca College Powwow returns for third year

The head man dancer is Richard DeCrane.

The Native American Student Alliance (NASA) at Cuyamaca College is hosting its 3rd Annual Powwow 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb.4, in front of the Communication Arts complex, Building B.

The free, public event aims to promote Native American heritage, with a variety of activities, including Bird Singing, a native singing style of the Kumeyaay people, and a series of competitive dances honoring the culture and traditions of local and distant tribes.

The head man dancer, an important role in any powwow, is Richard DeCrane, a member of the Navajo and Crow tribes. As the head man dancer, DeCrane will lead the dancers in brilliant regalia in the powwow’s opening procession.

DeCrane’s prominence in the powwow is profiled in the event program, from his early years on the Crow Reservation in Montana and his move to the Navajo nation, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents in Standing Rock, New Mexico. A military enlistee straight out of high school, DeCrane served for 15 years in the U.S. Navy, including as a plane captain signaling pilots on the E-2C Hawkeye radar surveillance plane during carrier takeoffs aboard the USS Carl Vincent and USS Abraham Lincoln. He was recognized for his service in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Upon his return from his first deployment to Iraq, his grandfather renamed him “The Warrior Who Has Returned to His People,” in recognition of the warrior tradition of Native Americans. The married father of four has an oldest son, Mark Anthony, who is carrying on the tradition, serving as a corpsman at Camp Pendleton.

After retiring from the military, DeCrane decided to pursue a college education, earning an associate of arts in liberal arts and a certificate in American Indian Studies from Palomar College. He transferred to San Diego State University and earned a degree in American Indian Studies and Tribal Gaming.

At last year’s powwow, DeCrane served as staff carrier, bringing in the Indian flag represented by a long staff with eagle feathers. The staff carrier, a position of respect traditionally held by a veteran, is first to enter the arena, along with the bearer of the American flag.

The powwow opens with a blessing gourd and bird dancing, followed by the grand entry at 1 p.m., the procession of all dancers led by DeCrane. Expected to perform are dancers of the Kumeyaay Nation from the local region; the Blackfeet tribe of Montana; the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians in San Jacinto, as well as the Yaqui and Chippewa, Navajo, Crow and Quiche Maya, and the UmonHon (Omaha) Tribe of Macy, Nebraska.

In addition to dancing, the powwow will showcase the Green River North Drum featuring an intertribal singing and drum group that performs the songs of the Northern Plains. Another group expected to perform is the Asha Takuk Bird Singers, a Kumeyaay troupe from the Viejas and Santa Ysabel reservations whose members have traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada, sharing the traditional song of the Kumeyaay passed down through generations.

Native American arts and crafts, along with fry bread and Indian tacos, will also be the order of the day, in addition to information booths for Kumeyaay Community College; the San Diego American Indian Health Center; Family Health Centers of San Diego; the Southern California American Indian Resource Center (SCAIR), and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

With a name coming from a Kumeyaay phrase, “Ekwiiyemak,” translated to mean “behind the clouds,” “above the rains,” and “the place where the rain comes from the heavens,” and its location on what was once tribal land, Cuyamaca College has long had a connection to the Native American community.

Offering a Kumeyaay Studies certificate program, a mentoring program for Native American students, and a Native American dance exhibit put on at the college each fall, Cuyamaca College values its ties to the tribal communities and culture, said Maria Gearhart, a multimedia technician at the college library and co-coordinator of the powwow, along with Corrine Hensley, a tutoring center specialist. The pair volunteer as advisors to the student group and also have family ties to the Native American community.

“Powwows are celebrations, social gatherings and friendly dance competitions, and there are sacred traditions in this gathering of the people.” Gearhart said. “We look forward to this powwow becoming a long campus tradition,” she said.

Admission and parking will be free.

For more information about Cuyamaca College, located at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in El Cajon, go to www.cuyamaca.edu

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