Native Honor

Redding Rancheria Stillwater Pow Wow…

Every weekend, in one of dozens of communities scattered all over the United States and Canada, a Native tribe hosts a pow wow. During this three-day celebration, people gather to honor their ancestors, sharing cultural traditions of each region through drum and song and dance. The hosting tribes open the event to non-Natives, offering guests the spectacle of competitions, the tastes of local recipes and the wares of Native vendors.

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

This year, the weekend of October 6-8, it’s Redding’s turn. The Redding Rancheria Stillwater Pow Wow at the Redding Rodeo Grounds, and admission is free.

For the 33rd straight year, hosting duties for the festivities will be borne by Redding Rancheria, a consortium of Winnemem Wintu, Yana and Pit River tribal leaders. According to Jack Potter, Jr., chairman of the tribal council, the pow wow opens with the Grand Entry. “That is one of the most beautiful things to see,” he says. “As the host drum group drums them in, every dancer in every category dances. They follow the color guard, our Native warriors that fought in battles for the United States. We honor all veterans.”

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

As he describes a circular procession of dancers filling the arena behind flags of the country, the state and tribal services, Chairman Potter frequently uses the word “honor.” The arena filled, everyone stops and the drum group plays an honor song. The hosts voices rise with their song, taught to them by their ancestors, now honoring those ancestors and those of all assembled for the pow wow.

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

Potter also serves his people as cultural resource director, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge about the origin of the pow wow. “And so in traditional times, when you had a good abundance of a resource, like say you had a good salmon run or a good acorn harvest, neighboring tribes would come into your country, and they would share their dance and song with you, and you would feed them. This could go on for a month.”

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

So it was through pow wows that neighboring tribes bonded in fellowship. These social connections strengthened through trade, where the expert makers of tools and weapons could exchange their wares or teach others how to make things for themselves. The price was always a question, the answer elusive. “I love that part of it, because you’re getting beads and getting shells and getting hides,” Potter says of the vendors at the pow wow. “I equate it to a swap meet, because they are there with what they are selling and you get to barter back and forth.”

No pow wow was complete without a competition. Today, the drummers, dancers and singers vie for cash prizes, though how the winners are determined might be a bit of a mystery for a culture that compels its players to push themselves to a “perfect” standard that they use as a target to hit for a judge’s favor.

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

Carlos Calica, a member of the Warm Springs tribal community in Northern Oregon, has danced since he was 6 years old. Now 53, he calls himself a champion dancer and competes to this day. But when asked what technique he practices to win a competition, he replies, “I just dance. I dance the way I was taught. And if I win, I win. I lose, I lose. So I put on my regalia to honor my dad, my grandfathers and uncles who taught me how to dance as well, and I sit at the drums and sing the songs I was taught.”

Asked what sets a champion dancer apart from the other dancers, he answers without hesitation, “A champion dancer would truly invest in tomorrow, the future of our children. They would teach them the right ways, teach them about respect for themselves, teach them about respect for each other. They would see the humility and they would stay humble, whether they won or lost.”

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

To Calica, a champion is not defined by the number of medals and trophies won. “I know the things I’ve done will influence and bring positivity to another person or people,” he says. “As a champion, I can’t put myself above or below. I stand equal to the person standing next to me or sitting at another drum group. And if I go to compete and I win, that’s cool. But if I don’t win, I can say I was there and the experience was there.”

Calica will serve as arena director for this year’s Redding Rancheria pow wow, the emcee striving to keep the crowd enlivened, informed and entertained.

Redding Rancheria Pow Wow 2022. Photo by Michael Burke.

Chairman Potter wants to remind folks that they’ll be serving all that wonderful Native food, like the rez dog, all wrapped with fry bread and smothered with cheese sauce if you like, or Indian tacos, and for dessert strawberry shortcake.

And don’t miss the fancy dancers. “Their regalia is very elaborate, bright and colorful. The bustles are made out of feathers, and their footwork is just fancy. Just to say, it catches the eye,” he says. “It’s family-friendly fun, and its free.” •

About Richard DuPertuis

Richard DuPertuis is a Redding grandfather who writes. His stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He strives for immortality not by literary recognition, but through diet and exercise. He can be reached at [email protected]

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