The American Indian Student Association at CSUN honored Indigenous Awareness Month by having a pow wow during Veteran’s Day weekend, about two weeks after Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante announced that November will now be recognized as American Indian Heritage Month in California.
A pow wow is a community event used in contemporary society, said Rosemary Avila, AISA president. It is a celebration of dancing, singing, praying and socializing. It also consists of cultures sharing and starting new friendships.
The free two-day event included an intertribal gathering of nations in the Western Hemisphere, said Tomas Thomas, AISA’s cultural consultant.
This year’s pow wow was specifically held during Veteran’s Day weekend in honor of veterans and the Native Americans currently serving in the military, said Pamela Viliasenor, an alumna of the organization.
The event was intended to honor warriors of the past and present, Thomas said. These warriors are those who defended homeland security from 1492 until now so that their people could continue to live on their land.
People from the San Fernando Valley and the greater Los Angeles area attended the event, Thomas said. An estimated 4,000 people came to join in the celebration.
“Los Angeles has the largest urban Native American community,” Avila said.
Members of the AISA, American Indian Studies Program and the First Nation Alumni Alliance were all participating in the event.
The pow wow was coordinated with other universities, including CSU Long Beach.
The first pow wow celebration was held April 9, 1976. In 1998, however, it was put on hold for seven years until it returned in 2005. The seven-year hiatus was due to AISA not having enough involvement and support from the university, according to the association’s members.
“American Indians feel left out,” Avila said. “We want the beauty of the culture to be recognized.”
AISA is a small organization on campus and therefore they get little financial support from the university, said Dr. Karren Baird-Olson, who has been AISA’s coordinator for five years.
Pow wows require a large investment of money and time, Avila said.
A good pow wow costs approximately $25,000-$30,000, Thomas said.
The funding for AISA’s pow wow came from A.S., private donations and various departmental funds.
Before establishing itself as AISA in 1974, the organization was first known as the Foundation for American Indian Right in 1969, then United Native Americans in 1971.
“This year has been the best,” Thomas said. “There was a good head staff and phenomenal attendance at the event.”
The event was meant to educate the campus and surrounding communities about the importance of Native American culture, a goal the organization’s members said they feel was achieved.
“The part I enjoyed most about the event would be the two special drums and songs for those in the Armed Forces,” Viliasenor said. During this time, there was no dancing, just pure silence in honor of the veterans.
“It was touching and wonderful to express gratitude for the sacrifices they made,” Viliasenor said.
“I was honored to share this special event with veterans and their families,” Thomas said.