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


The Morongo Band of Mission Indians will open their three day Powwow Friday in Cabazon and the 30th.

This year’s powwow will be held outside in a large, open-sided tent, said Morongo chairman Charles Martin, and will feature an Indian market, handmade food, dance and drum competitions, bird singing and more. Entry is free and face masks are “highly recommended”.

“Powwows are amazing events full of colors and sounds that help preserve our traditions and heritage,” Martin told The Desert Sun. “They are places where Native American artists and vendors can sell traditional food or handmade jewelry, pottery and baskets.”

Especially after missing out on a year of personal pow wows, tribesmen, families, and everyone who attends will “finally get a chance to laugh and dance,” he said.

Morongo isn’t the only Southern California tribe bringing back their powwow this fall; The Barona Band of Mission Indians held their event in the San Diego District in early September, followed by the Kumeyaay Nation’s Sycuan Band. For vendors, dancers and drummers touring the national powwow circuit, powwows 2021 also signal a return to a livelihood lost last year.

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

Dancers are pictured at the Morongo Thunder & Lightning Powwow last year.

Art, food and other goods in the outdoor market

In 2019, when Morongo’s powwow was last held, more than 75 vendors were selling authentic indigenous handicrafts, including beadwork, clothing, jewelry, blankets, dream catchers, and pottery, outside the large powwow tent.

One of those vendors keen to attend this year’s event is Rich Fierro, the co-owner of Native Fits, a company he started with his wife that sells bespoke, native-inspired clothing and accessories.

‘One way of life’:Careful and joyful return of the Powwows in Southern California

More:Meet the tribal members who “awaken” the Cahuilla language

Their popular products include brightly colored beaded sunglasses, denim jackets with embroidered tribal logos, hats with the word “Native” on the front, and even baby clothes.

Fry bread, a staple at Native events from weddings to birthdays, was a classic offering at previous Morongo powwows. Indian tacos also use deep fried bread as a base and can be made in a slightly different way. For example, a Navajo taco is made with ground beef, kidney beans, black olives, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and lettuce.

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

Dance and drum competitions, birdsong

Morongo’s event will include prize money dance and drumming competitions, as well as open, non-competitive bird song and dance: a Cahuilla tradition in Southern California, including Morongo and other Coachella Valley tribes. Birdsong describe the experience of the Cahuilla migrating south and serve as lessons that educate tribe members about life stages, Morongo explained on his Powwow website.

The bird sessions take place every day in round robin style before the major entry events that open every powwow session. A special bird competition will take place on Saturday at 5 p.m.

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 dancesThe categories range from “golden age” men aged 65 and over in combined northern and southern styles to young girls aged six to 12 in traditional jingle dresses and fancy scarves.

Participants gather in the arena during the grand entrance at the Morongo Thunder and Lighting Powwow in Cabazon on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

If you go: Full weekend schedule

Morongo’s Powwow is located next to Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa, 49-500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon. Entry is free and public. The tribe noted that the times are approximate and the following schedule may change.

Friday, September 24th:

  • 4 p.m. – Indian market opens, along with registration for all activities, blessings of the dance area, and open birdsong and dance
  • 7.45 p.m. – drum call
  • 8 p.m. – Color Guard Grand Entry
  • midnight – Close, withdraw flags

Saturday, September 25th:

  • 10 am – Indian market opens
  • 11 clock – Open birdsong and dance
  • 12:45 p.m. – drum call
  • 13 o’clock – Color Guard Grand Entry, Powwow registration closes
  • 17 o’clock – 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 punctually at dusk
  • midnight – Close, withdraw flags

Sunday, September 26th:

  • 10 am – Indian market opens
  • 11 clock – Open birdsong and dance
  • 12:45 p.m. – drum call
  • 13 o’clock – Color Guard Grand Entry
  • 6 p.m. – Conclude

Amanda Ulrich writes for The Desert Sun as a Report for America Corps member. Log on to Twitter at @AmandaCUlrich.


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