Indigenous gathering honors women, culture

Dressed in traditional regalia, various children got a taste of their heritage Saturday when they accompanied their elders in performing intricate dances and singing as part of a daylong event to celebrate women in Native American society.

“It’s great seeing the kids get pride and satisfaction in participating and observing their culture,” said Michael Orena, 27, an SF State cinema major.

Around 500 people crowded Jack Adams Hall March 12 to witness the SF State Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations’ 36th annual “Time to Honor Women” powwow. The gathering featured traditional dances and music, including an all-women drum circle, and representatives from tribal nations across the western United States and Mexico.

“It’s a very important and complex theme because there are so many ways to honor women,” said John-Carlos Perea, assistant professor of American Indian studies at SF State. “What’s important to see is that there’s no one way to do that.”

The event also recognized four women who have contributed to the strengthening of indigenous culture and knowledge. One of the women who was recognized, Gabriela Segovia-McGahan, oversees operations for SF State’s American Indian studies and Raza studies programs.

The decision to focus on women at this year’s powwow was made last year when tribal artist and activist L. Frank Manriquez attended several SKINS meetings and suggested the 2011 event take a different approach.

“We wanted to recognize and involve as many strong women as possible,” Manriquez said, who also served as the master of ceremonies. “Women do a lot of the work. What they’re doing is inspiring other women.”

Manriquez is a member of the Tongva and Acjachemen nations of Southern California.

“We don’t need applause, but we don’t need to be invisible either,” Manriquez said.

While Manriquez admitted to playing a large role in organizing the event, she ultimately concluded that the majority of the responsibility was in the hands of students.

“There has been more enthusiasm in the AIS program,” said Elise Ukestad, a 22-year-old women and gender studies major and SKINS member. “Faculty is responsive when students are genuinely interested. A lot of people wanted to make this powwow great.”

The day was not without its serious observances. An impromptu dance and tribal chant was performed in memory of the victims of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11.

Nonetheless, the overall festive mood of the gathering did not lose its momentum as varying dance and singing contests carried on throughout the day in all age groups.

Many of the attendees at the powwow had strong feelings toward the importance of the women-centric themes on display.

“I think it’s beautiful to be celebrating and acknowledging the woman’s role in Native culture,” said Cathy Douglas, an independent filmmaker who traveled from Sedona, Ariz., to see her son-in-law Eddie Madril participate in the powwow. “But I think at our core, we’re all human.”