Kuri Kuri, Pow wow, Fiesta
Viejas Gathering a Success

By Roy Cook

A beautiful Day. A beautiful Night. A magnificent moon. Hold this vision of beauty and picture the most beautiful people on this hemishere. Native American, Indian, Indigina, Ipai, Tipai, Kumeyaay, Cauilla and many other Tribes were represented. This annual gathering is the platform for many other events culminating this summer weekend: August 24, 2002. A major focus is the summer classes in Kumeyaay Language, Culture, Art, Music, Games and introduction to new technology is available for tribal youth residents of the Viejas, Barona and Sycuan Reservations. International and local elders are the teachers for these summer classes. This is self determination in action. Traditional education that is continuing local Kumeyaay Tribal custom and tradition.

Chet Barfield writes in an article published in the UNION-TRIBUNE. (Read the whole article: Kumeyaay.com ) They're here to nurture their Kumeyaay heritage. The annual gathering is for those from 5 to 18 years of age, from the Viejas, Barona and Sycuan reservations. Now in its sixth year, the two-week Summer Cultural Program is aimed at reminding tribal young people who they are, where they came from and the importance of sustaining their traditions. Little fingers are weaving baskets out of rush strands gathered from a river's edge. Others are shaping blobs of wet clay into small, brown figures of turtles and coyotes.

Nearby, supervised and instructed by Richard Bugbee, young boys are cavorting in a stick-ball game that their forefathers played hundreds of years ago. While it all looks like fun, that's not the main reason these 60 kids have been gathering daily since last week under a massive oak tree, beginning each morning with blessings of sage smoke. They're also being taught their Kumeyaay language in picture, song and story by native-speaking elders from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Oletha Leo is chairwoman of Viejas' education committee, and she coordinates the cultural program. Leo said it's crucial for American Indian youth especially this first generation growing up with casino revenues to appreciate the practices and sacrifices of their ancestors. The hope, she said, is that someday they'll be the elders doing the teaching. (Thanks to Chet Barfield for these excerpts)

In the afternoon, introductions began with the 2001-2 Miss Kumeyaay Nation. This event completed her term and the new Miss Kumeyaay was selected from a field of beautiful young ladies from the Campo, Sycuan, and Viejas Reservations. They were interviewed to evaluate their knowledge of Kumeyaay history, language, and community involvement. The contestants were: Nalena Craddock, Deanna Ferrin, Cilla Grijalva, Deanna Jackson, Melanie LaChappa, and Alana Sandoval. The second runner up is Nalena Craddock, and first runner up is Melanie LaChappa. The winner of the Ms. Kumeyaay Nation 2002-2003 is Cilla Grijalva. Thanks to Charlotte Ochiqui for sending me the names and correct spelling. I have been known to make mistakes, I'm just a work in progress.

There was a large display, organized by Mike MIlken, of Kumeyaay tribal art for purchase. Other vendors offered tasty treats and some southwest jewelry. Late in the afternoon Tipai singing began with various singers in rotation. Viejas Tribal Council Vice-Chairman Bobby Barrett was Master of Ceremonies for the event. All responded to his announcement to kasau! "Kneu kanuk kasau." in Kumeyaay means: Come, sit down to eat. This invitation is extended to everyone and is a fine example of traditional hospitality. The evening meal was catered by Gourmet Rotisserie. This was an outstanding meal of grilled beef or chicken with baked beans and sweet corn. Potato salad and salsa for chips or anything else you wanted to spice it up a notch. The caterers stayed open to serve for quite some time, even those, who always arrive fashionably late, could get a bite if they desired. I sat and ate with the always fashionable George Prieto from Sycuan and his wife. We appreciate the hospitality of the Viejas tribal council and also the Viejas Casino for those neat Tee shirts.

The singing rotation began again. Some, like Larry Hammond, singing long sets, others working out their harmony and presentation. Ral Chrisman, lifelong resident of this reservation and a recognized lead singer of Tucuk Tipai song, came forward and represented the Viejas community. Ral studied under the tutelage of his father, Ron Christman. Ron and Leroy Elliot are generally acknowledged as the two singers best carrying on the Tucuk song style of the late George Hyde. At this time I will mention another young man who is also an accomplished lead singer of Lasha Tipai song, John Christman, Viejas Tribal Council member. John studied under the instruction of the highly regarded elder and recognized cultural treasure, Jose Robles. It is always a pleasure to hear Paul Cuero sing, he and Steve Banagas paired up for the completion later.

The singing was halted to begin the dance completion. Various communities and age groups were represented. Vera Brown registered the dancers and made a list for John Christman to select from. As each came forward a singing group was selected by John to sing the songs for that session. Let me share a humorous antidote of the evening. When John called up all the singers to line up in the arena he said, with a laugh, "Is this a football team or the singers?" There were some pretty buff fellows in that line, big too. John was dependable in his efforts to provide organization and consideration to what can quickly slide into a tangled mess. His talents are evident as he respectfully acknowledged each singing group and dance team. This evening the lead singer will select two standard and one double step song for the dancers completion. The winners were warmly applauded. There were some great songs sung and some real tricky double step ones too. From time to time there were some minor technical challenges but these were taken with good humor.

Following the dance completion eight or nine fires were begun for the peon gam es. That is a lot of teams, two each per fire, to play, maybe, all night. This year the team from San Pasqual, at four in the morning, took home bragging rights and most likely both pockets full of change too. I just cannot adequately describe the overwhelming emotional feeling: to be in clean and sober company of people, even though I am not a member of this band there are those who have known me since I was a baby, people who I went to school with, friends and family with beautiful babies and children running around just being themselves. It is just too wonderful, this and each time we can be together, in this our Tribal traditional way. I thank the Creator for this day. All my relations.

Roy Cook (Mazopiye Wichasha) Opata/Osage, author/publisher.