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Bishop pow wow a celebration, competition & showcase all in one

September 25, 2012

At the 2011 Pabanamanina Pow Wow, these winners in an elders category dance competition continue to serve as examples for the next generations of how tradition is carried on. This weekend, Pow Wow visitors can see elder, adult, teen and junior competitions in fancy bustle, grass, traditional and fancy shawl dance. Photo by Cyndie Summers


With everything from visiting celebrities’ high-energy performances and heated competition to fun games and free barbecue, the Indian Days Celebration and Pabanamanina Pow Wow is open to everyone who wants to celebrate family unity and the preservation of cultural heritage this coming weekend.

Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Pabanamanina, or big gathering, begins early Friday, Sept. 28 and ends Sunday evening, Sept. 30. 

Pow Wow Committee Member Wanda Summers said, “It’s nice to be able to bring in high-caliber staff”like the two drums, Young Bird and Highway 21; emcee Ruben Little Head; Arena Director Ben Wolf; and Head Dancers M.J. Bullbear and Jolynn Begay. These nationally-renowned pow wow celebrities have big followings and are sure to be “a big draw,” she said.

Like Mule Days or the Tri-County Fair, pow wow is about  family, community and heritage, explained Summers. “It’s a family event getting ready for pow wow,” preparing regalia and so on. And pow wow brings revenue into the community, she said. “You’ll see lots of Native people at Ben Franklin’s buying ribbon and material, shopping at Kmart” and other stores around town. Also, pow wow travelers frequent local restaurants and hotels. “We are expecting guests from the Midwest up to Canada and throughout the West.”

And where there’s family, there’s food. In addition to the free meals served during the pow wow, food vendors will be there all three days, selling Indian tacos and other taste-tempters, alongside booths full of artists’ wares.

FRIDAY, Sept. 28

Festivities for California Indian Day, 

a holiday legislated in 1968 by Governor Ronald Reagan and made an official state holiday in 1998,  will commence early so people are welcome to set up booths, chairs and shade canopies – highly recommended, said Summers – prior to noon at the Pow Wow Arbor located near the Paiute Palace Casino RV Park, 2742 N. Sierra Hwy.

Well before noon though, will be 6 a.m. registration for the California Indian Days “Walk for Life” Toiyabe Suicide Prevention Walk/Run at Toiyabe Indian Health Project, 52 Tu Su Ln. The walk/run will take off at 7 a.m. heading for Paiute Palace. As the event flyer states, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for Native Indians and Toiyabe hopes the walk/run “will unite our Indian people with common goals, preventing suicide and ending the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental health disorders.”

At 10 a.m., the California Indian Days Parade will roll out from the casino, following Pa Ha, Diaz and Barlow lanes, ending at Barlow Gym. The parade theme is “Honoring our People – Past, Present and Future” and Grand Marshall Isabel Alvey will preside. Bishop Paiute tribal elder Alvey, who retired 15 years ago from a 39-year career of service as a Northern Inyo Hopsital ICU nurse, was “one of the original board members at the inception of the Toiyabe Indian Health Board,” said Palace Marketing Director Tim McGlynn.

Though parade entry deadline is 4 p.m. this Thursday (go to to download a entry form), McGlynn said residents can register for the parade up until 9 a.m. Friday – but they won’t be eligible for judging. There will be 30 casino-sponsored prizes in categories like Musical Group, Mounted, Traditional Youth and Most Creative Youth, Family and Rez Car.

At 11 a.m., following the parade, will be a free barbecue lunch at Barlow Gym along with Family Formation Activities – contemporary and traditional events such as a melon eating contest, youth one-pitch tournament, free-throw contest, three-legged race, hoop and pull contest and the potato dance.

At 11:30 a.m., national and international motivational speaker Arnold Thomas, a Shoshone-Paiute tribal member, will speak at the community lunch at Barlow Gym, 390 N. Barlow Ln. Thomas’ suicide attempt at age 18 left him permanently blind, severely disfigured and unable to speak for several years, states his biography on With strong community support and a “renewed will to live, I survived this challenging period of my life and slowly began to put the shattered pieces back together.” Since then, Thomas has been speaking and “developing substance abuse and suicide prevention and intervention programs on the local and national levels.”

At 2 p.m., Pabanamanina Princess contestants will vie for the Junior Miss and Miss crowns at the Bishop Paiute Tribe Community Center, located across from Barlow Gym. Five contestants will be judged on regalia, which includes beadwork, dresses, shawls, etc.; pow wow dancing; presentation; and speaking ability. “It is good for them because while holding the title, they have to be a good role model and represent our tribe and pow wow” at all times, said Pow Wow Committee Member Rhonda Schultz.

At 7 p.m., the Pabanamanina Pow Wow will officially begin with the first Grand Entry, ushering in seasoned performers and much dancing and drumming. Little Head has emceed some of the largest pow wows across the  U.S., said Summers. “He really keeps the pow wow moving. There are no lulls.” The emcee is the voice of a pow wow, keeping everyone  informed at all times about the happenings.

As arena director,  nationally known pow wow celeb  Wolf will be in charge of ensuring that everyone is where they should be – dancers dancing, drum playing the right songs and, most importantly, that the dance arena is treated with the proper respect by pow wow visitors.

“The host drums, Young Bird and Highway 212, will be singing their best songs. There is definitely a difference between northern sound and southern drum, the way they sing. They have different styles and sounds altogether,” explained Summers.

Renowned head dancers Bullbear and Begay round out the prestigious company. There will be a wide variety of dances throughout the pow wow for Golden Age and adult men and women and teen and junior girls and boys. They will compete in fancy, bustle, grass, fancy shawl and traditional dance styles.

At 7 p.m., on the southeast corner of the casino grounds, the three-day hand game, or “nie-yug-wee as it is pronounced in the  Owens Valley Paiute dialect,” will begin, said whonah Erick Mason. The ancient Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone hand game requires supreme concentration, powers of observation and stamina, said Mason. (Saturday’s Main Tournament will begin at 1 p.m. and Sunday’s Red Rover Tournament at noon.)

Although contemporary pow wow is an inter-tribal event, the most traditional aspect is hand game, said Summers. The tribal elder-appointed whonah is in charge of the hand game – and the Elders Chuptoohee card game tournament – enforcing “old original rules and etiquette,” explained Mason. Since teams usually represent their tribal region, they seek to win the respect and honor of their competitors. “Our youth have responded quite well (competing with adults) and have shown great progress in their game strategy and confidence … It’s been an honor to be   Bishop Paiute hand game whonah since 1995, helping them to hold true to our ancient game.”

Hand game will start with two-man teams. Each losing team merges with victors and so it goes until Sunday’s Red Rover Tournament, when two huge opposing teams face-off. Hand game is high stakes – winners get “the honor and prestige” of championship, said Mason, as well as a variety of prizes that culminate in the $6,000 Main Tournament grand prize.

The first day of pow wow will end at about 10 p.m., said Summers.


SATURDAY, Sept. 29

The first Grand Entry is at noon,. At about 1:30 p.m., all U.S. military personnel and veterans, Native or non-Native, will be honored and given a special gift. The Tiny Tot Pabanamanina Princess contest is at 2 p.m. and a free barbecue meal will be served at 5 p.m.

The evening Grand Entry will be at 7 p.m. The $1,500 winner-take-all purse for women’s jingle dress and men’s chicken dance contests will be awarded and more performances and competitions will follow.


The final Grand Entry at  noon will herald more performances and competitions. The Paiute-style Women’s Regalia Special is a “big deal … really something special to come out and see,” said Summers. “It is our time to acknowledge our Paiute women and to show our visitors a bit of our local history,” said Summers.

As the festivities come to a close, a group and individual hand drum and Paiute clapper contest welcomes all drummers and clappers to “come down and sing us their favorite songs,” said Summers, “before the awarding of our dance competition prizes and final retirement of the colors.”

At 5 p.m., the pow wow will come to an end. Some folks will head for home nearby. Some will move on to the next pow wow – there is one every weekend of the year somewhere in the U.S. But pretty soon, the six-person Indian Days Celebration and Pabanamanina Pow Wow committee will start their plans for 2013.

By the way, September is National Recovery Month, but “it is always a strict tradition that everyone at all the events remain drug- and alcohol free,” said Summers, “Those failing to adhere will be escorted off pow wow premises. It just is not tolerated.”

For more information, call: Alison at (760) 920-2569 about vendors, camping and hotel; Rhonda at (559) 916-4589 about princess contests; Paiute Palace Casino at (760) 873-4150 or about the parade; and Erik Mason at (760) 920-8625 about the hand game.

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