An inter-tribal gathering, a sharing of different tribal cultures, a dance, social party, spiritual event and for some a way of life – a pow wow is a combination of all these things, according to Wanda Summers, one of the organizers of this year’s 31st Annual Pabanamanina Gathering and Pow Wow to be held on the Bishop Paiute Indian Reservation this weekend.
The family-friendly drug- and alcohol-free festivities are open to the entire community and start with a parade on Friday, California Indian Day, and continue through Sunday. Hundreds of Native American dancers, drummers and others from around the nation will descend upon Bishop to show off their regalia and their traditional regional dances.
There will also be games for the kids, music, a free barbecue Saturday of a steer cut from the Tribal herd, Native American artists selling wares, an honoring of all local veterans and the crowning of Miss Pabanamanina and a junior counterpart. There will also be handgames, one of the oldest Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone Indian traditions that can be traced back to some Creation stories.
Describing what exactly a pow wow is can be difficult, said Summers. She said it is definitely a gathering, and for the Bishop Tribe it is a way to invite other nations to its Reservation for a social and spiritual gathering.
“It is also a way to bring it home,” Summers said. She explained that when the pow wow first started in Bishop it was a response to a poor economy and Bishop’s remote location. She said as anyone who lives or visits the Owens Valley knows, it is a long distance from larger populations and expensive to travel. So, a pow wow was sponsored locally to continue important traditions closer to home.
Summers added that pow wow is also “a good way of life” – especially for youngsters, since participants have to be sober to pow wow. Youngsters also garner respect for elders, the pow wow arena, the songs and stories and regalia, some passed on from generation to generation. Summers said with respect for others comes self-respect.
She explained that some people spend their entire lives going from pow wow to pow wow. Summers said there is a pow wow somewhere in the country nearly every weekend of the year.
She said every tribe has its own version of a pow wow, but these larger gatherings are exactly that, a social, fun and spiritual event.
And of course there is dancing and drumming. This year the drum group The Boyz will be performing along with the very talented and accomplished Bishop drummers. Summers said she knows some people will travel to the Bishop pow wow just to see and hear the drummers.
For those new to a pow wow, Summers said, the arena emcee will announce basic etiquette, what is happening and what to do. She said taking pictures is fine, but subjects should be asked for their permission before their photo is taken.
The ancient Paiute and Shoshone handgames will be played all three days with a $15,000 total pot offered, including one grand prize of $6,000 for Saturday’s Red Rover match.
“This weekend we will host one the biggest handgame tournaments in our tribe’s region, and this is a great honor,” Erick Mason, handgame organizer, said in an e-mail.
The objective in a handgame, which requires supreme concentration and powers of observation, as described by Mason, is for competitors to size up their opponents to determine which hand they are holding a bone in behind their backs, without being distracted by music and songs.
The game is played like this: One team will have two bones, usually deer shin (one white, one with a black smear) and the team will hide each bone in a different hand. This is all done while the team sings and keeps a beat.
The other team picks a hand trying to find the white bone, and with a correct choice comes a stick. If the black-striped bone is chosen, the team loses a stick. The object of the game is to collect 10 sticks.
Friday is the Bonehog Tournament, a two-person team single-elimination, which Mason said is much more difficult that the usual five-man team. Saturday is Red Rover, which, like it sounds, means that when a team loses, it has to join the winning team. Mason said this usually leads to a huge two-team, winner-take-all championship game.
The Annual Elders Chuptoohee Tournament card game will coincide with the handgame tournaments.
The event starts Friday but the pow wow grounds will be open to be the public starting at noon today for setting up booths or shade canopies.
A parade will start at 10 a.m. Friday at the casino and end at the Barlow Lane Gymnasium. To enter or for more information, go the casino website at www.paiutepalace.com  or call (760) 873-4150.
Fun for the kids continues at the Community Center next to the gym at noon. At 2 p.m. at the center will be the crowning of pow wow royalty. Vying for Miss Pabanamanina Princess are Leticia Gonzales and Bailee Piper. Lacey Racine, Camile Talavera, Hateya Rose Barr and Kassidie Duckey are vying for Little Miss Pabanamanina.
The Grand Entry and Welcome begins at 7 p.m. followed by an honoring of the newly crowned court and then the dancing. Friday night dancing highlights the juniors, tiny tots and Golden Age men and women.
Grand Entry on Saturday begins at noon with an honoring of veterans at 12:30 and more youth dancing. Every local veteran, Native or not, is invited to the arena to be recognized and awarded a gift for serving in the armed services.
A free barbecue begins at 5, courtesy of the casino and at 7 is the Evening Grand Entry, and a $1,500 winner-take-all women’s Fancy Shawl and men’s Fancy Bustle. There will be a continuation of dancing exhibitions and competitions following the winner-take-all events.
Sunday begins with Grand Entry at noon continuing with dance competitions, Bailee Piper’s Special Teen Team Dance, Paiute women’s special, a hand drum contest, raffle winners being announced and presentations to the winners.
The pow wow’s biggest financial sponsors have been, and continue to be, the Bishop Paiute Tribe, the Owens Valley Career Development Center Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF Program, and the Paiute Palace Casino. Other sponsors include the Big Pine Tribe, Bishop Waste, Utu Utu Gwaitu Tribe, Brune Mortuary, Mojave Heating and Cooling and Ralph Le Pera, attorney at law. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also donated generators and lights and McDonald’s and Bar-B-Que Bill’s have donated to the princess contests.
Summers added that the event is open to the public. “Bring a chair and have some fun.”
For more information, go to www.paiutepalace.com .