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Dancers in the Grand Entry of the 2019 Chukchansi Pow Wow (photo by Sarah Jackson)

Chukchansi Pow Wow Energizes Coarsegold’s Historic Village

COARSEGOLD – The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians’ annual pow wow is expected to draw almost 500 participants — and thousands of visitors — to Coarsegold’s Historic Village this weekend.

Youth dancer (photo by Sarah Jackson)

Tribal culture in all of its artistry, tradition and ceremonial splendor is on full display throughout the Historic Village during the annual three-day event (Oct. 11-13).

The popular pow wow celebrates Native American history and culture through song and dance — and draws dancers, drummers and singers from the Chukchansi as well as dozens of other Native American tribes from around the state and country.

“This pow wow brings a lot of people to Coarsegold,” Shirley Diaz, the head of the Chukchansi Pow Wow Committee, said Saturday as Day Two festivities kicked off.

The colorful event provides a big boost to the mountain area economy, with visitors packing local hotel rooms, restaurants and businesses over the three-day weekend’s to watch — and participate — in the dancing and drumming.

Diaz said she and some of the other members of the Pow Wow Committee actually spend time throughout the year visiting a number of Native American pow wows and inviting members of other tribes to participate in the Chukchansi’s annual event.

Shirley Diaz, head of the 2019 Chukchansi Pow Wow Committee (photo George Lurie)

This is the 27th continuous year the tribe has hosted a public pow wow, with all but two of those events happening at the Historic Village.

“It’s great to see the younger generation [of tribal members] taking over the structure and work of organizing and putting on the pow wow. They’re doing a great job of honoring their elders and the tribal traditions,” said Historic Village owner Diane Boland.

A pow wow is “a social gathering held by many different Native American communities,” according to Wikipedia. “A modern pow wow is a specific type of event for Native American people to meet and dance, sing, socialize and honor their cultures.”

The theme of this year’s Chukchansi Pow Wow is “Honoring Mother Earth.”

The event, which is sponsored by the Fresno Grizzlies and Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, showcases traditional handmade Native American singing, dancing, drumming, crafts and food. Known as a “competitive pow wow,” the event welcomes “all dancers and drummers.”

Drummers from all over the U.S. are expected to participate in the Pow Wow, Diaz said.

The Chukchansi Pow Wow is one of just a few major tribal events the Chukchansi hold open to the general public.

“This year, there are a lot more dancers than usual,” Boland said. “And the regalia is just amazing.”

Boland said the event typically draws between 3,000 and 5,000 people a year to the Historic Village,

Drum maker Lori Manweiler and artist Flamerunner perform a ceremonial chant on one of pair’s creations (photo by George Lurie)

Lori Manweiler, a Squaw Valley resident who builds Indian-style drums “from scratch,” with skins that include elk hide, cow, deer and buffalo, had a booth at the pow wow displaying her work. She said she employs a construction technique known as “plate-joiner” or “biscuit-cutter.”

“There are no nails in my pow wow drums’ hoops,” she said.

Manweiler’s friend Flamerunner paints Manweiler’s drum covers with Native American-themed designs and was also in the drum booth Saturday greeting visitors — and helping her friend sell drums.

“There is so much positive energy here today,” Flamerunner said. “I love coming to Coarsegold. It’s such a great setting for this kind of gathering.”

“Pow Wow is an event we look forward to every year,” said the Picayune Tribal Council in a statement issued this week.

Dancer Mark Sanchez Jr. has his hair braided by his mother Krystal Sanchez before Saturday’s Grand Entry (photo by George Lurie)

“The Pow Wow provides an opportunity for us to come together as we honor our rich heritage through traditional prayer, dance, song and food,” said the Council statement. “The gathering would not be complete without the tireless dedication and contributions from each volunteer, vendor, sponsor, spectator, drummer, dancer, tribal members and our planning committee.”

Tom Phillips acted as the MC of the event. Donnie LeDesma was head man; Dolores LeDesma was head woman; Robert LeRoy was teen boy and Kiva Davis was teen girl.

The Fresno State-based Native American Initiative also had a booth at this year’s pow wow. The Native American Initiative was established to increase the number of Native American students enrolling at and graduating from Fresno State.

Amber Esquivel, the outreach coordinator for the program, is a member of the Chukchansi tribe who is employed by Fresno State to recruit and support Native American students from around the area.

Esquival just graduated herself from Fresno State with a Master’s Degree and will take part in the 33rd annual California Indian Conference taking place at Sonoma State next month.

“There are some really exciting programs and opportunities for Native American students out there right now,” she said.

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