A Pow Wow tradition

By Margie M. Palmer

The 2016 San Diego American Indian Pow Wow, a cultural event that showcases the heritage and traditions of American Indians, is set to take place May 7-8 in Balboa Park.

More than 2,500 people from Southern California and Arizona are expected to attend, event organizers said, adding that the Pow Wow will be a colorful demonstration of cultural and spiritual traditions.

Participants of all ages will be drumming and performing bird songs, gourd dancing and all forms of Pow Wow dancing. 

Most people are unaware that there are “about seven different style categories of Pow Wow dance,” event volunteer Perse Lewis said. “Each one of these styles will be featured and we’ll also have two different drumming styles, the Northern drum and the style of song that corresponds to different dances, and the Southern drum, which will also have the style of song that corresponds to those dances.”


The annual Pow Wow will feature about seven different styles of dance. (Courtesy of San Diego American Indian Pow Wow)

The Pow Wow event has been around for nearly three decades, she said, adding that it was initially started in the 1980s by the Indian Human Resource Center (IHRC.)

“It was founded in part as an economic activity for the vendors and it was a place to give American Indian craftspeople to sell their wares. It was also a way to give visibility to Native American culture to let people know we’re still here, and our culture is still strong,” she said.

But in 2013, after a former IHRC executive director was indicted in federal court on charges that he stole nearly $140,000 from the nonprofit, the IHRC lost its funding.

That’s when the San Diego American Indian Health Center stepped in.

“[They] became the fiscal agent of the event in 2013,” Lewis said, adding that while many of the original themes of the event, including vendors and Pow Wow dancers remain prominent, having an influence of the health center has added a healthy eating and active living component.


The Pow Wow is a colorful display of cultural and spiritual traditions. (Courtesy of San Diego American Indian Pow Wow)

Part of that includes featuring a Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Zone that will include physical activities for youth, nutrition education, games and a variety of information booths with materials focused on promoting healthy lifestyles.

“[The Health Center] is helping to provide educational materials to the community about prevention and health promotion. There will also be public service announcements that give statistics on different diseases that the Native American community faces, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, along with tips for increasing physical activity,” Lewis said. “They’re also incorporating Just Move It moments into the Pow Wow, which invite everyone into the arena to do a round dance or a tribal dance to get everyone engaged in some sort of physical activity at that time.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 4.18.52 PM“We really want to invite the local community to come out,” she said. “This is a great way for people to learn about contemporary Native American traditions, for people to see our culture and to participate in something that is a really fun community event.”

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at

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