Visiting Pasadena 2009 Powwow and about poorly dressed people

Photo and Story by Robert Clifford
News From Indian Country 7-09

Nowadays, most people are so poorly dressed, there’s no longer any fun in people watching. And a crowded Pasadena sidewalk is where looking but not looking is the norm; where eye contact doesn’t mean anything; where when you do make eye contact, you pretend no one is there.

Moreover, it’s a harsh place where being respectful has lost its meaning; where it takes a lot more time to not be nice, than be nice.

In addition, it requires language to connect on a crowded sidewalk; where most verbal contact is with a panhandler: a person asking for money.

However, a powwow is a different story.

First off, a powwow is a fashion show. You have the shiny jingle dresses, the colorful headdresses, the rattling breast plates and the beaded moccasins. A nonstop parade to touch my past and feast the eyes: the windows to the soul.

And every person tells a story. A story reflected in their eyes, wrinkles, expressions, posture, ethnicity and age. And I’m still fascinated by others: their face, clothes, walk, gestures, conversations and spirituality.

At the gatherings, without the distraction of interaction, you don’t have to start the smile to get one. And it doesn’t require language to connect. And you can see, hear, smell and taste your culture.

Even if you have braided blood, at the powwow you just aren’t but a fish in a teeming sea.


At the Pasadena powwow the air was hot. A slim moon hung overhead. And the bead trader’s booth was busy. And the bustling dancers from Mexico were arresting; especially Wolf Star Man.

Wolf Star Man said he was born and raised in La Tinajita: Little Water Jug, Mexico.

Glistening with sweat, he told me, “It’s not myth, but American Indian dancing is the rhythm of life. So I try to show the beauty and endless drama of my culture, and my pain and joy. You know, art is meant to be shared, for Indigenous people are delighted in seeing art. So I also like to think of my dancing as being the will of God: making the best of things.”

The man from La Tinajita looks like a large figure in an ancient Baja California cave painting.

He continued, “Like your people, the Lakota, we had our famous warriors. And Guerro Negro, Black Warrior, was one. He was one of the first ones on Earth, and I am his descendant.”

I asked him if his dancing was a thrill.

He responded, “Dancing is a personal journey. A thrill is a hot day and doing what I want to do.”