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By Miriam Raftery

September 5, 2010 (Lakeside) –At Barona’s 40th annual powwow, Barona tribal member and community leader Bonnie La Chappa grilled tortillas at her family’s campsite in preparation for a family feast.

“Every powwow takes on its own culture, depending on the reservation,” she said. “For me, it’s a social gathering—everyone coming together. The dancers come here once a year from everywhere,” including relatives from as far away as Oklahoma, she noted. “It’s about renewing old friendships and making new friends.”

The Powwow continues today and tonight, with a grand procession at 7 p.m., dance competitions, Native American jewelery, arts and crafts, and more.

Barona Powwow princess Alyssa Okuniewicz leads off the ceremonial procession, followed by elders, other dancers, and children.

“A long time ago, there used to be a dance-off to choose the princess,” explained Becky Hill, proud aunt of this year’s powwow princess. Later, her aunt started the Little Hawks dance troupe, where youngsters learn protocols and dance steps. A princess is chosen from among the students.

“The princess serves for a year. She will travel around to other powwows representing our tribe,” said La Chappa, a former Barona tribal council member and current community relations specialist for Barona Casino. she is also an elected member of the Lakeside Unified School District and serves on the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce board of directors. “She will also represent me in the community.”

“Most are following in the footsteps of someone else,” Hill said. “I was a princess, and my mother was a princess before. Last night, we had all the princesses dancing—the incoming and outgoing princesses.” Respect for one’s elders, along with passing along traditions from one generation to the next, are important aspects of Native American culture. Hill paused, then added, “I don’t have my Mom anymore. She is gone, so I carry on the tradition for her.”

As the sun dipped behind boulder-strewn mountains surrounding the camp, La Chappa and her family served up dinner for about 100 guests including relatives, pow-wow committee members, and invited guests. East County Magazine’s editor and publisher Mark Hanson were honored to be among the latter, feasting on baked ham with pineapple, tacos, homemade vegetable soup, and more.

By nightfall, around 150 to 200 Native American dancers had competed in the powwow, which also features singers and drumming. Each dance carries special significance. For instance, grass dancers traditionally stomped the earth to flatten grasses and prepare a powwow site. Tribal members participate in different dances at different stages of life. The most energetic and intricate steps are performed by male “fancy dancers” in elaborate costumes. As the men grow older, they may participate in gourd dances, a less rigorous activity using gourd rattles.

Tonight, after all competitions are concluded, winners will be awarded a total of $60,000 in prize money.

The powwow is free and open to the public. In addition to watching the competitions, guests may also shop at vendor booths offering Native American jewelry, arts and crafts. Prices are very affordable for many unique and hand-made items. Food and beverages are also available for purchase.

The powwow is located at the baseball field on the Barona reservation, on Wildcat Canyon Road north of the Barona Casino. For more information, visit

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