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2010 Cupa Days Celebration at Pala

Posted 05-15-2010 at 10:32 PM by AmigoKumeyaay
(Cupa Days Part Two)

Abel remembers his roots, and his coastal tribal heritage. The San Juan Capistrano Mission was where many Tongva people were brought to work under Spanish rule. The U.S. Government does not recognize the "Juanenos" as a tribe today, although the descendants still petition for their own reservation. They must struggle in legal and political arenas while they also struggle to maintain their identity.

Abel is fully-sanctioned to recover the remains of ancient Tongva. He responds to numerous scenes, usually new construction projects around coastal Southern California, and takes charge of situations involving unearthed human remains determined to be of ancient indigenous people.

Abel has traced his family tree back nine generations in the area. As a stroyteller, Abel in his own way is holding on to his family's ways. Running Grunion brings in the extra income and hopefully will be his legacy to a new generations of storytellers.

The arena MC announces the entrance of Running Grunion, here he comes dressed in skins and furs, clutching a bow made of willow. Abel launches into his routine, getting chuckles from the crowd. His routine shifts from mime, to stand-up comedy, to indigenous history, then to storytelling.

Abel gets kids from the audience to volunteer to play parts in the stories. Some kids rush at the chance to enter the arena, others are pushed by mothers and friends. One young Pima girl gets "stage fright" so Abel has to quickly adjust his story. You can't go wrong working with kids, the crowd gives huge applause.

After Running Grunion departs, I speak with the grandparents of a boy who played the part of a turtle in Abel's story. I offer them a DVD copy of the performance if they are going to stay around for a bit. I get to work connecting cables and setting up my gear. I am going to make several copies to hand out while we are here. Meanwhile, a Hawaiian Hula group, mostly teen girls, arrives into the arena. Many Indian events are embracing the indigenous Hawaiian dance groups, and inviting them to perform.

The girls are greeted warmly, and it is their custom to invite spectators to dance with them, although this usually ends up as amusement for the rest of the crowd.

This is the hottest part of the day, but the afternoon breezes from over the deep blue Pacific Ocean are working at pushing the heat out of the valley. Stand in the sun, you are warm. Stand in the shade, you get chilly. Such has been the weather pattern here for many moons, as noted by the Cupeno author Gordon Johnson.

Abel has returned after changing out of his ancient outfit. I urge him to autograph the DVD and hand it to the grandparents next to us. I tell Abel I'm heading over to the Cupa Cultural Center to give a DVD copy to the director Shasta Gaughen.

I walk through the vendor area, see and greet people I know, then I spot Shasta outside the Center, working with kids at a booth selling Indian Tacos. The booth is a beehive of activity with a perpetual line of hungry patrons.

I want to say Hi, but just then a young man announces that he burned his hand with hot oil. Shasta is on top of the situation, yet continues to ensure the smooth operation of the kitchen. An EMT is summoned from the nearby Fire Department booth, very quick response time indeed. I then hand a five dollar bill to Shasta. She looks up, then up some more as she takes in my lanky frame. One, two, three seconds pass...then, "Hey, how are ya?" It's been a year, exactly since the previous Cupa Days, since we've seen each other. We keep in touch mostly through emails and phonecalls. One Taco please, I'll be back with a DVD of Abel's show. "Great!"

I leave Shasta in charge of her kids. They are doing a great job since I don't see any other food vendors around, they have the market cornered, and themselves cornered with customers.

I talk with Tracy and Liana Nelson at their Native skateboard booth. Tracy was Tribal Chairman of the nearby La Jolla Reservation a few years ago. Tracy stills records blues rock music, and promotes skateboarding for reservation kids. I pick up a Wounded Knee brand skateboard, and notice it is painted with a chart showing the loss of Native lands since 1492. Tracy tells me he will market their brand alongside his FullBlood brand as he agrees with their company theme.

So, even modern skateboards can serve to tell the truth about the past, and keep hope for the future. Shasta and the Cupa Cultural Center keep the kids growing in knowledge. Abel keeps the Juaneno cause in the public eye, and paints a living picture of life before the outsiders took over. Historians speak of the European Renaissance, they should take note of the current events in First Nations here.

It is near the end of the day, the Cupa Bird Singers will close the event. The air fills with the sounds of a language that was here eons ago, before the Pyramids of Egypt were built. Take away the modern setting, even the Pala Mission building built in 1816, and these kids are walkig in the ways of their ancestors. They sing several songs and then file out, signaling the close of Cupa Days 2010.

The vendors are beginning to pack up, as if a storm is approaching. It really does look like an evacuation, but with last-minute shoppers hoping for a break on prices. Each vendor has their own pace, probably depending on how long of a drive home awaits them.

Time for me to go too, end of my day here. I stop by Tracy's booth, he tells me he can't make the Balboa Park Powwow coming up. Well, see ya then down the trail later, brother.

The setting sun filters through the branches of tall trees. I see good lighting for a few pictures as I walk back to my truck. There is the belltower of the Pala Mission. These bells were rung over the decades to summon the faithful, or during other events. I take a few photos hoping for effect from the low sun.

I turn around and across the street is the old Pala Store. A sign says "Since 1897", and the weathered wooden front looks at least half of that age. I walk around for a good angle, mindful of the traffic whizzing by. As I look through the lens, a brand new shiny SUV goes by. A young man all of 14 yells out "Stop taking pictures" as a woman, probably mom, shushes him.

An angry young man, protective of his reservation, and probably a skateboarder given his age. Well, he doesn't know me, I don't know him, unless I check in with Shasta. No problem, I chuckle to myself as I walk to my truck. Maybe Tracy can help me start a "PeacePipe" skateboard company?

How do I get out of here? Interstate, or the backcountry roads? I choose the Rez road that winds past Pauma, Rincon, and San Pasqual Reservations. The deep Pauma Valley surrounded by ridges has been home to humans for thousands of years. Water flows down from Palomar Mountain to the east, and the modern "settlers" have filled the valley floor with citrus orchards.

At the end of the valley the Rincon Casino building looms, brand new and shiny, a stark contrast to the green hills. It stands tall like a mountain, and a flow of revenue comes from it. What harvest will be created from this flow?

Now my road takes me back into the city, and back to the interstate. Like those vendors, I have a mini road trip to make, but first, a stop the store for a bottle of fizzy water...I shouldn't have eaten that second Indian taco.
Total Comments 2


I liked reading about the Tongva people and what it is like now a days. It reminds me of a Tony Hillerman novel. Jim Chee and Tony Leaphorn are Navajo police men of Four Corners. They are usually up to their elbows in murder mysteries and in the midst of this we get to know what it is like to be a Navajo in the modern day setting. Four corners is the only place where four states meet. Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are what makes up the four corners area and I would like to go there. You probably already know this living so close in California. It would be a dream come true to see the washes and messes in person. I am interested in the native ways.
I have read the Hopi Survival Kit and I am a devout follower of Maasaw the Hopi God of Death.
He came with a message and that was to blend with the earth. He came scary. He came with a garden stick, seeds and a watering gourd. As I was born under the sun sign of Aquarius the water bearer I take my job seriously.
There are two Maasaw's. Wealthy Maasaw and poor Maasaw. Poor Maasaw is better because Maasaw preached that you do not need ten articles of clothing to plant seeds.
Posted 08-18-2010 at 10:57 PM by deerunfast deerunfast is offline
docat's Avatar
I think I read that book!!!
Posted 04-14-2013 at 10:34 AM by docat docat is offline
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