In a park pavilion Saturday afternoon, the sounds of clinking Fiesta medals combined with a pounding drumbeat, rattling gourds, and silver bells as the heritage and hues of cultures melded during the Celebrations of Traditions Pow Wow.

An official Fiesta event since 2005, this year’s Pow Wow honoring American Indian Warriors was hosted by the nonprofit United San Antonio Pow Wow at Mission County Park. It was also dedicated to founding member Rose Mary De Luna, who died in December 2019. 

The purpose of the Pow Wow is to share Native American culture with other people as well as other Native Americans who attend from across the country, said Erwin De Luna, a member of the Navajo and Taos Pueblo tribes who is president of United San Antonio Pow Wow.

He said his late wife Rose Mary was to be celebrated at the Pow Wow in 2020, but that event, like all of Fiesta, was canceled due to the pandemic. She loved the Pow Wow, he said. “It’s a celebration — we celebrate a lot of things, mostly positive things.”

Harley Tall Chief, a member of the Seneca tribe, traveled from West Texas for the Pow Wow and wore his striking brown and white regalia and a headdress of feathers, his face painted white and an eagle medicine stick in one hand. 

San Antonian Sebastian Morado, an Apache who has been dancing at Pow Wows for 20 years, wore northern traditional regalia in bright purple, golden yellow, and royal blue. 

The vibrant colors contrasted with the sedate circa-1836 Tejano garb of Juan Gonzales, who said he attends Fiesta events to share Texas history, and blended with the bold Fiesta finery and revelry of the hundreds who came to watch the Pow Wow.

Both Tall Chief and Morado joined dozens of other Native Americans in the dance exhibition that began with a traditional gourd dance meant to cleanse, or bless, the arena.

To kick off the Pow Wow, De Luna led a procession of uniformed service members bearing flags; Fiesta royalty in bejeweled crowns, tiaras, and sashes; and Native American men and women in buckskin, beaded breastplates, and headdresses of feathers and fur. 

After an anthem and prayers, traditional memorial and veterans songs, the drum beats grew louder, and the parade swirled into a mix of men, women, and children celebrating with a customary round dance. 

“Get out there whether you’re wearing a crown or sombrero!” said the master of ceremonies, Tim Tall Chief of the Osage Nation.

For retired history teacher Kay Johnson and her husband Scott Baird, the Pow Wow was a chance to appreciate Native American traditions. They brought lawn chairs to sit and watch the dances. Unlike past years, it was the single Fiesta event they planned to attend this year. “I moved here in 1981 and was captivated by the tradition,” she said. 

Beyond the pavilion, festival-goers lined up for fry bread “loaded” with taco makings, bison sliders, and “rez dogs,” and others shopped at vendor booths selling beaded jewelry and handbags, serape blankets, and hand-crafted decor. 

Vanessa Irino, member of the Apache tribe, was purchasing a pair of earrings when she discovered her wallet had fallen from her backpack. Someone later turned it over to the event organizers. When Irino heard that a wallet containing credit cards and a COVID-19 vaccine card had been found, she rushed into the pavilion to claim it.

Relieved and surprised at the finder’s integrity, Irino said, “I think it’s because I’m amongst my people.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.