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Dry Creek Pomo prepare to host 10-tribe 'Big Time'

  • Homer Cordova throws willow branches on to a ceremonial arbor, Thursday July 25, 2013 at the foot of Warm Springs Dam, that will be used by area indian tribes during a "big time" celebration this weekend. The arbor is in on land established by the Dry Creek Rancheria. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Near the foot of Warm Springs Dam, at the center of the ancestral lands claimed by the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians, stands a new redwood arbor that represents a kind of homecoming and reunion for North Coast tribes.

It will be the site Saturday of a "Big Time," a type of pow-wow expected to draw 10 or so tribes and their dancers.

The ceremony — which is open to the public — is rife with meaning for the host tribe, a way to come together and overcome past differences and keep the culture and values alive.

"This is real, what it's all about," said Max Cordova, a Dry Creek member known as a spiritual leader and "dreamer," as well as a dancer and singer of traditional songs.

"There will be tribes from all over Northern California. It doesn't happen very often," he said.

He compares it to the earth's own heartbeat as the ground reverberates with the pulsing rhythm of a dug-in drum beating to the steps of the colorful "shakehead" bear and feather dancers.

The event also helps transcend the identity of the Dry Creek Rancheria Pomos beyond the Las-Vegas style casino they've operated near Geyserville for more than a decade.

"Maybe we can segue into a little better portrayal of California Indian history, to show we don't all practice pulling levers on slot machines," said tribal elder and cultural adviser Reg Elgin. "Not all Indians have casinos and believe in them."

"This is another side that's probably a more realistic side to being an American Indian in Sonoma County," he said.

The brush arbor, as it's called, was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the dam and created Lake Sonoma, flooding thousands of acres of aboriginal lands by the mid-1980s.

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