Some spring outdoor festivals crank up the amplifiers and let the beer taps flow, but the alcohol-free, family-friendly Native American Spring Celebration, held Sunday on the lawn at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus, took on a more spiritual tone.
The opening prayer by the event’s organizer, Brenda Flyswithhawks, began with, “Creator, you have been kind to us. This day you have brought us together.”
For decades, the Native American Spring Celebration has been part of the junior college’s annual campuswide celebration Day Under the Oaks, which was put on hiatus this year as the college faces a severe budgetary crisis and a possible cutback in classes.
The celebration was all about family togetherness, with dozens of dancers adorned in feathers, ranging from wobbly toddlers to a woman with long, flowing gray hair, performing traditional tribal dances.
“The little ones are the ones who are going to step up and carry on,” said Erica Carson Jr. from the Redwood Valley Rancheria, leader of the singers who accompanied the Northern Pomo Dancers.
“It’s extremely important for the children to see us model goodness. And when they see us dancing and praying and singing, we just hope they’re going to keep it going,” said Carson, 38. “I’ve been doing this since I was 10.”
The event drew 50 vendors from Sonoma, Mendocino. Lake and Marin counties, offering traditional Native American textiles, jewelry and food, including “Indian tacos” made with deep-fried bread.
Pomo jewelry maker Cuauhtemoc Partida, 47, of Santa Rosa, manned a booth selling his abalone and clamshell necklaces, and beaming a wide, bright smile in all directions.
“I love being here,” Partida said. “Listening to people singing the traditional songs brings you alive.”
For Native Americans, the Santa Rosa Junior College campus has historical significance, because Pomos lived on the land where the school stands now, Flyswithawks said.
“These oak trees are sacred, because our ancestors and their ancestors were tending these trees and harvested the acorns,” she said.
Many of the traditions demonstrated Sunday are considered sacred, which led organizers to ask visitors not to photograph some of the performances.
“When we sing prayer songs, we’re not supposed to have any pictures,” Carson said. “Each group is unique. Some of the dances can be public and some can be private, but they’re very sacred. We dance for those who can’t dance anymore, because they’re sick or they’ve crossed over.”
Organizers expected more than 3,000 visitors during the six-hour celebration, with many tribes represented, Flyswithhawks said.
It shared the spotlight with several other campus events Sunday, including the Fashion Studies Department’s annual fashion show, a plant sale by horticulture students and an open house at the Jesse Peter Multicultural Museum.
A Santa Rosa Junior College faculty member with a doctorate in psychology and who chairs the Behavioral Sciences Department, Flyswithhawks connects her heritage to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians at the Qualla Boundary reservation in North Carolina.
“We have an intertribal community in Sonoma County,” she said “It’s not just the Pomos, Wappos and Miwoks that we have here, but we also have Navajo, Pueblo, Azteca and Cherokee people. People don’t realize that are probably 5,000 indigenous people living here.”