San Luis Rey Mission Band of Luiseno Indians Pow Wow

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Charles III, the King of Spain, having heard from the Court of Catherine the Great in Russia that the Russians were building a fort in Northern California, decided he needed to grab as much land as he could with the least amount of expense. In order to save the vast sums of money it would cost to send an entire army to claim California for Spain, the King financed the missionary army of the Catholic Church. The Church sent a few dozen Franciscan Friars, accompanied by a small group of soldiers for protection, to lay claim to California. Twenty-one missions were formed in all, linked by the Royal Road or El Camino Real.

California Mission Trail
21 California Missions

The 18th Mission to be built, San Luis Rey de Francia, lies in a valley just east of Oceanside on State Highway 76. The Mission was named for Louis IX of France, whose descendents occupied the Spanish throne at the time and whose claim to fame was leading two disastrous crusades to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages.

Mission San Luis Rey
Mission San Luis Rey
Altar San Luis Rey
Altar decorated at Christmas

The grounds of the Mission contain a beautifully manicured garden cemetery, complete with a large crypt that serves as burial place for the Friars. On the other side of the Church is a private rose garden that is home to the oldest Pepper Tree in California. Retreats are held at the Mission which can accommodate up to 100 people.

For more information on the Mission and their retreats visit their website: www.sanluisrey.org/Retreats/Retreat-List

San Luis Rey Cemetary
San Luis Rey Cemetary
San Louis Rey Pepper Tree
San Louis Rey Pepper Tree

See video below for a view of the Mission and an interview with Elizabeth Springfield, a knowledgeable volunteer who is happy to share information about the Mission and its garden. The Mission is currently undergoing earthquake proofing and will re-open at Christmas.

The Mission was built on the site of the ancestral home of the “ataaxam” people, later renamed Luiseno by the Franciscans, to identify them with the San Luis Rey Mission. In the name of God and the King, the Franciscan Friars claimed one million acres of land around San Luis Rey and became known as the King of the Missions.

On June 9th & 10th, 2012 the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseno Indians held its 16th annual Inter-tribal Pow Wow on the grounds of the San Luis Rey Mission. This annual Pow Wow is the only one ever held on the grounds of a Mission. The event included members of many other tribes such as Apache, Cherokee, and Seminole who jointly participated in a variety of ceremonies. An assortment of arts, crafts and food booths were available operated by Indian vendors.

Click on video below to see an interview with Carrie Lopez, the Pow Wow Coordinator. Also featured in the video are the Inter-Tribal dancers.

It was impossible to resist the savory smells of Barbeque, Tortillas, and a wide assortment of delectables emanating from the food booths. The one with the longest line featured women from the Luiseno Band of Indians making Indian fry bread to order. The light crusty bread, the recipe of which is a highly guarded secret among the tribes’ women, was absolutely delicious.

The Pow Wow really got going with the Grand Entry. Representatives of all the tribes present, many of whom were dressed in their native regalia, participated in the event. The arena was blessed beforehand by their Spiritual Advisor, Robert John Knapp, a member of the Seneca/Tubotolobol tribe.

After that, another man was designated to “smudge” all the participants. Although I did not get his name, the man told me he is a descendent of a line of men specifically trained to perform this portion of the ritual blessing. Standing at the entrance of the arena all weekend, he smudged the Native Americans, who were the only ones allowed to enter the sacred space. He explained to me that first he sprinkled tobacco on the ground as a gift and way to give back to Mother Earth. This was followed by lighting the smudge packet and waving the smoke over the Native people entering the arena. Smudging involves the burning of sage wrapped in paper or even a corn husk. It is believed that the smoke from the burning sage has healing properties and purifies the mind and body.

Click on video below to see the Grand Entry and smudging:

Bell like metal cylinders sewn onto their clothes tinkled, glass beads glittered in the sun, and all manner of bird feathers nodded in time on lavish head dresses as the ornately attired inter-tribal dancers made their way around the arena. Synchronized musical rhythms were created for the dancers by four or five men sitting in a circle, beating on a single large drum, and chanting songs in their native tongue.

Each dancer designs his or her own outfit paying particular attention to detail that represents their Native ancestry. There is even a special protocol on how to treat all regalia. If indiscretions are discovered, then the guilty party is severely scolded. The dancers compete for cash prizes and many make the rounds of the various Pow Wows to hone their skills.

What surprised me most at the Pow Wow was the realization that the Native American tribes were able to maintain any of their ancestral traditions and religious beliefs. The Pow Wow is a testimony to their Native Spirit, considering they were driven off their ancestral lands, enslaved to build monasteries and other structures for the white man to live in, converted against their will to Christianity, forced to relinquish their traditional way of life, imprisoned in remote reservations and destined to live in poverty and squalor.

I will never forget the commercial made in 1970 depicting “Chief Iron Eyes Cody” (actually an Italian actor portraying a Native American) rowing a canoe through a polluted lake and coming ashore only to have trash thrown at him and landing at his feet. A single tear fell from his eye. That commercial’s message, made to promote Earth Day, was so powerful it can be credited with starting the nationwide movement to stop littering. See the full commercial below.

Today, we are only just beginning to realize what an important role Native Americans play in today’s world. Native medicine men are finally gaining a small modicum of respect for their use of natural medicines in healing all manner of illness and disease. Historically, all the tribes were dedicated to giving back to Mother Earth and preserving the natural resources and environment.

Pow Wows provide a way for Native Americans to connect with other tribes and non-Native people. They continue to honor their heritage, as can be seen in their regalia, interpretive dances, drum rhythms and songs. Their way of life may have died, but Native Americans are living proof that their culture and the spirits of their ancestors live on.

Pow Wow’s are held all over the country.

For more information on a Pow Wow in your area go to: http://www.powwows.com/