20th Annual Chumash Day Powwow and Intertribal Gathering Held at Bluffs Park

Participants in this year’s Chumash Day Powwow and Intertribal Gathering. The annual event draws large crowds to Malibu Bluffs Park each April.

All were welcome at the free 20th annual Chumash Day Powwow and Intertribal Gathering held last Saturday and Sunday at Malibu Bluffs Park. The event, sponsored by the City of Malibu and hosted by members of the local Chumash tribe, invites Native Americans from all over the region, representing many different tribes, to celebrate their heritage and the original settlers of Malibu—the Chumash.

There was a full schedule of activities on both days taking place in a large arena, or circle, that included gourd dancers, intertribal dancing, bird singers, the Torres Martinez Singers, Bear Springs Singers, drumming, tribal ceremonies and other programs. Outside the arena, about a half dozen food trucks were on hand and nearly 40 craft vendors selling all manner of Native American-style merchandise, some of it hand-crafted, including turquoise jewelry, leather goods and clothing. 

Beverly Folkes, a Chumash elder and one of the organizers of the event, is also one of the leaders at the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks.

“The powwow builds camaraderie among all tribes. It keeps the human connection, not just the internet connection,” Folkes laughed. “Here, there’s embracing, hugging and support. We can cross paths again with old friends, because we’re all native even though we’re from different tribes.” Participants came from as far away as Gallup, NM. 

“They love this powwow. We put Malibu on the native map and they all know about it,” Folkes said. “In SoCal, there are a lot of [Native American] events—Santa Ynez, Orange County, Moorpark, et cetera— but everyone always asks about Malibu. It’s become very popular, and you can see why, with the incredible ocean and mountain views from Bluffs Park.” 

Folkes is grateful to the City of Malibu for its support for the past 20 years. 

“The city does a fabulous job and it’s so great they support the powwow,” she said, “We’re proud to be able to come here, and for the city to open up this area to us.” She related how City Council Member Lou La Monte, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Suzanne Guldimann and City Manager Reva Feldman had all participated in the grand entry event. 

Over the last 20 years of Chumash Day, the event has grown, Folkes said, and is probably “50 to 75 percent” larger now than when it started, especially in terms of the number of native dancers who now show up to participate in the powwow. 

She said that just in the Chumash tribe alone, interest in tribal culture has sparked in young people over the past 20 years, who now want to learn things like basket weaving, traditional dancing and the Chumash language. 

“At the Chumash Indian Museum, our classes are booked solid for the entire school year,” she said.

One of the Native American dancer participants, Lupe Donaghey of Orange County, is a member of the Otomi and Yaqui tribes. She’s been attending Malibu’s Chumash Day ever since it began 20 years ago. 

“Everybody has their reasons to come here,” she said. “My reason is for healing, and for what we give to the circle and what the circle gives back to us. It’s also to see old friends and meet new friends. It’s the loyalty of seeing the same people year after year. I make the drive from Orange County because of that pull to be here and to dance.”

Donaghey attends the event with her two children. Her daughter is a “world champion hoop dancer in the teenage category” and her son is a fancy dancer.

The following people played key roles at the powwow: Emcee Bobby Whitebird, Arena Director Victor Chavez, Head Man Jimmy Tallcan Ramirez, Head Woman Auriah Begay, Head Boy Sammy Sierra, Head Girl Gracie Hernandez, Head Gourd Saginaw Grant and Spiritual Advisor Alan Salazar.

Some of the comments on Facebook about the event were critical of this year’s set-up. Angelina Danielle wrote, “The performance circle is way smaller than it used to be, there are fewer places to sit (bleachers and hay bales), the food trucks were overpriced and there were no Indian tacos … It needs to go back to how it was before.”

Attendee Debra Zenter gave the event high marks but also suggested improvements: “I loved the program, the dancers, regalia, how they honor our country, our tribal nations and invite all to join in the arena. But there were long lines at the food trucks, the bathrooms ran out of paper and there was no traditional Indian fry bread, etc. When I attend next year, I’ll bring food, water and paper.”