University of California – Riverside Brings Back Powwow Princess Tradition

Published March 19, 2019

RIVERSIDE, Calif. —  Katianna Warren is committed to promoting her Native American culture and proudly talking about what higher education means. To her, both go hand-in-hand.

Warren, a 20-year-old college student from Antelope Valley, is the second Pow Wow Princess representing the University of California, Riverside at regional and national powwow gatherings. Warren has held many titles, but UCR is the first university princess title she has captured. This Native American princess was selected by a committee created by UCR’s Native American Student Programs, known as NASP, which provides leadership opportunities for young Native women.

Katianna Warren

The committee is comprised primarily of UCR students and staff. The royalty title, which offers no official monetary compensation, is not exclusive to UCR students and is open to all Native American women ages 17 to 30. Among the requirements to apply, candidates need to be college students (or recent graduates), need to have verifiable tribal affiliation, and two letters of recommendation. The application process also requires a written statement, a speech, and a dance competition.

After a 22-year hiatus, in 2017-2018 UCR selected Dominique Lombardi as princess. Last May, Warren was chosen as the 2018-2019 title holder.

“This is to primarily create an opportunity for our young women to develop themselves, to become that leader and role model for others,” said Joshua Gonzales, NASP director, who worked to revive the Pow Wow Princess tradition.  A pageant open to the community means creating a space for women to be empowered, and many times, to connect with their languages, and culture, Gonzales said.

“We see women as the strength, the power. They are the backbone of our communities and we honor and respect them,” Gonzales said.

The title requires travel to powwow celebrations to represent UCR. Lombardi, a Cahuilla descendant, is a University of Redlands graduate now working as a teaching assistant at Morongo School in Banning. She applied for the 2017-2018 title because UCR means something special to her, even if this is not her alma mater, she said.

“UCR is close to home and the university has high respect for the Cahuilla. UCR sits on Cahuilla territory. I wanted to be able to do something to give back to the community,” she said. At powwows, she reminded young people that college is achievable. Her presence at out-of-state powwows allowed organizers to learn about UCR and consider connecting to the campus for future events or to simply visit, she said.

At every powwow, Warren too gets to speak and send a positive message regarding the power of higher education.

At UCR, Warren led a basic sign language workshop over the summer with high school students who participated in the annualGathering of the Tribes Summer Residential Program, an eight-day initiative for Native American high school students.

She taught them basic sign language; Warren is a second-year student at Antelope Valley College, double majoring in deaf studies and interpreting American Sign Language. Warren descends from a lineage of strong Navajo women from Red Mesa, Utah. In her family, the matriarch is her maternal grandmother, Ruby Warren, who still raises sheep on the reservation.

“I learned from my grandma to always laugh and see the best in things. She’s pretty strong,” Warren said.

From her own mother, Cyndnee Ashmore, Warren has learned to be “strong-willed, to pick yourself up and keep going.”

In addition to learning the power of internal strength from them, Warren has learned to connect more with her culture and has picked up beading and weaving, skills that have allowed her to make her own moccasins, leggings, and shawls. Depicting roses, hummingbirds, and horses, her creations represent her life.

Warren’s title expires in May.

“This has been one of my most enjoyable experiences. I always feel welcome here,” Warren said. “When I come out to UCR and I see this program, it’s so cool. It’s nice to see how connected NASP students are, how they help each other out.”

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