18th Annual Native Contemporary Arts Festival Celebrated at Yerba Buena Gardens

Frank Waln - Photo by Nanette Bradley Deetz

Frank Waln – Photo by Nanette Bradley Deetz

SAN FRANCISCO—On June 21, the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival hosted the 18th Annual Native Contemporary Arts Festival at its outdoor amphitheater. This annual arts festival is a partnership with American Indian Contemporary Arts, with generous support from the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Native American Arts and Cultural Traditions program. For eighteen years it has been a Father’s Day tradition, and this year’s festival featured Native music, dance, spoken word, and indigenous crafts.

The program opened with a warm welcome by Janeen Antoine (Sicangu Lakota), Director of American Indian Contemporary Arts and Mistress of Ceremonies, Lakota Harden (Lakota, Tlingit). An opening prayer was offered by California native singer/artist L. Frank Manriquez in her language (Tongva-Acjachemen). Hawaiian dancer/singer Mahealani Uchiyama wrote a contemporary Hawaiian chant dedicated to the indigenous Ohlone people, where San Francisco is now located. While her Hawaiian dance company performed, artists/singers/dancers Luta Candelaria (Rumsen Ohlone), Carla Marie Munoz (Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone), Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Costanoan Ohlone) stood on stage to be honored. It was a significant and historic moment witnessing the strength and beauty of Hawaiian dance and song and California traditional dancers and singers together. Particularly now as Hawaiians are facing similar struggles as California’s indigenous people to protect sacred land (Mauna Kea) and water.

Hawaiian Dancers Singers

Hawaian Dancers and Singers

Su-Nu-Nu Shinal Pomo Dancers

Su-Nu-Nu Shinal Pomo Dancers

The  Su-Nu-Nu Shinal Pomo dancers and singers traveled from Clearlake, California in order to present traditional song and dance, taking the time to explain to the audience what some of the dances represented. Luta Candelaria (Rumsen Ohlone)  performed his signature rap songs solo then was accompanied on stage by Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone singer/dancer Carla Marie Munoz. Cuauhtémoc Peranda (Mexica) performed a  modern dance piece that seemed to be depicting the dichotomy inherent when an indigenous identity struggles to free itself from a destructive, post colonial environment.  Modern dancer Anne Pesata (Jicarilla Apache) from Dulce, New Mexico presented “Anne’s Weaving Solo”, a beautifully expressed description in dance of weaving a basket. She was accompanied by a recording of her own voice over cello music, detailing each step entailed in gathering, preparing materials, and the final construction. Anne Pesata is a fifth-generation basket weaver who grew up surrounded by traditional arts, and as a result her dance piece was extremely personal, yet powerful in its insistence upon the importance of memory, family and culture to indigenous identity.

Tanay Winder - Photo by Nanette Bradley Deetz

Tanay Winder – Photo by Nanette Bradley Deetz

Poet, singer, educator Tanaya Winder ( Southern Ute, Duckworth Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations) sang a rendition of the Nina Simone song, “Blackbird” while accompanied by dancer Cuauhtémoc Peranda. She then performed her poem “Patrick Would Never Say the word Love”.  This poem was articulate and powerful in its description of a young native student struggling with issues of abuse and his inability to comprehend, yet alone say the word “love”. Ms. Winder also performed her poem “Back to the Beginning” accompanied by dancer Anne Pesata. This poem was about a native friend who committed suicide, and she wishes, “…battles wouldn’t end in bloodshed, but instead a ride off into a sun rising with warriors always returning from war, or boarding schools, with hair flowing behind them in lengths of rivers…”

Frank Waln, award-winning Sicangu Lakota rap singer, producer, youth educator from the Rosebud Sioux Nation made his Bay area debut. He performed “2Live and Die on the Plains,” “Seven,” “Runaway,” “My Stone” and “Victory Song.” Waln’s songs are intelligent, articulate, and courageous in their analysis of the generational post-colonial effects of lateral and institutional racism, domestic violence, suicide among native youth, cultural appropriation, and an education system that requires native students to travel far from culture, family relationships, friends, and traditional ceremonies in order to achieve their dreams and goals. Waln uses his music as a platform to tell stories about the history of the Lakota people including contemporary political and environmental degradation of the keystone XL pipeline construction over the Oglala aquifer. Waln’s appeal to Native youth (and adults as well) are in his messages of triumph in overcoming obstacles life throws at you. He attributes his strength to his mother often in his songs, especially “My Stone” and to his Lakota community in “Seven.” “I hate these politicians. Creator, give me song, give me vision. This mic, I hold it now, I’m stronger now, I’m stronger than genocide…they’re colonizing our minds. The system tried to hold us down…” these are just a few lines from his song, “Seven,” about the seventh generation.

“I grew up as a young boy learning a victory song in our drum group in elementary school. We have victory songs for everything, we probably have a victory song for a victory song”, laughed Waln, before he performed “Victory Song”. His performance brought a standing ovation and an encore.

Medicine Warriors dancers (left to right, Yvonne Marshall Shoshone/Bannock; Numu Wockmetooah (Comanche); Auchee Bellanger (Lakota/Tlingit/Dine/Sac&Fox); Lakota Holder (Lakota/Tlingit/Dine) - Photo by Nanette Bradley Deeta

Medicine Warriors dancers (left to right, Yvonne Marshall Shoshone/Bannock; Numu Wockmetooah (Comanche); Auchee Bellanger (Lakota/Tlingit/Dine/Sac&Fox); Lakota Holder (Lakota/Tlingit/Dine) – Photo by Nanette Bradley Deeta

The Medicine Warriors Dance group and All Nations Drum, a Bay Area group that performs nationally and internationally, presented an exhibition of Fancy Shawl dance, Northern Traditional dance, Jingle dress, and men’s Grass dance. Drummer Manny Lieras explained what each dance represented to those unfamiliar with pow wow styles. Dancer Lakota Holder (Lakota/Tlingit/Dine) and members of the dance group led a round dance and a two step and encouraged audience members to join.

Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Costanoan Ohlone) offered a closing prayer, “Grandmother’s Song.” She also provided a traditional craft booth and taught anyone interested in learning. Christy Gabalon (Wappo) provided a place to teach traditional shell drilling, and Celeste Aguilar taught youth how to make beaded bracelets and necklaces. A young boy was overheard running to his dad in pride and excitement, “look dad, I made this just for you!”

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