By Maureen Magee
Smack in the middle of Mance Buchanan Park in suburban Oceanside on Saturday, dozens of Native Americans gathered in a circle on the brown grass to do what their ancestors had done generations before them: pray, sing and dance for rain.
As California enters its third straight year of dangerously dry conditions amid what Gov. Jerry Brown has proclaimed a drought emergency, Gil “Feather” Fernandez led a traditional rain dance on yet another hot and sunny winter day. He was joined by Sam Bearpaw, Windwalker and dozens of other Native Americans from multiple tribes who work to keep the traditions and rituals of their culture alive in a modern world.
“This is our way of bringing awareness to the severe drought we are having here in California,” Fernandez said. “We look at it from a spiritual angle. But we also want to remind people to respect the earth and take care of it.”
From the Coast News, 1/26/14, comes other tidbits about the event:
Native American singer Windwalker was on hand to lead in songs, along with Sam Bearpaw performing Apache chants and dance.
Native American singer Windwalker will also be performing during the dances.
You can see the muddled thinking in these excerpts. Was it *a* (single) rain dance? A bunch of different rain dances? General chanting (singing) and dancing with prayers for rain attached? Or...?
I don't think the event was at a powwow, but it sounds like they were doing powwow-style dances. Were they claiming these were authentic rain dances from particular tribal traditions? If so, which tribes?
Or were they doing typical powwow-style dances and separately praying for rain? And calling the combination a "rain dance," which is misleading if not stereotypical?
Rain dances are done by particular tribes at particular times of the year. They involve particular preparations, accouterments, and rituals. They generally are not ceremonies that anyone from any tribe can do without the proper cultural knowledge.
A tribe-specific rain dance with centuries of history is completely different from a made-up "dance for rain." It's like the difference between performing the Eucharist in church and eating a McDonald's hamburger named Jesus. They're both examples of eating the body of Christ, but with huge differences in terms of meaning and validity for the participants.
If I were an Indian and in charge, I'd curtail the practice of doing questionable "rain dances" as public stunts. The claim that all Indians have magical dances that can bring rain isn't much different from claiming all Indians are vicious warriors or nature-loving hippies. It doesn't help, it hurts.
As for "Wind Walker" or "Windwalker," is she an Indian or a wannabe? Which tribe is she enrolled with, if any? Who gave her the right to wear a headdress, usually reserved for esteemed male chiefs?
If she was singing rather than dancing, was she doing a "rain song"? Is there such a thing in her tribal culture, whatever it is? Or did she basically make it up?
For more on rain dances, see Oktoberfest Organizer Wants Rain Dance and No Such Thing as Rain Dances.