The grounds around the White Dove of the Desert come alive this weekend with the Tohono O’odham Nation’s annual Wa:k Pow Wow.
Nations from across the Southwest will gather to dance and compete in such areas as hoop dancing and owl dancing.
It’s an explosion of color and culture on the grounds of Mission San Xavier del Bac.
This is the 36th year for the pow wow, which raises money to support community and religious events.
Gloria Rios, chairwoman of the pow wow, says around 10 nations are expected to attend. Rios lives on the San Xavier Indian Reservation and has been involved in the pow wow for more than 20 years.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from vendors and spectators, so we’re really positive and looking forward to a big group this year,” Rios said.
The pow wow has a wide variety of community members who get involved to help support the church and showcase their craft. We spoke to two of them.
Maurisa Two Two, traditional dancer
Two Two is a regular dancer at the event. At this year’s Wa:k Pow Wow, she will be the head woman dancer. Her job is to be a welcoming presence to guests. She also rounds up the participants in the different categories of intertribal dance: northern traditional, southern traditional, fancy and jingle. Two Two has performed all four; she says her personal favorite is the jingle dance, because the dress makes lots of noise as she moves in it.
With the help of her parents and aunt, Two Two learned how to make her own traditional dress for these contests. Typically using wool, the dancers make their entire dress by hand and will often sew beads, shells or other personal materials onto their clothes to create interesting designs. Two Two sewed hundreds of drilled pennies onto hers. While growing up, she remembers constantly asking her mother to make her a new dress to perform in.
“At one point my mom just said, ‘If you want a new dress, make one yourself,’” Two Two said.
Her favorite part is the contest and seeing the other dancers perform. Two Two said performing traditional dance lets her travel to new places and connect with new people. Dancing has taken her to such places as Florida, Texas, Mexico and other parts of Arizona. She said there’s somewhere new to go every weekend.
“I plan on doing this for the rest of my life,” Two Two said.
Donny Preston, arts and crafts
From his adobe home in sight of the San Xavier Mission, Preston works outdoors to create his saguaro rib picture frames. Preston started selling his work at the annual pow wow in 2004. In the past 10 years, he has seen a growth in the popularity of the event. He brings about 10 picture frames and 10 of his cottonwood figure carvings to the pow wow to sell to patrons.
After he moved to the reservation in 1968, Preston was involved in the Tohono O’odham Tribal Council, the housing committee and served as a monitor for the tribe. When he quit his job, he started creating art.
“I was a surveyor, and I would go out into the desert and collect saguaro ribs for some reason,” Preston, said.
Now, Preston gets his saguaro ribs from a stretch of desert on the west end of the Tortolita Mountains and in areas around the reservation. He said his smaller frames can be completed within a day, but the bigger ones can take two or three weeks.
Preston, who has won multiple awards and has a piece in the National Museum of the American Indian, tries to keep the history of the Tohono O’odham alive.
Each patterned frame has a different design, depending on what feels right to Preston. He said he doesn’t plan out the intricate patterns ahead of time, following instinct rather than an outline.
“I don’t know what it is, I get into it and it takes me to different places,” Preston said. “All the different patterns — I don’t stick to one pattern, my stuff is all over.”