Annual Gathering of the People celebrates culture


Noli Indian School celebrated its 17th annual Gathering of the People on its Soboba Reservation campus April 4, prior to its week-long Spring Break. All students, in grades 6-12, participated in cultural activities and several fun competitions organized by ASB members. They were joined by community members, including Elders and siblings, who were invited to join in the day’s celebration at the school’s grassy quad area.

Young children take part in a water balloon toss at the 17th annual Gathering of the People, April 4. | Courtesy Photo of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

“Beyond the fact that it helps expose the students to the traditional bird songs and Luiseño dances, it really is a great day to bring all the students’ families together,” Noli Principal Donovan Post said. “We service students from an 80-mile radius of the school. This distance makes it difficult to let students and families feel like they are connected to the school, so this event helps. Also, it is always great to have friends from the other Tribes come down and sing and share with all the families here.”

Noli reading teacher Jacquelin Phillips, right, encourages students and others to take a free book during the school’s annual gathering, April 4.

Reading teacher Jacquelin Phillips hosted a table full of free books for all ages and visitors took their time in choosing a favorite author or subject matter. There was also a table set up with crayons and coloring pages for anyone that wanted to get artsy.

Wayne Nelson and the Inter-Tribal Bird Singers are joined by others during Noli’s 17th annual Gathering of the People.

Wayne Nelson and The Inter-Tribal Bird Singers shared several social songs in Cahuilla and invited other singers to join them, as well as dancers, at the quad that was circled with tables and ramadas that had been constructed by students in the culture class.

While the ramada poles were previously gathered, fresh palm fronds which came from the Soboba Springs Golf Course were used as thatching. The three-sided ramadas took two days to construct and the poles will be used again for Soboba’s annual fiesta next month.

Culture Department Coordinator/Instructor Tashina Miranda Ornelas said it is traditional to hold gatherings like fiesta during the spring, summer and fall due to the plant materials that are available to build structures like ramadas.

Raffle prizes, which include many hand-beaded items made by students in Tashina Miranda Ornelas’ classes, were given away during the gathering.

“However, in the desert, gatherings could be held all year long due to the availability of their local plant materials,” she added.

Thanks to the creative and talented efforts of members of her four beading classes and the Beading Club, Ornelas was able to provide some outstanding items to be raffled off to lucky winners. She said it’s important for the youth to continue the tradition of gifting items they have made. She said Frybread Kitchen, teachers and staff members also pitched in to provide some raffle prizes.

In the past few years, Noli students have collaborated with the preschoolers to make bird skirts for the girls and rattles with the boys. The young students take an active role in what is made, with lots of guidance from Ornelas and her high schoolers. She said the skirts were finished just in time for the gathering and she was grateful for the help provided by three of her alumni Beading Club members who came in to help her work on them.

Sharing traditional Luiseño songs and dances were Rob Villalobos with his singers and dancers from Pechanga. Derek Duro, with TM Bird Singers, shared Desert Cahuilla bird songs to close out the afternoon.

Soboba Elder Marian Chacon enjoyed watching her great-granddaughter Violet Chacon, 6, dance. “I just like seeing everybody getting together to enjoy the dancing and all that; it’s really good for the children,” she said. “It’s good for them to practice their cultural dances and songs. I always enjoy this.”

Rosemary Morillo, also a Soboba Elder, said she was attending with friends and family. “It has become a tradition for the students to bring their whole families with them,” said Morillo, whose great-grandson Su-Kutt Morreo is in sixth grade at Noli.

Fancy Shawl dancers show what they have learned from being part of Tekla Diaz’s classes during the 17th annual Gathering of the People at Noli Indian School, April 4.

Soboba’s Tekla Diaz teaches Fancy Shawl dance classes and brought several of her students to share their traditional dances in colorful personalized regalia. She was proud to say that some of the dancers have been with her since they were three years old. During the final dance, Diaz invited everyone to participate in a social Round Dance.

Tekla Diaz, center, invites everyone to join in a Round Dance during the 17th annual Gathering of the People, April 4.
Youngsters play a balloon popping game at Noli Indian School on the Soboba Reservation.
Horseshoes are just one of the many games played during the Gathering of the People at Noli Indian School.

Games included horseshoes, a water balloon toss, watermelon eating contest, tug-of-war and a balloon popping game where balloons were tied to participants’ ankles using a string while everyone in the game tried to pop their opponents’ balloons by stepping on them. The last person with an un-popped balloon wins and in this game, that distinction went to James Masiel, a Noli seventh grader.

Bird dancers react to social songs from Wayne Nelson and the Inter-Tribal Bird Singers at Noli Indian School on the Soboba Reservation.

ASB President and Noli senior Luisa Rivera served as emcee for the activities and oversaw most of the games. She also participated in the bird dancing.

Staff helped by grilling pork chops and ham, courtesy of the students’ agriculture department pigs. There was also chicken and steak. Frybread Kitchen owners Aurelia Mendoza and Antonia Briones-Venegas provided homemade tortillas, chili beans, rice, beans, made-from-scratch salsa and of course, their delicious frybread which was being made that morning. Snacks and beverages were donated by staff and community members. Teachers and ASB students served about 350 guests who attended the event.

Jacob Rivera, left, and Perry De Ronde help prepare grilled meats during Noli Indian School’s 17th annual Gathering of the People.

“Over the years, I have grown to love this day more than any other event,” Post said. “We get to see friends who we would not see otherwise. We also get to invite educational friends from other schools and colleges to come down and experience the culture firsthand. Personally, I always enjoy the bird songs.”

One of the guests at the gathering, Mary Masiel, shows the handmade earrings she chose as a raffle prize after having one of the winning tickets.


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