Holiday GONA Joy from SCAIR-TANF
By Roy Cook

The Alpine Community Center is the 11th 2012, December to remember, Gathering of Native Americans-GONA. It was attended by Southern California American Indian Resource and Tribal temporary Assistance for Needy families, SCAIR-TANF, Indian children and their parents. There are tidings of comfort and joy with anxious eyes waiting for that Red suited fellow with the gifts. Early on, Wanda Michaelis, SCAIR Executive Director and Bill Johnson, SCAIR Board President, with all the SCAIR staff, were greeting and seating the early and late arrivals to this annual GONA Holiday event. Warm smiles of greeting, hot coffee or chocolate and toothsome varieties of fruits and cheeses are selected as the guests settle at each table for the evening entertainment and speeches. And with a bustle and a hustle there is much to be done before the GONA event begins.

Santa’s gifts galore, still chilly from their Northern trip are on display. SCAIR senior advisor Randy Edmonds arrives with his wife, Bonnie and their small four legged friend, all dressed in holiday attire. Elves in festive outfits slide from table to table producing smiles from the young and not so young alike. Holiday standard tunes float thru the hall adding to the cheery atmosphere. Elves skits with the kids were packed with shouts and songs and they led a kid’s chorus in errors and smiles for all.


The SCAIR Chairperson, Bill Johnson opened the evening entertainment with a short address and introduction of the evenings Emcee, Frank Pancucci SCAIR Project Coordinator. Frank called upon Steve Garcia to say a few words. Steve acknowledged the wisdom and lessons taught by Randy Edmonds over the years. Steve also spoke to the spirituality of the SCAIR facility services and staff. Bill then called upon Randy Edmonds for the evening blessing. Randy delivered a Kiowa Tribal blessing for all at this joyful time and pointed out our American Indian tradition of gathering together and generosity will continue into this new millennium.

Lannie Ray Smith, TANF site manager, thanked all for being a part of the combined effort for the kids on behalf of the entire TANF staff. Then Frank acknowledged Wanda and the SCAIR staff. He reminded everyone that family pictures were being taken in the front entrance of the center. After that, as the nutritional experience was announced, more elves skits are presented. As our middles are being stretched the elves and all dart quick glances to see if that fellow in the red suit makes his special appearance. Where is Santa? More songs and skits follow until we see, at last, there seated with a list and a mike is jolly Saint Nick! Santa called families from the sign in list alphabetically. Many little ones needed bigger hands to haul off the large gifts.

Finally, Santa called upon the TANF staff for a gift and group picture too. And with a finger to the side of his nose he wished good tidings to all at GONA this night, “Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Historically, in tribal America, people would gather twice a year as the sun rose over the New Mexico rocks of Casa Rinconada, ceremonies were held. Recently, Andy Garcia, Sr., of San Juan Pueblo, sang a prayer in his native Tewa tongue. “During the summer, that’s the beginning, when the warm months start. The changing of the sun, it’s a beginning,” said Garcia, “…and in the winter when the Sun rests the days grow short until the Winter solstice in December.

“The sun, it gives life to everything. It gives me my life. I appreciate Father Sun for giving me aid and strength,” Garcia later explained. So, each morning, he greets the sun with a prayer.

Garcia, his children and his grandchildren are from San Juan Pueblo, about 30 miles north of Santa Fe, were invited to sing and dance in an open area of Pueblo Bonito, first constructed in A.D. 850 and considered the center of the Chaco world.

“Our ancestors were once here. My grandfather used to talk about this place. Our people were here. Many of their footprints are here. This is where they danced, played, worked, weaved, and cooked,” explained Garcia.

As the sun approached noon, Garcia and his son, Andy Garcia, Jr., pounded their drums and sang as the feet of five dancers pounded the dry earth.

During the Zuni-Tewa Deer Dance, three young women wore bright colored shawls of the traditional female Zuni dress as two young men wore antler headdresses that are the Tewa traditional costume for deer. Garcia’s grandchildren, he explained, are born of both groups, and this dance incorporates the two traditions.

During the Buffalo Dance, which Garcia said originated with the Hopi, the young men wore white, woolly headdresses. In one hand, they carried a bow and arrow. In the other, they shook a black rattle. The young women wore white, long-sleeve shirts over their native Tewa “manta,” or black dresses. In their hands, they shook four black and white feathers, held together with red yarn.

“We honor the buffalo for the same reason we honor the deer. Their hide was used for clothing, shelter, to warm our people. The meat was used to nourish our people, to go on with life,” said Garcia.

“What we share here is the breath of our grandfathers. We dance to show the ways, so we will not forget,” said Garcia. He said it is important to pass on the traditional Pueblo dances to his grandchildren, who each started learning at a young age.

“We want them to pass on this beautiful thing. We don’t want these things to be covered, to go underground. Our ancestors want us to continue these traditions,” said Garcia.

Pueblo Bonito has long been considered the canyon’s cultural hub and an intersection for major trading routes, as well as a focal point for astronomy. A major wall at Pueblo Bonito runs east to west and points to sunset during the Summer Solstice. There is also a large wall that runs from north to south and said it points to the North Star.

At this GONA Winter gathering Tribal traditions continued as Santa and the gift distribution and with his elves produced squeals of joy and shrieks of surprise. Pleased smiles of the children’s’ appreciation made for a most joyful night.