Viejas Traditional Gathering 2012

By Roy Cook

Traveling east from the overcast San Diego coast it is refreshing to see the bright sunshine over the Cuyamacca Mountains. It is a beautiful warm afternoon day of anticipation, August 25, 2012, for the Viejas valley residents and visitors.

Viejas 14th annual gathering is the public celebration reminiscent of many outdoor ceremonies of the historic past. Our seen and felt relations can once again listen to familiar tunes as they weave the lengthening shadows of times past and the afternoon. Bird songs are from a time before time that you can feel but not explain. In my opinion, our ancestral relations must be pleased to hear these songs again. Historically, there have been many years of nights with singing and dancing by firelight and with the shadow of Viejas Mountain looming in the background.

Then as now we can expect a fine traditional Viejas gathering, with songs and fires and friends and relatives from both sides of the international border. Hospitality and generosity was evident and popular with gift Tee shirts and meal tickets that offered variations and choices of food booths selections. The annual gathering is the platform for many other events culminating this summer night of August 25, 2012. It is empowering to see Tribal cultural self determination in action. The gathering also brings public the efforts of the reservation cultural classes in songs, dance and language. This is the cultural reward of traditional Tribal education.

Early in the afternoon there is entertainment: Phillip Espinoza from Mesa Grande. Phillip is the fastest rubric cube wizard in North America, and he amazed the audience by solving the cube with one hand and also blindfolded. Also featured is Kenny Shelton from Viejas. Kenny was on Season one of "Americas Got Talent" demonstrated his magic, card tricks and juggling skills.

These were followed by the traditional Kumeyaay Tucuk Bird. The singing started with the Viejas Bird Singers lead by Ral Christman with a fresh crop of singers from the ages 5-11. They have been learning all year from Ron Christman about the tradition of the bird songs. They are the same group of singers found on the gift Tee shirt. This initial group was followed by Colorado River bird and Lasha bird along with a little Cahuilla bird singing.

Bird singer leaders were from various communities and age groups: Levi Evanstan-Fort Mojave
Titus Welsch-Parker CRIT
Curtis "CJ" Martin-Parker CRIT
Ron Christman-Santa Ysabel
Steve Casiosas-San Pasqual
Dale Phillips-Cocopah
Paul Cuero-Campo
Mike Meralez- Torres Martinez
Chris Emerson-Quechan
and the Panictum Singers lead by Peter Arviso Jr. from Palm Springs.

Many large strong rows of singers continue through the early evening for all to enjoy and dance to. There were some great songs sung and some very tricky double step ones too. These Bird songs continued until Paul Cuero sang the closing songs and it was time for the Peon gambling teams and games to begin. This traditional Peon gaming competition of all ages and gender would go on, maybe, all night. Congratulations to all the winners.

It has been a beautiful day and a beautiful night. Cool breezes sweep over the valley as dusk shadows and silhouettes Viejas Mountain. There is a half moon clear night with the stars shining brightly in the sky. There were bright beautiful sparkling young ladies present as representative royalty from Arizona and the Colorado River tribes. It has been a successful good night of sober, clean, summer family fun. We sit under the arbor living in the moment as the children run in the cool grass, playing together and laughing in the joy of their youth. This event is self determination, in continuing local Kumeyaay Tribal custom and tradition. Our Indian Future, our Indian children are all our hopes and all our expectations fulfilled.

Mehan and thank you Viejas for the invitation.