Viejas 12th Annual Bird Singing and Peon Tournament

By Roy Cook

This is a beautiful Day, August 28, 2010, for the Viejas valley residents and visitors. Cool breezes sweep over the valley as dusk shadows and silhouettes Viejas Mountain. Clear nights with the evening star shining brightly in the western sky. A beautiful Night. Local elders, Ron and Virginia Christman, shine this evening as the teachers for these summer culture classes. This is the bright accomplishment of generational continuity of culture in action. Traditional tribal education that will continue to focus on local Kumeyaay Tribal custom and tradition. This annual gathering is the public celebration for many other activities culminating this summer weekend. A major focus is the summer classes in Kumeyaay: Language, Culture, Art, Music, Games and introduction to new technology available for tribal youth residents of the Viejas, Barona and Sycuan Reservations. Viejas Tribal Councilman, Virginia M. Christman is a Kumeyaay elder who wants these traditions, customs and ceremonies passed on to her children, grandchildren and generations of Kumeyaay to come. A longtime resident of the Viejas Reservation who now lives at the foot of Viejas Mountain, Christman vividly remembers lessons taught by her aunt, Margaret LaChappa. Her uncles also passed their knowledge to her generation in outdoor ceremonies, singing and dancing by firelight, with Viejas Mountain looming in the background.

In the late afternoon, introductions began with an opening statement by Bobbie Barret, Viejas Chairman. Educator, Ral Christman was the designated Emcee for the remainder of the gatherings festivities. Vera Tucker provided the blessing for the event.

Firstly, the 2009-10 Miss Kumeyaay Nation is introduced, Emily Burgueno of the Ipai nation of Santa Ysabel and she spoke of her reign. The candidates for Miss Kumeyaay were interviewed to evaluate their knowledge of Kumeyaay history, language, and community involvement. This year the winner of the Ms. Kumeyaay Nation 2010-11 is Rose Vasquez from the Ipai Nation. Four Bird songs were sung in their honor, led by Ron Christman, in support were: Louis Guassic, Ral Christman and Jeff.

Traditional Kumeyaay and Colorado River Bird singing continued through the hosted dinner for all to enjoy and dance to, These Bird songs continued until it was time for the Peon gambling teams and games to begin. Bird singer leaders were from various communities and age groups. Songs were led by Ron Christman, Ipai, Roland Golding, Quechan, Dale Phillips, Cocopah and Paul Cuero, Tipai. There were some great songs sung and some very tricky double step ones too. At the dinner hour all responded to Ral’s announcement to, kasau! "Kneu kanuk kasau." in Kumeyaay means: Come and sit down to eat. Two rows of trays with abundant selections of favorite and special dishes: chicken, pit cooked beef, tamale pie, mac and cheese, beans, Spanish rice, beef stew, a variety of salads and hand made tortillas with real butter. Chilled sodas or coffee rounded out this fine hospitality. This invitation is extended to everyone and is a fine example of traditional generosity.

Following the singing, eating food and cake and the free Viejas Bird Peon gathering event Tee shirt, a dozen or so fires were begun for the peon games. Two each is many teams to play, maybe, all night. Reportedly, they went on until 5am between Viejas and Cocopah teams.

I just cannot adequately describe the overwhelming emotional feeling: to be in clean and sober company of people and even though I am not a member of this band there are those who have known me since I was a baby growing up on the Santa Ysabel Reservation. These are life long friends, who I went to school with and that are now old friends and have their own family with beautiful babies and children running around just being themselves. It is just too wonderful each time we can be together, in this our Tribal traditional way. Maybe we will see each other at the next Tribal event, Mehan.