High School junior keeps Miwuk & Maidu traditions alive
most teen-agers, Raquel Williams loves to go to dances and have
a good time.
where her dancing path diverges from the rest of the swirling, writhing
and toe-tapping mass of teen-aged humanity is in the purpose of
this fun activity. For Williams, dancing is a sacred tradition that
will impact not just her lifetime but untold generations yet to
a Miwuk and Maidu California Indian. My roots are from the Calaveras
County area. That's where my family comes from," the 16-year-old
Sierra High School junior porudly declared.
is also a trained basket weaver and a member of the California Basket
dances that Williams goes to mainly during the harvest season are
simply referred to in her Native American heritage as "Roundhouse"
or "Big Time" dances, the latter at her family's church
in West Point in Calaveras County where her ancestors came from.
Times are mainly held in the fall. We have Big Times in September
because Big Times are to celebrate the harvest of acorns that our
people lived off of; that's our main food source. Or that was our
main food source in the early days," Williams explained with
the clear knowledge of one who has been steeped in her native tradition
and culture starting from the tender age of four when she remembers
going to the dances for the first time with her parents and other
has also danced in Roundhouse ceremonies at Indian Grinding Rock
(Chaw-Se), Yosemite (Bear Dance), Tuolumne (Acorn Festival), and
at the Colusa Reservation (Big Head).
dance the traditional California way. I was just kind of born into
it. You just grow up around it. That's what I knew since I was a
little girl," said the oldest of the three children of Doug
and Daveen Williams of Manteca who is being honored this year as
the presiding queen of the 27th annual Three Rivers Indian Lodge
Powwow and Summer Ceremonies in Manteca during the Fourth of July
the three-day powwow where traditional dances constitute the major
highlight is going to be a new experience for Williams.
don't go to powwows. I do go to Big Time. That's where all the California
Indians go and that's where California Indians dance their way,"
she feels highly honored at being "asked" by Three Rivers
to be their powwow princess this year.
in part to its longevity and accompanying popularity, the Three
Rivers powwow today perennially attracts the best tribal and intertribal
dancers, many of them entire families, not just from all over the
United States but also from Canada and Mexico. This also explains
the heavy traffic of spectators who come to watch the variety of
motley colored and elaborate costumes, as well as to browse through
the many Native American arts and crafts booths or to munch on a
tasty fried Indian taco for lunch.
for the variety of featured dances and dancers, the Roundhouse dances
that Williams has always been used to are not much different from
the powwow. They are both big family affairs.
mainly like a big family reunion. Everybody's family comes and we
all eat. We have all kinds of little stuff - eating and dancing.
A lot of people bring their crocks and baskets. Sometimes the adults
play handgames - it's like gambling - whil ekids just play with
each or bring their football and play football. But it's mainly
dancing and eating," Williams said.
course, everybody wears thair traditional California outfits to
these events, she added.
either make our own or other people make them for us. Mine was given
to me by my aunt. I made my sister's costume," said Williams
of her baby sister's buckskin skirt which she wears with a tank
top. The tank top is worn for modesty's sake; in the olden days,
young girls simply wore the buckskin skirt sans a top, Williams
sister is five-year-old Isabela, or B-Lo as she likes to call herself
after her favorite Hollywood star, Jennifer Lopez, whose nickname
is J-Lo. Both sisters and their brother Asumute nicknamed Cubby
all dance the traditional California way, Williams explained. Both
of her younger siblings attend Brock Elliott Elementary School.
their sister, both are also being made aware by their family about
the importance of perpetuating their culture and heritage. As a
school project, Cubby made a miniature reproduction of a Roundhouse
complete with dancers inside. His work, with a little help from
his parents, earned him an A from his fourth-grade teacher Kelsey
a traditional Native dancer, Williams has already accomplished major
strides. Two years ago, she was invited by the Xochut Aztec dance
group of Robert and Laura Castro of San Jose to take part in the
Xilonen Maiden ceremony in Watsonville. That was a particularly
big honor since selection is based on a young girl's "exceptional
character as a role model for younger girls," explained Williams.
same year, she also traveled to Rosebud in South Dakota to support
her aunt Darlene Brown-Elk at Solider Creek, Sundance, with Floratine
Blue Thunder. Not one to waste a sterling opportunity to learn,
Williams took the time before coming home to visit historical sites
that are highly important to Native American people nationwide such
as Bear Butt, the Crazy Horse monument and the site of Wounded Knee.
she is using her reign as Three Rivers Lodge Powwow queen to honor
her ancestors. She is dedicating her involvement in this event in
memory of her late fraternal grandfather, WilsonRay (Frog) and her
aunt Barbara "Auntie Barb" Baker.
of the Williams' clan members continue to live in West Point including
fraternal grandmother Lois Williams. Maternal grandmother Gladys
Jeff followed the Williams family and moved to Manteca in the early
1990s. It was Raquel Williams' late maternal great-grandfather,
Manuel Jeff, who gave her the Miwuk name Pachuk-a-lu when she was
a baby, which means Snow Bird.
teen-age powwow princess has not limited herself to Native American
involvements. She is also into sports, particularly softball, volleyball
and basketball. Currently, she and her mother are playing on a women's
softball league in Stockton. This is just part of the strong family
values that her parents insist on inculcating in their children's
mind. Doug and Daveen always make it a point to plan everything
around the family.
call it making memories for their children," Raquel explained.
even though her parents don't dance, "they support us a lot
and take us where the dances are. They come inside the Roundhouse.
They are my cheerleaders," she said with a laugh.
her traditional involvements, Raquel has also been active in a number
of community civic projects. Last year, she donated 30 hours of
community service when she organized a team to walk in the ALS (Amyothropic
Lateral Sclerosis) awareness-raising event in Modesto in honor of
family friend Theresa McNeilage of Lathrop who is afflicted with
this incurable disease. Also last year, Raquel did 86 hours of service
as the teen representative for the Indian Educational Title VII
all of these, she has not forgotten her academic pursuits and goals
in life. After graduation, she plans to attend community college
before transferring to a university to finish her degree. She is
currently looking at pursuing careers in either environmental law,
American Indian studies, or sports physical therapy.
keeping her traditional culture and heritage alive for posterity
through her dancing and basket weaving will remain a lifelong passion
like to do it because it's the traditional way," she said of
her basket weaving.
make them for fun but I also make them to keep the tradition alive,"