California Indian tribes honor water at Friday event

Indian tribes from across California will converge on the state Capitol Friday for an event meant to draw attention to the drought and celebrate water as a sacred substance.

The annual Native American Day at the Capitol will feature representatives from every American Indian tribe in the state. Members from several tribes will perform traditional songs and dances that pay tribute to water and nature.

The event, now in its 47th year, has never before featured water, a focus triggered by the drought gripping California, said Anecita Agustinez, tribal policy adviser at the Department of Water Resources.

“The tribal community wants to show the outside public that, for Native Americans, water is not a commodity,” Agustinez said. “Water is sacred. It is something you should not be selling. It is a gift from the creator of life. We want to share that with government leaders.”

To emphasize the importance of water, she said, organizers cut lengthy speeches from the event and included more traditional dance and music performances. This includes a first-time performance at the Capitol by the “Bird Singers” from the Pala Band of Mission Indians, who will interpret bird songs honoring water. Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to read a proclamation honoring Native Americans and water.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday on the Capitol’s north steps along L Street. At 9 a.m., tribal members will march from Tower Bridge to the Capitol along Capitol Mall. A number of exhibitors from state and federal agencies will be on hand to share information, and commercial vendors will sell Native American arts, crafts and jewelry.