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Sing Birds: Following the Path of Cahuilla Power (2009)

"Sing Birds: Following the Paths of Cahuilla Power" is a thought-provoking journey through the stories of individuals in the Cahuilla band of Indians that illustrates the strong currents of change in their culture documented by filmmaker Sean Owen.

The Cahuilla are in the midst of a transition that holds much promise, but is fraught with the challenges of how to avoid being totally absorbed by an alien culture. Bird songs are the traditional social songs that speak of the origins of the Cahuilla, mythic or actual travels during ancient times, and describe the natural environment and its inhabitants. The evolution of bird songs themselves and how they are sung depict and serve as a metaphor for the changes in Cahuilla culture today.

The storytellers in "Sing Birds" include traditional elders who sing bird songs exactly as they were taught, young bird singers who are competing in pow wows and jazzing up the rhythms, and tribal leaders and teenagers who represent the “modern Cahuilla”. The story tellers’ perspectives on traditional ways and the songs’ importance in Cahuilla contemporary life inform the answer to the question “where is the power of the Cahuilla today?”. Some of the issues that are explored in the film are: loss of language that affects all aspects of the erosion of traditional ways, tensions around blood quantum, and the revival of the Bird Songs that encourages an optimistic view of the future. The powerful and primal sound of Bird Songs are used in the sound track throughout the film.


Contains Six Chapters:



  • chemeynUkish (Our Creators)

    Elder lead singers of the bird song groups relate their stories of the creation of the Cahuilla people and the evolution of the Bird Songs. 

  • Hem liv'a Sechuumii (Remembered Power)

    Recollections of Cahuilla Elders and others about the Shaman of their time. 


  • sAwaanika (To Make Disappear)

    An overview of the period between 1870 and the 1950s focusing on religious and BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) schools that prohibited the speaking of the Cahuilla language by the native students. 


  • Kutpaah (From the Ashes)

    From the 1950s through the 1970s, many Cahuilla thought the bird songs would be lost; however, in the late 1980s younger Cahuilla began to show a renewed interest in their culture and songs, and a number of the elder singers who had kept their traditions and songs alive began to teach them. 


  • Supul (Change)                                     

    Loss of the Cahuilla language, contemporary western culture, and issues of mixed blood have affected the intention of the singers and the purity of the bird songs. 


  • Iva'a (Power Now)

    Singers expressing different views, Cahuilla educators finding ways to reeducate the youth, and tribal leaders working hard to improve the life of their Band, all work towards resolving current tensions and challenges while looking forward with renewed vigor and optimism. 

Sing Birds: Following the Path of Cahuilla Power (2009)

  • Duration: 51 minutes

    Directed by Sean Owen


    Please contact us if purchasing a DVD with Public Performance Rights. Price is $249.95 with PPR.

  • Critic Reviews

    "It's a masterpiece! This kind of film has never been done before about the Cahuilla."

    — DR. LOWELL BEAN, author of Mukats People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California and California Indian Shamanism and Folk Curing


    "I really liked this film. It showed the people as they are and will help the singing spread."



    "Excellent documentary on the Cahuilla Bird Singing tradition. Lots of good ethnographic filmmaking, great interviews, song, tradition. Well rounded giving viewpoints from different perspectives.




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