by Lee Allen
Last year’s event was so well received, the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association has decided to do it again. This time, the Arizona Indian Festival will join Western Week in Scottsdale.
“The festival will provide a new platform for tribal tourism and awareness of the state’s indigenous communities [there are 22 recognized tribes in Arizona] by creating an inclusive intertribal event to celebrate culture, traditional arts and crafts, and indigenous foods, as well as innovations in Arizona’s cultural tourism experiences,” says event coordinator Steve Geiogamah (Kiowa). >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
ur goal is to engage the public in a deeper and more meaningful experience of the Southwest through a cultural lens,” says AAITA President Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community).
“Since our inception in 1994, our organization has connected more than half a million visitors, leaders, and business professionals through various tourism events. The Indian Festival is the latest platform to foster tribal and non-tribal partnerships that benefit our tribal membership and increase the total tribal economic impact on Arizona.”
“After attracting an estimated 7,000 attendees in our initial year in 2018, we anticipate 10,000 or more for our 2019 event on February 9-10,” says Geiogamah .
The Native American Festival is a part of a much larger annual bash—Western Week, which occurs February 3-10. The festival brings together the best of Scottsdale’s Old West traditions combined with New West style drawing more than 40,000 local visitors and international tourists every year.
Karen Churchard is in charge of tourism and events for the City of Scottsdale and says, “Historically, back 50 years or so, there was an earlier iteration of Western Week where the mayor issued a proclamation, and everybody dressed up in western attire. That faded away in the late 1980s and we decided to bring the concept back, so three years ago we recreated the idea, acting as an umbrella for all the different events.
“The whole celebration is a nod to the Wild West, a fun and authentic experience in our Old Town that includes recognition and celebration of all of Arizona’s tribes,” she says. “More than 20,000 people participated in different aspects of the event last year and this year’s event will be bigger and better than last year’s that’s for sure. We’re not adding anything really new in 2019, but people are starting to be aware that the concept of Western Week is celebrated in the spring and they’re beginning to include it in their plans.”
McAnlis-Vasquez of Talking Stick Resort is one of the organizers who helped create the original Arizona Indian Festival during the 2012 Arizona Centennial celebration where all 22 tribes gathered their events and tourism teams and partnered with the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association to celebrate Arizona’s Indian Country. “Our event showcases five villages, arts and crafts, song, dance, and cooking demonstrations—an event unlike any other in the state,” she says.
Related to the cooking events, one of those behind the white apron will be Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie (who runs the kitchen at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.).
“I haven’t decided on the recipes yet, but it will all be good. As I cook, I tell stories about traditional foods until the food is plated and ready to speak for itself,” says Bitsoie. “I love to introduce new audiences to the flavors and sensations of traditional Native American cooking from my kitchen.”
One of the more popular attractions is the Western Week Gold Palette Artwalk, sponsored by the non-profit Scottsdale Gallery Associations representing up to 100 galleries. If you want to get into the spirit of things, you can arrive downtown from your free parking spot via a horse-drawn carriage to stroll at your own pace to view some of the finest visual art from around the world in a concentration of high-end art galleries all within walking distance of one another.
The City of Scottsdale, in partnership with the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association, the Navajo Nation Tourism Department, and the Arizona Office of Tourism is behind the Native Experience event with contemporary Native Chefs featuring both traditional and fusion foods.
In addition to culinary delights, another February 8 spectacular involves the arrival of the oldest officially-sanctioned Pony Express delivery featuring riders who have blazed a trail from the town of Holbrook, 200 miles away, and will come galloping into town at Scottsdale Museum West at high noon with more than 20,000 pieces of U.S. mail.
Because the Indian Festival focuses on several aspects of Native American culture, Main Stage Entertainment Coordinator Geri Hongeva (Dine) says her area of focus will showcase “a combination of cultural performances from various tribes and tribal royalty. Dances will also include those that are social in nature and invite the audience to interact with the performers.”
Year 2019 festivities will also include the 65th annual Scottsdale Parada del Sol Parade with more than 100 entries ranging from bands and floats to school groups and individual riders [February 9, 10 a.m.-noon], immediately followed by Old Town’s huge block party, the Trail’s End Festival.
While in-kind support comes from Arizona native communities like Fort McDowell Resort Destination and DiscoverNavajo.com, business sponsorships are starting to appear from supporters such as the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Bashas Grocery, Kitchell Construction, Smokefire Media, and other firms that are discovering the popularity of the get-together.
For those traveling through the Southwest during the springtime, Western Week and its American Indian Festival is a ‘must-see’ spot. Visit ScottsdaleWesternWeek.com for further information. ♦