More than a century ago, it was an annual tradition among tribes in and around Grand Canyon to get together for a ceremonial pow wow. It was a time to see old friends, trade goods, dance and eat good food.
Native American dancers perform at last year’s pow wow in Tusayan. The event returns for a second year over Labor Day weekend. (GCN file photo)
"Each tribe came together and renewed friendships," Navajo traditionalist and entertainer James Peshlakai said. "It would be a small gathering, but was very spiritual. All the tribes put their dances together and there were trading sessions."
But in 1902, Peshlakai said the ceremonial pow wows at Grand Canyon came to an end. During that era, the federal government was seeking to protect the great natural wonder. President Roosevelt then created the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908.
Just last year, Peshlakai organized the inaugural Grand Canyon South Rim Native American Art Show and Ceremonial Pow Wow, staged in Tusayan. The event returns for a second year this coming Labor Day weekend.
"It’s the second time in 100 years ever since the Indians were removed from Grand Canyon that we’re getting together," Peshlakai said. "I’m excited about it. We’re trying to get our tribes spiritually connected again to the Grand Canyon."
The art show and ceremonial pow wow begins Friday with vendors opening shop at 10 a.m. The schedule includes exhibition dancing at 10 a.m., and 1 p.m. Peshlakai said there will be an open mic for any entertainers who want to play, dance or speak. There will be food and beverages available, including Navajo tacos. Admission is free all four days.
Vendors will be open at 9 a.m. Saturday before the ceremonial pow wow begins at 10 a.m. The Apache, Hopi, Havasupai, Navajo, Sioux and Hualapai are all scheduled to participate. A second pow wow session begins at 2 p.m., and the ceremonial "Dinner of Earthoven" roast beef follows for dancers and invited guests.
On Sunday, the vendors will again open at 9 a.m. The big event of the day will be the second annual "Sonny" Peshlakai Memorial Hoop Dance Contest, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Various entrants will compete for the hoop dance title and receive prizes. There will be five divisions — Tiny Tots (ages 1-5), Juniors (ages 6-12), Teens (ages 13-18), Adults (ages 19-55) and Seniors (ages 56 and older).
In addition to the prizes for divisional winners, Tom Mace Sr., of Grand Canyon Management and Mike Finney of Grand Canyon State Marketing have put up money to be awarded to an overall grand prize winner and runner-up. The divisional winners will compete for the grand prize in a "dance-off."
Representatives of the six tribes will also have exhibition dances during the day with a dinner for dancers and invited guests at 5 p.m.
The event concludes Monday with vendors opening at 9 a.m., and exhibition dances by locals all day. The pow wow concludes with a benediction at 6 p.m., by a tribal member.
The Native American Art Show and Ceremonial Pow Wow was created to not only reconnect natives with the Canyon, but it also serves as an event to raise money for Peshlakai’s nonprofit organization.
The Peshlakai Cultural Foundation was created to preserve the Navajo culture through language, traditional songs and dances, food, oral history and Navajo teachings of natural history. Money raised goes toward the funding of those cultural teachings by traditional native practitioners.
It was formed in the memory of Jameson "Sonny" Peshlakai (1979-99), Clyde Peshlakai (1885-1972) and Beshligaii Adsitdii (1845-1947).
This summer, the foundation became part of the Arizona Community Foundations after dissolving its own board. Now they benefit from that organization’s services and skills. Peshlakai’s organization is specifically part of the regional group, the Flagstaff Community Foundations.
The Native American Art Show and Dances, a weekend event that has been running all summer, has helped the foundation increase its bank account to $12,325. Through a 100-percent matching program by the Arizona Community Foun-dations, that total is now $24,650.
Peshlakai said he faced new challenges this year trying to organize the event, but added that Dominique Begay of Holiday Inn Express and Ann Wren of Quality Inn and Suites have been helping secure sponsors.