In times of yesteryear, many Native American tribes have kept tradition alive through the art of ceremonial dancing. Hoop dancing was among the styles performed with different tribes having their own versions.
“The Pueblo tribes have hoop dances and the Navajos have their style,” said James Peshlakai, a Navajo artist, entertainer and medicine man. “But now, it’s blending with national culture. In the actual ceremonies, the hoop dances are a little different, they’re boring. These now are a more commercialized style ... a more contemporary art form style.”
Grand Canyon-area residents and visitors can enjoy this unique type of entertainment this Labor Day weekend during the third annual Jameson “Sonny” Peshlakai Memorial Hoop Dance Contest. It’s all part of year three of the Grand Canyon Ceremonial Pow Wow in Tusayan.
“Dancers in different categories will be competing for prize money ... with the first-place winners then competing again in a dance-off for the grand prize,” Peshlakai said.
The hoop dance contest will take place on day two of the pow wow. The competition begins at 10 a.m., Sunday at the pow wow site, located between McDonald’s Restaurant and the Grand Hotel on the east side of State Route 64.
Dancers of all ages are welcome to compete in one of five categories: Tiny Tots (ages 1-5), Juniors (ages 6-12), Teens (ages 13-18), Adults (ages 18-55) and Seniors (ages 56 and older). There are divisions for male and female, except in the youngest category. Peshlakai would like to hear from businesses willing to sponsor the dance categories.
The art show and ceremonial pow wow begins Saturday with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. The Apache, Hopi, Havasupai, Navajo, Sioux and Hualapai tribes will participate. There will be food and beverages available. Admission is free all three days.
On Sunday, the hoop dance contest begins at 10 a.m., beginning with the Tiny Tots category. In between each competition, the various tribes will offer exhibition dances. After all categorical competitions, the grand prize dance-off will be staged later in the day.
On both Saturday and Sunday evenings, a traditional “Earthoven” roast beef dinner will be offered to dancers and other invited guests. A steer is cooked in the ground at a site in the forest and then taken to the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn where the meal takes place.
The event winds down Monday with vendors opening shop at 9 a.m., and exhibition dances by locals all day. The pow wow concludes with closing ceremonies at 6 p.m.
This year, the pow wow will have some new faces, including genuine Buffalo dancers from the Sioux Nation in South Dakota and Flamenco Luna-Sol dancers from the Mayan tribe in Mexico. Peshlakai said there could also be an appearance by members of the Inca tribe in Peru, but that has not been confirmed.
The event appears to be doing well in its third year, although it basically makes no money.
“This year, the vendor spaces sold out way back in July, so that means we’re doing good,” Peshlakai said, adding that there are 26 vendors scheduled to participate. “This year, it is a fund-raising awareness for our cultural foundation.”
The Peshlakai Cultural Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Native American culture. Money brought in through the pow wow basically covers the expense of the event. Peshlakai said the pow wow does make participants aware of the foundation and as a result, donations can be brought in.
The foundation was formed in the memory of Jameson “Sonny” Peshlakai (1979-99), Clyde Peshlakai (1885-1972) and Beshligaii Adsitdii (1845-1947).
The foundation benefits from the Native American Art Show and Dances staged throughout the summer on the same site. At the end of the summer, Peshlakai said a deposit of $10,000 to $12,000 will be made in honor of the Thurston family. Red Feather Properties, a business owned and operated by the Thurstons, owns the land on which the pow wow is held.
The pow wow may see some changes next year.
“Next year, if we’re allowed to do it again, we’ll have ceremonial dances at night,” Peshlakai said. “Our traditional, ceremonial dances are done at night instead of the daytime.”