Local businessman plans center for Indian culture<br>

James Peshlakai builds a hogan near his gift shop at Grand Canyon Airport. It will be used for lectures and other programs promoting Native American culture.

It begins at 11 a.m. and runs through the afternoon. Featured artists include Tony Duncan, Bucky Preston and James King.

Peshlakai said the gesture is a reaching out to the community, particularly to the local Native Americans, who he sees as somewhat disenfranchised. The celebration, he said, is a first step toward providing a permanent base where Native Americans can reconnect with their cultural roots and where others can see an authentic portrayal of Native culture.

“This is what we want to do – to share our culture,” he said. “There’s been so much misleading information from traders who sell Indian goods. We want to tell the truth.”

To provide a space for lectures and cultural teachings, he’s constructing a hogan on the grounds.

“If all goes well, we plan that after the helicopters settle for the evening we can host Native American dances with food and artists,” he said. He hopes to host such gatherings as often as a few times a week.

“In other cities, there are Native American cultural centers,” Peshlakai said. “This will be a cultural center for Native Americans in Tusayan and Grand Canyon Village.”

While his heritage and tradition are Navajo, he said the center will be a source of cultural empowerment for all Native Americans. For the May 1 celebration, he said he’s invited area tribes, including the Supai, Walapai, Hopi and Apaches.

“We are one group of people,” Peshlakai said. “Only our boundaries separate us.”

The tribes, he said, hold the same things sacred, particularly the Canyon, which they call Red Cliff Canyon. Native Americans find it impossible to reconcile themselves to government policies that they see as restrictive to their freedom to worship and to practices that they find offensive, such as scattering the ashes of the dead in places they believe are sacred.

Tribal leaders are also troubled by the erosion of their heritage through succeeding generations.

“Most kids don’t talk their own (native) language,” he said. “When we were teaching native dances, we had to explain what was going on to them.”

And, he said, they also struggle with some of the same modern-day problems, exacerbated by the prolonged drought that has destroyed a way of life for many.

“It took people back 10 years,” he said. “It would take three good years of rain to get it back.”

As a successful businessman, Peshlakai knows there’s strength in financial independence. This is another form of empowerment he hopes to further for local Native Americans.

“In 1969, we started a cooperative called Dine Bi Arts and Crafts Cooperative,” he said. “We worked with artists and freed a lot from the traders, who used to own them.”

He said the practice by some business owners of advancing groceries and other goods to the artisans, weavers especially, kept them locked into such arrangements. He wanted to see artists able to make their own way.

“We believe in support to the Native Americans who live in the region,” he said. “We believe in buying from local artists and hiring local people. We’re working with the Navajo tribe to hire students for us to train as salespeople.

“When we moved in, we were 60 percent consignment,” Peshlakai said. “Now it’s 10 percent consignment. We’re carrying a lot of Native American artists’ work.”

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