Native American art market to feature hoop dance contest

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - Labor Day weekend means a lot of things across America. In Tusayan, it means free Labor Day weekend festivities hosted by Mae and James Peshlakai of Cameron.

The Jameson "Sonny" Peshlakai Memorial Hoop Dance Contest is just one of many events featured over the three-day weekend.

The event, designed to honor their son, has evolved over the years.

"In the 10 years since the passing of our son, we've come to realize a lot of things about our people," Mae explained. "In the beginning we were just doing things to be doing things. But we've come to see ... that we are doing what he would want us to do for our people."

Jameson had seen the value of working with the Arizona Department of Tourism as a means to promote the economic development of Navajo performers and artisans.

"This was a way Jameson could pass on the heritage and culture of the Navajo people," Mae continued.

On Saturday, Grammy nominated artist Jaye Begay will perform throughout the day.

The Hoop Dance contest will be held on Sunday afternoon, with Junior, Adult and Senior divisions. Trophy buckles and cash awards will be given to winners.

"James and I would like to personally invite Jones Benally to compete in this contest," Mae said with a smile. "He is a great representative for senior hoop dancers."

Monday will feature the Cowboy and Indian Musician Day and the Fry Bread Making Contest - both very popular.

Hoop dancers beware - Tony Duncan and his family will also compete. Duncan has earned his share of first place hoop dancing buckles.

James and Mae have spent much of their lives in the support and development of economic opportunity on the reservation. They are also active in teaching Navajo culture not just on the reservation, but across the country.

"I like to think of myself as an activist for my people, and for nature," Mae explained. "We are supportive of the way our people can make a living."

Each year, the Peshlakais have provided an earth-oven roasted beef dinner for the performers and vendors - and even the occasional tourist. This is another way the couple gives back for the blessings they have received.

Learning about the earth-oven roasting method is another lesson in culture.

"Today we put the meat in the ground wrapped in foil along with a cedar branch - in turn wrapped in wet paper bags," Mae said. "But before, we used to put the meat directly in wet sand. We would cook bread the same way. When it was finished cooking, we took rabbit brush and brushed off the sand. The inside was cooked well, and there was no sand in the meat."

James and Mae have regulated their lives not only with their rich culture, but the knowledge gleaned from contact with people of other races and nationalities.

"Jim's plan for the future could be taken from John Lennon's song, 'Imagine,'" Mae said. "He would wish to see people live in peace with justice for all."

She added, "We want to thank the business people of Tusayan for their generosity to our people by providing an opportunity for them to make a living there. They have been very supportive of the art show, and we appreciate that."

"The people of Tusayan got to know Jameson well," Mae concluded. "People still say that there will never be another person like him."

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