Policy on attendance discussed<br>Fourth Annual Hoop Dance Contest planned<br>
James and Mae Peshlakai.
"U.S. Congressman Rick Renzi has confirmed that he will be there on Saturday. Renzi has told local tribes that he plans to develop a relationship between the local tribes, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service,” Peshlakai said. “The local tribes are looking forward to creating a bond between these two entities.”
When asked what he hoped to see come from Renzi’s visit and pledge, Peshlakai was quick to respond.
“The main thing many of us wish to see is a restoration of our spiritual connection with the Canyon and its sacred sites,” Peshlakai said. “We wish to have access to them, and presently, we have not had a good relationship with the Park and Forest Services, and we want to create a better one.”
One goal Peshlakai would like to see is the ability for Native Americans to be able to take their gatherings and dances back into the Canyon.
“Tusayan is as close to the Canyon as we are able to get,” Peshlakai said. “It is disappointing to us that the National Park Service will allow the Grand Canyon Music Festival to take place but will not allow for us to go near that Canyon.
“At one time, the Grand Canyon Musical Festival asked the Havasupai Grand Canyon Dancers to perform a side-show to their event, and that’s the closest that Native Americans have gotten to the Grand Canyon.”
Another area where Native Americans have been kept out of the Canyon is vending, Peshlakai continued. It is his understanding that some of the vendors who have been allowed into the Canyon pay only $1 per year for a concession in the National Park.
“Yet, the Park would not consider or accept an application from the tribes. They (the National Park Service personnel) have allowed people to come and dump their cremation ashes there—we would never allow this,” Peshlakai said of area tribes. “We don’t bury people in the Grand Canyon; I know of not one Native American in historic times buried in the Canyon. It is a sacred place to us, and we are caretakers of the Canyon.”
Peshlakai’s ties to this region span well-documented generations. Beshlagai Atsitdii (1845-1947), Peshlakai’s grandfather, was a well-known Navajo Headman, silversmith and medicine man, who survived the Ft. Sumner (“Hweeldi”) experience. Beshlagai Atsitdii traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt to speak for his people and was instrumental in the annexation of what is today called the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation.
Clyde Peshlakai (1885-1972), Peshlakai’s father, continued the work of Beshlagai Atsitdii as a silversmith and medicine man, who also worked on land claims for his people in federal courts. Clyde Peshlakai also helped create the Navajo Show at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, co-authored the original Navajo history and contributed to the Wupatki herbarium.
James Peshlakai has also done much to promote his people both nationally and internationally. He too is a silversmith and cultural consultant. As an entrepreneur he has promoted the art and culture of his people. He mentors Native American students at Northern Arizona University, and has taught countless dancers. Peshlakai has traveled extensively throughout his life, and is a natural storyteller willing to share part of his history at the drop of a hat.
He and his wife Mae created the Pehslakai Cultural Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of native cultures.
In 1999, the Peshlakais lost a son to a drunken driver. Jameson “Sonny” Peshlakai was an accomplished ceremonial and entertainment dancer who also went out into the world to share his culture. The annual Jameson “Sonny” Clyde Peshlakai Memorial Hoop Dance Contest honors this lost son.
“My son danced in Tusayan at the Grand Star Hotel. He traveled with the Arizona Office of Tourism all over the United States and other countries, promoting tourism for the state and for the Grand Canyon,” Peshlakai said. “When we were planning the first hoop dance contest, the business owners of Tusayan said ‘you can do it here in Tusayan. You can do it here, because he was our son, too.’ Everybody knew him there.”
James and Mae Peshlakai honored that request, and have continued the contest—not only for the memory of Sonny, but for the opportunity to create cultural bridges.
“I think the main thing is to create a greater bond between the Native Americans and the non-Indians who live or are visiting this region,” Peshlakai said. “We want to share our culture and educate the world public about ourselves, so we’re not just an object of curiosity,” Peshlakai said.
This year, the Peshlakai family will offer trophy buckles to the winners of each dance category but one—the Tiny Tot category.
“They are too little to carry one,” Peshlakai laughed.
When pressed for confirmation of another highlight of a Peshlakai family gathering, James confirmed that he plans to once again offer earth-oven roast beef dinner to those dancers and vendors who take part in the Spiritual Gathering. That is a reward sure to spur a multiculturalgathering.
(S.J. Wilson is a correspondent for the Navajo-Hopi Observer, a sister publication to the Grand Canyon News. Both papers are owned by Western Newspapers, Inc.)
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