Indigenous vendors and cultural demonstrators looking to expand outreach in Grand Canyon
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Since 2015, Grand Canyon National Park’s (GCNP) Cultural Demonstration Program has been held exclusively at the Desert View Watchtower near the park’s east boundary; however, it’s now time to expand its offerings throughout the Grand Canyon, according to NPS Program Manager Daniel Pawlak.
“The Cultural Demonstrator Series provides park visitors and residents the opportunity to interact with members of traditionally associated tribes and for the artisans to share their history and crafts. Weavers, carvers, potters, painters, sculptors (and) jewelers are just some of the disciplines presented by cultural demonstrators,” the park said in a press release. “This series is made possible with grants from Grand Canyon Conservancy.”
Every weekend through Feb. 26, artists from the traditionally associated tribes of the Grand Canyon will be in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the South Rim’s lobby from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.— additionally GCNP is in the early planning stages of bringing demonstrators to additional locations and expanding offerings according to Pawlak.
“This program has a great foundation of hundreds of artists being able to come out here and participate but that’s showing off (one) part of cultures,” he said. “We want people to see a full expression of life that has been present in this area since time immemorial.”
Pawlak sees the program evolving into a cultural expressions program in conjunction with Desert View becoming the cultural center of GCNP. A major component of this is the Intertribal Welcome Center which is slated to be located in a refurbished building in between the Desert View Market and trading post and will serve as an anchor for Indigenous activities.
GCNP is wanting to build bread ovens, an Indigenous demonstration garden just east of the Welcome Center “to show how people have worked the land for hundreds of years, we want to have dances, we want to have ceremonies,” according to Pawlak.
Construction at the South Rim Desert View Intertribal Center is currently in progress through early 2024 and will see several changes including plans to bring back a dance plaza just south of the watchtower so associated tribes can hold performances and speakers to bolster tribal access to the canyon according to Pawlak.
About $700,000 has gone back directly to tribal members in the program largely through salary and travel compensation paid to the artists through funding from the Grand Canyon Conservancy according to GCC spokeswoman Mindy Riesenberg, the park’s nonprofit partner. However, this doesn’t include income generated from demonstrators selling their crafts to park visitors and Pawlak is quick to point out that the program focuses on the interpretation of participants’ culture and not on sales.
“We’re still going to be focusing on having demonstrators indoors at the watchtower,” Pawlak said. “But it’s time to expand locations where we have demonstrations. While we don’t have any new structures being built with an indoor space I am looking at different locations including the North Rim.”
Expanding the program to the North Rim is still in its early stages with more concrete plans being written after it reopens for its 2023 operating season.
This past summer GCNP entered into a memorandum of agreement with Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) in Flagstaff allowing six Indigenous vendors to set up at the Tusayan Museum and Pueblo in the park from Memorial to Labor Day on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and holiday Mondays — the program will return in 2023 with at least the same schedule however there are discussions about expanding its duration and locations to the North Rim and the South Rim Visitor Center according to Chief Executive Office of NACA Dorothy Gishie
“This was the first of its kind with the Grand Canyon since it became a (part of the) park service and (it’s) because Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland made new initiatives to include Indigenous people and welcome them back into the canyon,” Gishie said.
It’s something that she’s been wanting to do for the last 15 years and its based on NACA’s Oak Creek Overlook Vista program with the US Forest Service in Sedona off Highway 89a that’s been in place since 1988 allowing Indigenous artists to sell their work at the location.
Booth fees collected from vendors are going back into the program and were used by NACA to hire one ranger for the Tusayan site. Further NACA sees greater business opportunities for Indigenous people in the Grand Canyon particularly with tours and outdoor recreation according to Gishie.