Native American Recognition Days (NARD) events are in full swing in and around Phoenix, Arizona, nearly eight weeks of non-stop celebrations dedicated to the culture and traditions of American Indian People.
The annual NARD events began 29 years ago as a one-day celebration consisting of a community dinner where awards were presented to local leaders. “Former Phoenix Indian Center Director Phyllis BigPond simply held a banquet,” writes historian and university professor Wayne Mitchell, an enrolled member of North Dakota’s Mandan tribe. “More events were added, the name was changed to Native American Recognition Week (later changed to Recognition Days), and a yearly theme was established. As community events continued, NARD grew to cover the months of October and November.”
As the festivities approach the three decade mark, the 2011 theme celebrates Indian Women of Courage and Vision, “honoring courageous and strong Indian women from past and present whose selfless acts have contributed deeply to the lives we lead today,” according to the NARD web page.
The event kicked off October 1st with the Native American Veterans Color Guard ceremonially raising both state and U.S. flags in a morning prayer to bless the annual celebration. The following weekend it was Native American Connections parade time with over 100 entries of floats, bands, traditional and contemporary dance groups spanning a 2-hour downtown parade — which lead to the NARD Pow Wow.
For former Marine Michael Smith, a Navajo from Sacaton, Arizona, and member of First Nations Warrior Society, the parade and pow wow represented a 12-hour day, first marching and then acting as head gourd dancer at both an afternoon and evening session of the family social event.
“This is a social pow wow, a ritual-filled get-together like the old days and our gourd dance opens the festivities by paying honor to all veterans,” says Smith, a Legion member with the Ira Hayes Post. The First Nations Warrior Society Color Guard Council is made up of 13 American Indian veterans representative of all major service branches and many tribal backgrounds (currently Navajo, Pima, Sioux, Hopi, Tohono O’odham, Nez Pierce, and Gila and Salt River tribes).
“Native American veterans deserve our respect,” pow wow emcee Gregory LaPointe, a South Dakota Lakota from Rose Bud, announced to the crowd over his microphone. “When you see them, say thank you for all they have done.”
Four rounds of gourd dancing — nearly two hours worth in both afternoon and evening session — ended with a Blanket Dance that invited donations from a grateful audience. “You don’t have to be American Indian or in regalia to show your support with a contribution,” LaPointe advised. “In return, there will be blessings. It’s the way of our people that when you honor others it comes back to you in many ways big and small.”
The ensuing grand entry introduced another two hours of dancing by both big and small, adults and children alike, outfitted in colorful garb and dancing as part of culture and tradition and for just plain fun.
“This is an intertribal pow wow, a big social gathering to recognize all native tribes, so there’s no formal dance contest,” said event coordinator Lorraine Shirley. “We just want to get everybody together to mingle, have fun, and enjoy the day. Some tribes don’t see each other from pow wow to pow wow, so that’s why we (Central High School Multi-cultural Committee) work hard to host the event.”
Shirley, a Navajo/Zuni, is a parent of two sons and two daughters whose last child graduated from the school district last year. “Everybody thought that mom would be done and they wouldn’t have to do this any more. But when the multi-culture students ask if we can help again — you can’t say no to the kids.”
So once again this year, there was Lorraine, her husband of 25 years and their children flipping burgers and hot dogs and cooking up fry bread (bean and cheese or powdered sugar) to feed a hungry crowd up up to 3,000 attendees.
Add in other food booths with nachos and tacos; vendors with native attire, jewelry, arts and crafts; face-painting for the kids; a warm, sunny day with lots of music, dancing, and socializing, and the 29th annual NARD Pow Wow can be classified a success.