By Mason Callejas
The Ak-Chin Him-Dak Museum hosted a cultural celebration in observance of Native American Recognition Day at Milton Paul Antone Park on Saturday.
The day of traditional dancing and exhibitions of native artisans kicked off with a 5K fun-run, which was then followed by activities and events for all ages. From basket dances to basket weaving, adults and children of the local Ak-Chin and Gila River Indian communities paid homage and lent reverence to their primordial customs.
Dancers from the Ak-Chin Indian Community and Gila River Indian Community taught and performed several different dances including the ancient “Hoop Dance” and traditional “Basket Dance.”
As the steady drum beats and melodic chants reverberated throughout the park, artisans painted, wove and molded items reflecting the spiritual intricacies of their people’s history and art forms that have survived over the generations.
Through vibrant artistic displays and ancestral practices the Phoenix Valley’s indigenous population is attempting to maintain their heritage and their traditions. However, these preservation techniques are not the only way. In fact, some think it’s not even the most important.
A new wave of indigenous blood is maturing within these communities and though they are the first generation of their people to not know a world without the Internet or smart phones, they are well aware of what most anthropologists and sociologists deem the most important aspect to cultural preservation — their language.
The Ak-Chin Youth Council is on the front lines of these preservation efforts and has made it one of its primary initiatives to promote the teaching and usage of their native language. Youth Council Vice President Steve Peters along with other members of the organization provided samples of a traditional homemade prickly-pear jelly and spoke to event goers about their goals and hopes for theirs and future generations of of Ak-Chin members.
Though fluent, Peters recognizes that he is unlike many others of his generation which is cause for concern.
“Language is important,” Peters said, “because some of the kids out here really don’t know the language.”