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Royalty representing various Arizona Tribes took part in many of the dances throughout the day at the AZ Best Fest. Photo by Richie Corrales

AZ Best Fest: Celebrating the Arizona Experience

By Richie Corrales
Au-Authm Action News

Arizona kicked off its centennial festivities with the first event of a three-part celebration that began in Prescott, September 16-18. This first event was held in Prescott because of the historical significance of the city—in the late 1800s, before Arizona became a state, Prescott was the capital of the Arizona Territory.

The next part of the celebration will take place in Tucson, tentatively January 20-22, 2012, and the final celebration will be held in downtown Phoenix on February 10-12, 2012. Arizona’s official centennial birthday is February 14, 2012, marking 100 years since Arizona statehood on February 14, 1912.

The celebration is called the Party of the Century, also known as the “Best Fest.”

During Prescott’s Best Fest, the celebration comprised nine city blocks filled with special exhibits and villages: the Native American Village, Hispanic Village, Western Town; Military, History, Natural Resources and Science Pavilions; and Arizona Wine Garden and Craft Beer exhibits. There was also a Family Fun Zone with plenty of kid-friendly activities. The festival was free to the public to explore Arizona’s rich history and celebrate the state’s 100th birthday.

Several Arizona Indian tribes participated in the Native American Village: the River Tribes, the O’odham/Maricopa tribes, the Hopi and Zuni tribes, the Navajo Tribe, the Pai tribes (Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai), the Apache tribes and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. They showcased their cultures through art, traditional dance and replicas of ancient dwellings their ancestors lived in, what they used as tools and what they harvested. The tribes also provided basket-weaving, pottery-making and artist demonstrations.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had a big presence in the Native American Village. It built a roundhouse and several vatos (ramadas) and displayed a wide variety of information, from culture to economic development.

The Sister Tribes (Gila River Indian Community and Ak-Chin Indian Community) were in close proximity to Salt River, sharing space. The Community showcased the tribe’s enterprises, such as Casino Arizona and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Many people visited the Native American Village to see the dwelling displays and local artists demonstrating their technique, such as Community member Royce Manuel showing his burden basket and bow and arrows. Community member Ron Carlos was also present, displaying his pottery and gourds.

Many people who walked through were very grateful to see the old traditions still being observed, such as using desert plants to weave baskets, as food sources or to use as tools.

The Sister Tribes took turns dancing every hour on Saturday morning and throughout the afternoon.

“I thought the Village was outstanding; [it was impressive] to see all the villages together and everyone learning the history and how we are all similar in so many ways through tradition, songs and dances,” said Lorena Clashin, Miss Gila River.

Later on Saturday afternoon was a ram dance performance by the Supai dance group Guardians of the Grand Canyon, followed by the White Mountain Dischiibikoh Apache Crown Dancers. Then gourd and basket dancers continued to take turns through the evening.

The Freedom Flight Biplanes aerial show flew over the celebration several times during the day.

“I liked the gun show and the airplanes when they flew over,” said Jedidiah Susunkewa, who represented the Ak-Chin Indian Community as Little Mr. Ak-Chin.

The day ended with a concert by Glendale’s very own American Idol, Jordin Sparks, and music legend Wayne Newton, who was born in Arizona. The grand finale was a fireworks show.

For more information about upcoming Arizona Centennial celebrations, go to www.az100years.org.

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