The Huhugam Ki Museum was dedicated on November 11, 1987, and 25 years later it is still in mint condition as it serves its purpose of educating the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and visitors interested in the Community’s history. On November 10, to commemorate the 25th anniversary, the museum celebrated with various dances and demonstrations that ran all day and into the evening. Featured events included a Community feast, a chicken scratch dance contest and a salute to Community veterans.
The Huhugam Ki Museum is housed in what once was the Salt River Youth Home. The building was constructed in 1965–66 by release workers from the tribal jail, senior women and other Community members. It is constructed of adobe brick, saguaro-rib slats, mesquite beams and other native desert materials that were commonly used for building in those days. A fireplace was added because at one time, when there was very little development in the cities along the Community’s borders, temperatures in the Community could plunge and it could get quite cold. The fireplace is made from river rock and can still be used if needed.
When a new facility for the youth was built in 1984, the first building was closed and sat empty for a couple of years. It was the determination of the late Alfretta Antone to have a museum in the Community that brought the Huhugam Ki Museum to life in that building. Her foresight, passion and will got people involved, and with help from Salt River Project for exhibit design, the Community opened its tribal museum on November 11, 1987.
Preparations Evoke Memories of the Old Days
The event planning for the 25th anniversary started last year with the Huhugam Ki Museum staff. “We had just finished the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) Cultural Night, where we cooked and had Community involvement,” said Huhugam Ki Museum Manager Gary Owens, Jr. “It was a traditional gathering, meaning our dances were from the Piipaash and the O’odham.
“We found that in order to make it successful, we needed to include Community members in our meetings,” Owens said. “A general program [for the celebration] came out of that, and we went with the chicken scratch dance contest and a [traditional feast] for the people.”
Conducting oral interviews with Community members for the current museum exhibit helped the museum staff remember the family and Community feasts were once like, the coming together to celebrate, the feasting, the gathering of people to help cook and to help serve, and so forth.
“I remember, when I was growing up, walking by tubs of beans and meat cooking over fires near where the old jail stood down by the Day School,” said Owens. “It was Mrs. Pratt and Mrs. Brown, I remember from those days, cooking all that food, but it has been a long time since I have seen it.”
Owens said the people they interviewed talked about the different feasts the churches would have and also the ones that the families would have; someturned out to be all-nighters.
Students in the tamale-making class and Community members who wanted to learn or brush up on their traditional cooking skills joined the museum staff for five nights in October. Eight Community planners helped work out the details and more than 60 volunteers helped on the day of the celebration. The volunteers made over 400 tamales during nighttime gatherings prior to the celebration day, and that morning they made over 600 tortillas in two and a half hours.
“All of our Community volunteers who were involved were just that, volunteers. No one was paid for their efforts. [Their contribution] came from the sense of helping when help [was needed],” said Owens.
The only drawback for everyone on celebration day was that the weather was cold and breezy, with intermittent rain. The cold snap was a surprise, considering that daytime temperatures were in the 80s just a few days before.
“I thought the event went well. We had 300 to 400 people throughout the day and we had our food vendors sell out,” said Owens.
“I received phone calls after that from people who said the feast evoked memories of gatherings when they were young, eating, sitting with friends, and just relaxing,” said Owens. “The volunteers were happy to be a part of it, and the elderly were happy [to see] some events with people helping to make an event special, just like how the women came together to make tortillas for the feast and tamales were steamed in the washtubs.”
Chicken Scratch Dance Contest
“We wanted to do something special, and so we had a donation of the first-prize money and went from there,” said Owens. “We got three bands to play throughout the day, and this time we didn’t have issues with the electrical,” he said.
Fourteen couples entered the contest, and judging it was tough because Owens said they had to dance three styles of chicken scratch with their partners and were rated not only on the dancing but on general participation.
First place went to Clarice Norris and Frank Carlyle, second place went to Wayne Stewart Blaine and Marie Valenzuela, and Colleen Stone and Tyson Lewis picked up the third-place honors. “Our museum choice in the potato dance was Joseph Antone and Lori Washington,” said Owens.
Honoring Veterans and Thanking Volunteers
Salt River American Legion Post 114, the Bushmasters, performed a 21-gun salute in honor of the veterans of both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the other conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved during the last century. Owens noted, “It would not have been complete, in our opening program, if we did not salute those who had gone before us and those who are serving. It was very commendable for them to participate, and we thank them as well.”
He added, “We would like to extend a big thank-you to the 18 women who came out on Saturday morning and made over 600 tortillas for the event, and we would also like to thank Rebecca Collins, Leota Standing Elk, Wilda Easchief, Verna Espanoza, Barbara Johnson, Matt Kisto, Doreen Duncan, Alice Manuel and Ruth Madar for sitting in on interviews and meetings for the planning of the event.” The Community’s Day Labor Program was also a great help, and their workers did an excellent job all day and night.
“We would also like to thank the Tribal Council members who came out in support of the event and to speak, President Enos for her speech, and Maria Chavez and Tom Wright for staying till the end and making sure all things were put away and the lights in the kitchen were turned off.”
Next year will mark the Huhugam Ki Museum’s 26th anniversary, and Community members can be assured there will be something special to commemorate it. “We still have our posters available for this year’s event if anyone wants to pick one up for free.
“And once more we would like to thank Alfretta Antone for her lasting work in the Community,” said Owens.