The Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination (TSCED), a division of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), developed and coordinated a showcase of Native American Art and Dance at the Talking Stick Festival, which took place January 22-24. The TSCED continually seeks opportunities to highlight the tribal traditions of the SRPMIC to visitors and residents of the Valley.
The three-day festival included an abundance of activities for all ages to enjoy featuring Community-member and other Native American artists, various tribal dance groups, and a kids’ craft zone for children to make different types of Native American artwork of their own. In addition, the festival featured Native American–themed movie screenings, oral storytelling at Butterfly Wonderland, a traditional song and dance performance by Yellow Bird Productions, and the Average White Band in concert at Talking Stick Resort.
One intriguing experience was the street and sidewalk chalk painting, which took place along the sidewalks in the area of The Pavilions. The free-flowing creations by artists seemed to fascinate many bystanders as each art piece was in process or being refined.
Jeff Fulwilder, a Community member and accomplished sculptor, offered guests a personal one-hour tour by means of the TSCED trolley to view and gain an appreciation of the many sculptures he has created and had installed at various locations within the Community. During the tour, Fulwilder shared his creative process for each piece. At each stop, guests could exit the trolley and take time to personally experience the artistry of the sculpture.
Several tribal artisans displayed and demonstrated their crafts during the festival, including SRPMIC member Royce Manuel, bow and arrow and flute making; charcoal artist Loren Francisco; Jacob Butler, pottery and shell etching ; potter Ron Carlos; and Cory Hubbard, a basket-maker and painter.
Francisco shared some comments about his artistic growth and how he has honed his craft. “I have been drawing and working in charcoal for years. It was not until I took a class in anatomy at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) to learn bone structure [that I] learned to figure out [the] point of light for a portrait,” he said. He composes portraits in many ways; he added, “[I develop images] by freehand drawing, from [observing] a model (still life), or I will compose a drawing from a picture that someone has furnished.” He stated, “I like what I do. I like the reactions of the people when they see [my art].”
Hubbard was asked, ‘when did you pick up the craft of basket-making?’ He said, “I started when I was about 11 or 12 years old. The Community had a program through the Cultural Resources Department, which was like a summer workshop; this is where I picked it up. And, ever since then, it [has] just stuck with me!”
The festival was free and open to the public. In addition to the sidewalk art and arts and crafts demonstrations, there was a screening of indigenous films, short stories and documentaries at the Scottsdale UltraStar Cinemas at The Pavilions. That was the only event that required an admission fee.
The film screenings were provided through a partnership with the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI), which works to foster understanding of the cultures, traditions and issues of contemporary Native Americans.
The screenings were well attended. The 2014 film She Sings to the Stars dealt with coming to terms with comprehending Native American spirituality, conflicts between modern and traditional beliefs, and the simplicity of life on tribal lands; Empire of Dirt portrayed the struggles of three generations of Mahikan women from one of the First Nations tribes of Canada; Maina depicted the fortitude, strength and coming-of-age of a young woman; and Drunktown’s Finest followed the unique portrayal of three Native people living on a reservation and their modern-day experiences.
On January 22, autograph sessions were held at UltraStar Cinemas and the SRPMIC Round House Café featuring some of the actors from the films. In addition, some of the actors were on hand to mingle and meet guests and the audiences during VIP engagement sessions, and throughout the festival. Actors who participated included Cara Gee, Roseanne Supernault and Richard Whitman.
Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez, marketing project manager of TSCED, stated, “The Talking Stick Festival was an inaugural event. We hope that over the next few years it will become an event of pride for the Destination area, the Community and, ultimately, the state.”
The time of year for our next event is still being discussed, but Talking Stick Festival 2016 is already in discussion. McAnlis-Vasquez further commented, “Considering all of the other event and entertainment options that are available during this time of year, we were very pleased with event attendance. The weather was amazing, the cultural talent we had was amazing, and the guests were intrigued and appreciative. I’d call the event a success for those reasons alone.”
Cara Gee, of the Ojibwa Nation, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Gee’s acting roots are in theater, along with credits in TV broadcast movies and big-screen cinemas. She won Best Actress at the 2014 American Indian Motion Picture Awards for her role in Empire of Dirt. Of her current work, Gee says, “[Native/Aboriginal movies are not a specific genre], but I believe the quality of each movie speaks for itself, [that it is] recognized as a great piece of cinema.”
Rosanne Supernault, a Canadian film and television actress, is from the East Prairie Métis Settlement. Her influences include her ties to her Métis Cree culture. She said, “I know some of my native language, including words used in prayer. I can share my family name [she pronounced it in her native language]; it translates to ‘You travel thorough the universe.’ In English, I guess it would be like ‘sky walker’ [laughs].” She has a number of acting credits, including the title character in Maina, for which she won Best Actress at the 2013 American Indian Film Institute awards. She appeared at ease among the public and appeared to truly enjoy the personal interaction with her Native audiences. Reflecting on her acting career, Supernault offered, “I really had no idea [I wanted to get into acting]; I had to be convinced to go to a casting call!”
Richard Ray Whitman is a Yuchi tribal member in the Muscogee/Creek Nation, an acclaimed painter and photographer, and an actor in a number of movies, including Drunktown’s Finest. He was influenced by his grandmother and does speak his native language. He proudly stated, “English was our second language. I learned to speak [my native language] from my grandmother.” Whitman added, “[I see] movie-making as a form of oral tradition with visualization, to tell about the Native American culture. I do my own personal tribal mythology, not just my tribe or community. [My craft] is like storytelling. Every generation comes to their own time … to make [life] a better place.”