On Saturday, April 23, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Lehi District hosted the Piipaash Matasheevm, a social gathering, at the Lehi festival grounds. It was a time for Community members and members of the sister tribes to come together for a day of chiyer (bird) singing and dancing.
The event began around 10 a.m. with the posting of the colors. Morning activities included recognition of veterans, and lunch was served around noon. Singing and dancing continued throughout the afternoon and evening, and into the night.
For many years, Community members Earl and Carolyn Stacey of Lehi, along with other key elders from the Community, hosted the Spiritual Gathering of the Gourds. This was the only cultural event held in the Lehi District. Throughout the years, the Piipaash Matasheevm Gathering emerged and this is the second annual of the event held in the Lehi District.
“This is a really good time for the Piipaash people to get together to learn their culture,” said SRPMIC President Delbert Ray, Sr. “It’s good to see all these young people here. Over the years it’s mostly been all the elders doing all the singing, so it’s good to see the young people now that are stepping up. The whole SRPMIC Council and the government is behind this, to foster the idea that our culture is a little weak and that we need to help it come along. So we’re ready to do what we need to do. We’re here enjoying conversation with the people. Really, this is what it’s all about, bringing the people together.”
The Piipaash sister tribes were also invited to participate. Tribal members from the Fort Yuma, Hualapai and Quechan tribes traveled to Lehi from western Arizona and California. Members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Tucson also came. Each dance group added to the uniqueness of the Piipaash culture and traditions. With every song and dance, the history of the Piipaash ancestors was brought back to life.
“My mom would tell me, [she] would hear people sing and [that they] would just walk over to where the gathering was. That’s what my dad said too. One of my very first memories in life when I was about 3 years old, was waking up in the back seat of my dads car. I remember seeing the flickering in the ceiling of the car from the bonfire. I got up and looked out and all I saw was a lot of dust, the bonfire and the shadows of the people dancing in front of the fire. It was really neat and that’s always been in my mind,” said Community member E. Pacer Reina about some of his earliest memories of the gathering.
“I’m actually enjoying myself and I’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” said Community member Calarita Gonzalez. “I’m somewhat familiar with the Piipaash tradition, but not too much. I enjoy the dancing and everything. I don’t know the meaning behind some things, but I’m enjoying it and getting reacquainted with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a long time.
“It’s good that the younger generation is being exposed [to this], because they need to know what’s going on and they need to learn more of it,” Gonzalez continued. “Otherwise the tradition is going to die out. It’s good that they’re getting out there and participating.”
Community member Elaina Osife also attended the gathering. “I grew up in the Bay Area. I started coming [to the gathering] in 2009,” she said. “It’s an honor to come. But all my family, they’ve been coming here since they were kids. I think this gathering is very essential. Unfortunately, we seem to be losing [our traditions and culture], and it’s important to do a lot of outreach to try and bring it back, because our children are becoming urbanized and more city folk. It’s important for them to learn that tradition and respect it, and it all comes with respecting the elders. When you put that all in one, that’s when you come full circle.”
“It takes quite a bit of planning. You got to get your singers, your vendors, all the extra help that you need, people that are cooking and even coming up with a menu. It’s quite a task. It takes about four months to plan it. But, it’s worth it. This is for our culture and keeping our traditions alive,” said Community member and long time committee member Garnet Gates.
“Events like this means a lot to me because it gives me an opportunity to reconnect with my Piipaash side and my grandmother who is no longer with us,” said Reina. “We’re hoping that this opens the door for other events to occur. This is also one of the things that means a lot to the elders, for them to sit and to listen, it means a lot to them. It brings back memories of their history. My family and me have been involved for about 6 years now, so it’s still really new to us. It’s a good turnout.”
“My grandmother used to come to this type of gathering all the time, so to me it’s really great that this cultural event is going on right now. Hopefully, it’ll continue and hopefully we get some younger people involved in it. The group that originally started this were five of the seniors from out here. This is going to be our second annual [Piipaash Matasheevm Gathering,] hopefully it gets better. We get a lot of help from the tribal government as well, which we appreciate. We’re keeping it a cultural Community event, that’s where we’re at,” said Community member and long time committee member Bob Aguilar.