The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Diabetes Program sponsored the Fourth Annual UNITY Social Gathering on Saturday, February 8, at the Salt River High School Gymnasium. Starting at 1 p.m. and closing at approximately 8 p.m., the event brought together various Native American cultures through songs and dances, including those of the Pima-Maricopa and surrounding sister tribes.
LaRue Smith, UNITY coordinator and executive secretary at Salt River High School, explained the purpose of the gathering: “We wanted to honor all young people. We saw that our young people were having trouble [and] we wanted to do something to help them, not to criticize them; something to say, ‘You’re doing a good job’ and point out their gifts. We wanted to tell them that they are smart, they are intelligent and that they can grow up and become the [Community] leaders.”
A selection of vendors greeted attendees, many of them Community members. Community royalty were also present, including Miss Salt River 2013-14 Martha Ludlow-Martinez, Jr. Miss Salt River 2013-14 Briah Johnson, and the Red Mountain Pow Wow Princess, Teegan Smith. Council Representative Deanna Scabby also showed her support by addressing the guests and thanking those who coordinated the event.
This gathering began with an opening prayer conducted by Community member Ava Schaaf. Various speakers were given the chance to say a few words, including Smith and the members of the SRPMIC royalty. They each introduced themselves and shared their thoughts about the event.
The lead singers were Ryan Miguel (Gila River) from District 6 and Leland Thomas (Gila River/Salt River). Entertainment included Yolanda Elias’ dance group (Gila River) from District 6; SRPMIC royalty; and a Hawaiian-inspired dance conducted by Teegan Smith.
With each song that was sung, the meaning and a short background story were shared, which allowed people to connect with the different songs. All were invited to join in the social dances, creating a beautiful circle of dancers of all ages.
“A social gathering is more modern, but it was meant as a traditional way for everyone to come together and experience something different. They say that our culture is dying or it’s fading away, but it’s not going to if we’re here practicing it,” said Ludlow-Martinez.
“I think it’s cool because it shows that people are interested in their culture and they want to learn more,” said Johnson. “I want to learn more about my culture because it shows who you are and it’s good to know [that]. I think that this is cool because it’s teaching us more.”
For information about UNITY or next year’s social gathering, call LaRue Smith at (480) 362-2000.