'Our culture is vast, different and beautiful': Indigenous art shines at new Tempe event

Each Native American tribe has its own individual styles of music, dance, storytelling and visual arts. A new event in Tempe will highlight a variety of Indigenous traditions through music and dance performances, workshops and visual arts vendors.

The Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival will take place at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Saturday, Nov. 20.

Violet Duncan, the center’s Indigenous culture adviser, says that through the festival and programs such as the Saturday wellness series S.H.A.P.E., she hopes to provide a space for Native American artists and performers as well as educate people about Indigenous groups in Arizona.

“We want to make sure that, number one, we are instilling pride in Native students and Native families, that we are supportive of arts and culture. Tempe Center for the Arts is a big piece in that, showing that we are a mainstream arts organization that is supporting Native American Heritage Month.

"On top of that, with our non-Native colleagues and friends, to show them that this is our culture. It is vast, different and beautiful,” says Duncan, who is Plains Cree and Taino from the Kehewin Cree Nation.

The festival's theme is healing

The festival will focus on various forms of healing, including dance, music, meditation and visuals.

“I know this past year, our healing and the way that we heal is affecting how we move forward. I really wanted to do this festival not only as a form of education but as a form of healing,” Duncan says.

Duncan says she was inspired by her children and how they use a variety of outlets to express, heal and center themselves.

Before each performance at the festival, visitors will have a chance to learn about Indigenous communities in Arizona and other parts of the country.

“I want the audience to come away with direct knowledge of the amount of tribes and what the names are. So, there is going to be a short two- to four-minute video before each performance. That will give a brief history lesson of the tribe we are going to learn about and watch,” Duncan says.

Here's who will perform at Indigenous Arts Arizona

The performances will start with “Within the Four Sacred Mountains,” a showcase of basket dancing and singing with gourds from the Tohono O’odham Nation. It will be performed by the family group Red Mountain Creations.

“The Art of Native Dance” performance will bring together members of Yellow Bird Productions and other dancers to perform Apache and Navajo dances. Navajo storytelling will also be part of the production.

The final performance will be “Across Turtle Island,” which will showcase trickster stories and dances from throughout North America, including the Cree, Blackfoot and Lakota nations. This segment will feature Kehewin Native Dance Theatre, a group from Alberta, Canada, that performs traditional stories in masks. Duncan’s parents perform with this group.

Duncan's husband Tony Duncan, a five-time world champion hoop dancer, also will perform throughout the day.

Violet Duncan wanted to encourage collaboration among performers of various ages and experience levels within the three performances.

“This is an opportunity to go shoulder to shoulder with somebody who has been doing this for 20 years in a collaboration onstage. They can see what it’s like backstage, what lighting cues are, how to take advantage of a lighting crew,” Duncan says.

Other things to do at the festival

Between the main-stage performances, there will be dance, music and storytelling demonstrations in the lobby. The Duncans and their children with lead a hoop-dancing workshop, where participants can see how creatures, the Earth, rain and the mountains are represented with hoops.

Visitors also can participate in mindfulness/meditation, painting, movement and mask-making workshops.

Inside the arts center, 21 vendors will showcase jewelry, paintings, flutes, soaps and lotions. About half of the artists are from the Valley, and the other half are from other parts of Arizona. Duncan sought out younger, up-and-coming artists to showcase.

“Some of them are young parents. Some are newly graduated from art school, and this is their first event. This is what it’s all about, creating opportunity for young artists,” Duncan says.

A few of the artists will offer insights into their processes through demonstrations.

“That’s basically as Native people how we teach each other. There’s not a class that you go to. It’s about watching and asking questions. This is a beautiful time for teaching and learning about how our artists were taught and how it’s being passed down,” Duncan says.

Outside, food trucks owned by Native American entrepreneurs will sell food and beverages such as coffee and frybread tacos.

Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival

When: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20.

Where: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway.

Admission: Free. Masks are required inside the venue.

Details: 480-350-2822, https://www.tempecenterforthearts.com.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival at Tempe Center for the Arts