By Juan Ysaguirre
This year’s Native American Recognition Day subtracted the virtual events from previous NARD celebrations and added more dancers, performers, food and fun for all. The annual NARD celebration was sponsored by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Council and the Community Relations Department.
In the heart of the Two Waters Courtyard complex, the 2023 NARD celebration kicked off with a two-part celebration. For the daytime festivities, Harkins Theatres parked their food truck and handed out individual bags of popcorn. For those wanting a bit more than popcorn, the Harkins food truck also sold hot dogs, sodas and more movie-theater goodies.
As the celebration continued inside, the multitalented indie rock band One Way Sky performed during lunchtime inside the Round House Café. “We’re just here [playing] our music. Eventually we want to win a Grammy and, who knows, maybe get into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame,” said lead singer “Smokey D. Palmtree” (Adrian Thomas) in between songs. The café roared with cheers when the band finished their lunchtime set playing the Redbone classic “Come and Get Your Love.”
Following the daytime festivities, the evening NARD celebration began at 6 p.m. in the Two Waters Courtyard. Community member Sistine Lewis, the 2023 Miss Indian Arizona, served as emcee of the event and made sure to take a few trips out onto the dance floor throughout the night.
Vendors from across Indian Country sold their arts, crafts and jewelry. “It’s never too early to start your Christmas shopping,” said Lewis with a smile. The near record-breaking turnout for this year’s NARD celebration was years in the making, after previous NARD celebrations were affected by the pandemic.
Community members and SRPMIC staff were treated to more than three hours of entertainment. The Sinquah Family Hoop Dancers performed their spectacular traditional dances. During their performance, they thanked SRPMIC for inviting them to attend and perform for everyone.
As the entertainment continued, the line into the Round House Café for the Community Dinner began at the café entrance and stretched all the way to the Council Chambers. Thankfully, the line moved quickly, and by the end of the night more than 1,000 meals had been served.
The festivities continued as the Cha’Bii’Tu Apache Crown Dancers performed their sacred dances for the Community. Traveling three hours from McNary, Arizona, the Crown Dancers wowed the crowd with their dancing, drumming and narration of the significance of the changing seasons.
The Community’s NARD celebration also featured appearances by Junior Miss White Mountain Apache 2023-2024, Little Miss Rodeo Princess Attendant 2023-2024, and Miss Cha’Bii’Tu 2023-2024, who performed a feather dance while wearing traditional dresses and jewelry.
When the sun rested for the day, the Lopez Band packed the dance floor, playing their chicken scratch classics. As soon as the first note was played, everyone got up from their seats and rushed out to dance. The dancing continued throughout the night, as there was a Cumbia Contest to finish out the 2023 NARD celebration.
After consecutive years of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s 2023 NARD celebration was a long-awaited breath of fresh air. The very large turnout was a welcome sight as many decided to enjoy the in-person festivities after previous years’ celebrations being presented virtually.
Plans for the 2024 NARD celebration have already begun, and the first task is to select a larger location due to this year’s turnout.