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The Indian Village Returns to Arizona

While the popular adage about trouble is that it usually comes in threes, so too do good things, in this case a reconstructed Indian Village that has been a popular attraction as the state of Arizona officially turns 100 years old.
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While the popular adage about trouble is that it usually comes in threes, so too do good things --- generally --- in this case a reconstructed Indian Village that has been a popular attraction as the state of Arizona officially turns 100 years old. The village itself is a mainstay of a thing called Best Fest that has already drawn crowds at one site and promised to attract thousands more interested parties at two additional showings.

Then, trouble made its presence known and in its wake, left event planners reminded of the ‘Expect The Unexpected’ adage.

After the Best Fest event made its first public appearance in Prescott, the state’s first territorial capital, in September, plans were for repeat showings in the state’s two other former territorial capitals, Tucson and Phoenix. But Tucson got cancelled abruptly (with little planning time and a lack of funding cited as reasons), although the Phoenix gala as part of the state’s centennial celebration is still set for February 10-22.

“This thing is huge,” says Rory Majenty of the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association. “In Prescott it occupied major portions of nine roped-off city blocks filled with 30-by-60-foot educational pavilions, pretty much like miniature museums, and larger cultural villages the size of football fields (360 feet by 160 feet, according to NFL/NCAA specs).”

And it’s not cheap, i.e., the Prescott show cost $1.3 million. “We only have a million two in funding left and quite frankly, not enough time to pull together a Tucson event,” says Centennial Commission Director Karen Churchard. “But our Board is committed to the intent is to visit Tucson sometime after the official centennial celebration and present a quality show there too.”

What Phoenix show-goers will find is a ten block by three block footprint of fun with one of the highlights being the villages themselves, several dedicated city blocks to spotlight Western, Hispanic, and Native American cultures. “The Arizona Indian Centennial Village offers walk-through demonstrative models of tribal architecture (displays of wikiups and hogans), family life, foods, and culture of the seven major tribal groupings in Arizona,” Majenty says.

Tribal representatives from youth to elders helped design, construct, and staff the village which provides visitors “a truly authentic view of Arizona Indian cultures from the viewpoint, insight, and perspective of American Indians.”

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“It’s all about history and education,” according to Samantha Waterman, Best Fest project coordinator for Entertainment Solutions, a Scottsdale firm that specializes in producing large events.

“We set up an Indian Village twice in the past, at the 1996 and 2008 NFL Super Bowls in Phoenix, and drew approximately 20,000 attendees,” adds Majenty.

The Centennial Village display actually includes six traditional villages representing several Pai entities; Navajo; Apache; O’odham/Maricopa tribes; Hopi and Zuni tribes, and River tribes.

“This is a venue for tribes and nations to market tourism and economic ventures to a captured audience and to educate visitors of the enormous development, growth, and abilities of Arizona’s native peoples. We give visitors a true Native American experience from tribal languages to tribal dwellings to dances, songs, and demonstrations of arts and crafts. We’re a big part of Arizona and lay claim to a big part of the history and identity of this state,” Majenty says.

The event at all three sites will feature similar programs that include eagle, basket, crown, and butterfly dancers, bird and gourd singers, craft and cooking demonstrations (including demonstrations with cactus, agave, acorns, and berries). In days that run from 10am till 9pm, frivolity fills the air with entertainment on eight stages, mock gunfights, lessons on basket making and other unique talents like making piki, a paper-thin traditional Hopi bread.

“While the 5 C’s (climate, copper, cattle, cotton, and citrus) are well-known aspects of our state, Native Americans should also be in the forefront,” Majenty says. “Tourism has always been a part of our economy and the Best Fest Indian Village will be as much about tribal identity as it will be to inform visitors. It’s an opportunity for tribes to remind themselves as Indians of who they are as indigenous peoples.”

In addition to the Indian Village, re-enactors in the Western Town will take visitors back to yesteryear with saloons and stagecoaches while pavilions will feature everything from renewable energy and natural resources to sports, science, and storytellers. And the kids don’t get left out either as there will be a Family Fun Zone complete with clowns and magicians.

For young-at-heart adults, a one-of-a-kind item, the centennial mascot Arizona Copper Chopper --- the only motorcycle of its kind in the world --- will be gleaming in the sunlight waiting for one lucky raffle ticket holder to hop on and ride off into the distance.