Feb 062017
 

Cultural Traditions at the 15th Anniversary Native Trails Festival

I remember butterflies. A snake coiled up in the desert. Birds surround you.

— Derrick Suwaima Davis

The simple words of Derrick Suwaima Davis of the Hopi and Choctaw Nations describe inspirations from his youth that were his calling to dance. Today, he is the artistic director of the annual Native Trails festival in Scottsdale, and he is also the only adult seven-time World Champion Hoop Dancer. Each year, he and the other festival performers bring their talents and cultural expressions to the festival, sharing their passion and pride in their movements and voices with people of all cultures. This year’s festival focuses on the concept of unity among people of diverse cultures — dispelling stereotypes, finding commonalities, and encouraging cooperation.

Native Trails Festival -- Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Native Trails Festival — Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Last week, at performance under clear blue skies at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, I eagerly took in the Native American cultural traditions and was impressed with its deep meaning and symbolism. Expressing these traditions through song, dance, and storytelling, Native Trails is now in its 15th year. It is sponsored by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and produced by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

With Derrick Suwaima Davis, artistic director of Native Trails, at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall

With Derrick Suwaima Davis, artistic director of Native Trails

The early part of a new year is a perfect time for the festival as it is in keeping with the Hopi tradition of putting away musical instruments in December as the animals are asleep. After the new year in January, the instruments are sounded again.

Expressions of cultural unity in song and dance at Native Trails in Scottsdale, Arizona

Expressions of cultural unity in song and dance at Native Trails

For one hour, we enjoyed vibrant dances that are a combination of specific symbolic movements and inspired improvisation. Each act was introduced with enlightening and entertaining explanations. Many audience members listened and watched from their lawn chairs and picnic blankets. Others stood at the back or just stopped for a few numbers as they strolled the mall. It was clear that they really enjoyed and were immersed in the music and dance. The many young children attending happily moved with the rhythms and enthusiastically applauded with the adults as each song finished.

Eldred Matt of the San Carlos Apache Nation performing at Native Trails Festival in Scottsdale -- Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Eldred Matt of San Carlos Apache Nation — Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

A few of the very popular dances we watched were the “Eagle Dance”, “Men’s Lance and Shield Dance”, “Fancy Dance”, “Women’s Jingle Dress”, and “Fancy Shawl”. A lovely song called “Bluebird” was a highlight for me as well. I also thoroughly enjoyed both the colorful clothing, in many cases specially made for this festival, and learning about the significant amount of symbolism in the dances.

The finale was a great way to end the show and emphasize the theme of unity. The interactive “Round Dance” enabled all of us to join in. As the musicians formed in the center on the lawn, we (the audience) held hands and moved in a circle around them.

Native Trails Festival Round Dance -- Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Round Dance — Photo courtesy Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

After the performances, audience members are invited to mingle and talk with cast members whose passion for their traditions and pride in their culture is evident in their eagerness to spend time with the audience sharing their knowledge and stories.

Native Trails dancers talking to audience after the performances -- -- Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Dancers talking to audience after the performances — Photo courtesy of Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

If you go, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the cast. I loved listening to Derrick’s thoughts about the importance of music to the people of Native American nations. He described music being all around and part of their lives starting from the time they are in the womb. The music they make with their instruments establishes and maintains a balance with nature while asking the questions of creation and life that have been asked for thousands of years.

And there are lessons for all, such as the importance of respecting nature and other people and cultures. The young learn from the old and the old can learn from the young. We can all benefit by taking to heart messages instilled in the tribes and represented in the Native Trails festival.

Although we may come from different cultural backgrounds, as part of the same human family, we hold many common values. There is more that unifies us than divides us.

— Derrick Suwaima Davis

Where:

Scottsdale Civic Center Park
3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

When:

This season’s festival began on January 12, 2017 and runs through March 30, 2017 with performances on Thursdays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. — rain or shine! The performances are moved inside in case of inclement weather.

Special Performances: 

There will be two special Native Trails events incorporating different cultures on February 16th and 18th that will include African and Japanese drumming.

Cost: 

Free!

For more information:

Scottsdale Native Trails

  5 Responses to “Celebrating Unity at Native Trails in Scottsdale”

  1. This is so cool. I’ve spent several winters in the Greater Phoenix area and never taken this. I won’t be there this winter, but I’ll have to keep it in mind for a future winter.

  2. I went to a Pow Wow in North Dakota a couple of years ago. It was really eye opening and reminds me of this festival. Great that they are stressing unity. We need this more than ever.

  3. What a fabulous way for the wider community to learn and understand their culture. To be able to join their dnace and ask questions after the event is a great idea. I wonder what type of questions were asked!

  4. So much color and culture! I’d love to go to the Native Trails Festival!

  5. […]   Celebrating Unity at Native Trails in Scottsdale […]

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