Cultural festivals give Arizona visitors an up-close view of native cultures. Rooted in both ancient communities and modern trends, these festivals are the perfect venue to learn more about tribal culture. Here’s a guide to some of Arizona’s tribal festivals.
The Havasupai Tribe, or People of the Blue-Green Water, holds the Peach Festival each August. In addition to the Miss Havasupai Pageant, this Grand Canyon tribe also hosts traditional dancers, including the Guardians of the Grand Canyon, during its three-day festival.
In October, head west to Parker and join in the festivities during National Native American Days. This festival, held by the Colorado River Indian Tribes, is a great way to learn more about the four tribal cultures – the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Navajo and Hopi – who share this harsh yet beautiful land.
The Cocopah Tribe invites all to celebrate its ancient culture during the Cocopah Cultural Celebration in October. Experience the Cocopah culture with bird singers and other cultural performances, a shinney (similar to field hockey) exhibition game by Cocopah youth, and local foods.
During Orme Dam Victory Days, at the Fort McDowell Reservation in mid-November, stop in at the Yavapai Village. Based on ancestral Yavapai communities, this lovingly constructed replica features cultural dances from throughout Arizona, including Apache Ga’an – or Crown Dancers – bird singers and dancers, and even a fry bread cook-off.
Walk with the Yavapai-Apache Nation on Exodus Commemoration/Return Day in February. This festival commemorates the forced removal of the two tribal communities from the Verde Valley in 1875 and the joyous day in 1900 when the people were allowed to come home. After the walk, enjoy cultural dances and arts and crafts by local artisans.
Experience one of native Arizona’s most moving ceremonies on weekends, May through October, in the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s homeland. The Sunrise Dance Ceremony is one of the Apache cultures’ central ceremonies. During this four-day ritual, a young girl is initiated into womanhood. Respectful visitors are welcome to rejoice with local Apache people. The White Mountain Apache Tourism Office maintains a list of Sunrise Dances open to the public on its website.
Every June 18, join the San Carlos Apache Tribe as it celebrates Apache Independence Day with a day of Apache culture in downtown San Carlos. Events include an Apache ranch rodeo, a wikieup building contest, a women’s camp dress contest, an Apache village with Apache card games, traditional Apache musicians and Crown Dancers, arts and crafts, food vendors and traditional Apache food contests.
Powwows, once a mainstay of Plains Indian cultures, have grown into a multi-tribal tradition, and Arizona tribes are no exception. In addition to the grass dance, the fancy dance and the jingle-dress dance, many Arizona powwows also include local cultural dances.
The San Pasqual Pow Wow at the Quechan Reservation near Yuma is held in March. This event is a social powwow, where dancers gather to show off their talent and enjoy tribal culture, as opposed to a competition powwow, which awards trophies and cash prizes.
Sounds of Thunder Mountain Heritage Day Celebration in August on the Kaibab-Paiute Reservation near Fredonia is a competition powwow that also includes a traditional Paiute hand-drum song contest.
Other local powwows of note include the Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow, held each February at the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe’s plush resort near Laughlin, Nevada, and the Tribal Recognition Pow Wow, held in June by the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe in Tuba City.
Whether you choose to enjoy the color and pageantry of a powwow or delve into traditional festivals, Arizona’s tribal communities offer a wealth of culture.