Originally published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 10:58a.m.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona American Indian Tourism Association (AAITA) partners with the city of Scottsdale by adding the Arizona Indian Festival to the city’s Western Week celebration.

In celebrating the spirit of the West, events included: the 66th annual Scottsdale Parada del sol Parade, Trail’s End Festival, Western Spirit Gold Palette ArtWalk, Hashknife Pony Express, Arizona Indian Festival and Arizona Native Experience.

AAITA board of directors and members plan for six months to showcase a cultural experience for all visitors, with a combination of traditional arts & crafts, traditional dancing and singing from all Arizona tribes and sharing their unique travel and tourism destinations throughout Native communities in Arizona

Founded in 1994, the current board of directors for AAITA includes:Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez, Donovan Hanley, Steve Geiogamah, Amanda June, Dorothy Denetsosie Gishie, Geri Hongeva-Camarillo, Raphael Bear, Roann Carmelo and Carrie Nelson. Each board member is elected but first they must be a member of AAITA.

A new addition to this year’s Western Week, also coordinated by AAITA was the Arizona Native Experience on February 8th to kick start the Arizona Indian Festival at the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale. The Native cuisine experience featured Native chefs like, Twila Cassadore (San Carlos Apache), Mario Renneto Etsitty (Navajo), Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz (Xicana/Tewa) and Freddie Bitsoie (Navajo).

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Black Mountain Bird Singers from the Colorado River Indian Tribe sing at the Arizona Indian Festival Feb. 9. (Photo/Geri Hongeva-Camarillo)

A special appearance by Gabrial Ayala, guitarist from Pascua Yaqui tribe and Ed Kabotie, musician and artist from Hopi, both played songs to create festive ambience as guests enjoyed the variety of native cuisine and silent auction.

Artisans from Art of the People shared their talents as they painted at the event. Special guests included the mayor of Scottsdale, Jim Lane, as well as Becky Blaine, deputy director of Arizona Office of Tourism.

AAITA President Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez expressed her gratitude to all those involved and their dedication, “Thank you all so very much for making this festival such a success and celebrating Arizona Indian Country with pride.”

The two day Arizona Indian Festival on Feb. 9-10, brought hundreds of people together, some new attendees and many making it an annual event as part of the Western Week activities. It was a time for families to be together, dance, sing, laugh with one another and create new friendships. The festival combines Native food and art. It is a time to buy genuine Native arts and crafts and eat some Native cuisine such as the famous frybread.

The main stage entertainment included traditional dancing from Gila River, Sekakuku family from Hopi, Black Mountain Bird Singers from Colorado River community, Zuni, Pascua Yaqui Deer Dancers, Martin Sisters from Navajo, Apache crown dancers, Salt River Pima Bird Singing and Dancing group, Hualapai Bird Dancing Group, Ak-Chin Ba’ban Keina Dancers and Guardians of the Grand Canyon Ram dancers from Havasupai.

On Feb. 9, it was very cloudy and cold for some, but it did not stop the crowd as they layered with blankets and jackets and waited for the last show, a comedy act by James and Ernie. The duo had not performed in the Phoenix area for nearly five years and with no admission, it was a sold-out free show.

Steve Geiogamah, AAITA board member expressed his appreciation to all the members and volunteers, “we had a very successful festival, we had over 7,000 attendees over the two day event and many provided great feedback.”

With twenty-two tribes in the state of Arizona and a lot of tourism traffic throughout the state. Travel destinations for visitors normally involve Native communities, the AAITA board works on promoting and marketing the beautiful places to visit to support tribal economic development and revenue.

More information about Arizona American Indian Tourism Association and Arizona Indian Festival is available at www.ArizonaIndianTourism.org.

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