Native Trails Indian Festival in Scottsdale

by Julie Cohn

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Visitors usually come to Scottsdale for the luxurious resorts, lush golf courses, gorgeous mountain views, world-class shopping, and vibrant night life, but sometimes overlook one of Scottsdale’s most important treasures — the customs and history of the Native American people who call Arizona home, and have for over 1900 years.  Native American art, music, and cultural influences are woven into the colorful tapestry of Arizona. Scottsdale celebrates Arizona ancestors with The Native Trails Indian Festival, held at the Scottsdale Civic Center Park.  Native Trails Indian Festival celebrates the history and culture of the  Fort McDowell Yavapai, Hopi, and Apache Nations through the song and dance of their people.

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According to Native Trails artistic director Derrick Suwaima Davis, the Native Trails Indian Festival is a bridge between the culture of Native Americans and the modern world through song, dance, and humor.  He tells his fellow cast members to remember where the ancient songs they perform come from and how the stories connect with the environment around them.

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The sun, nature, and medicine of his ancestors are represented in the songs and dance performed at Native Trails, and even their costumes represent experiences within the Indian culture. Davis’ costume of fur, skins, and shells represents the pattern of migration, and what their culture has learned from the mountains, animals, and universe.  The color red in his costume symbolizes hunting, and stars on the cap represent the stars that lead them on their path.

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Many of the Native Trails cast members have participated in the festival since their beginning 14 years ago, and have handed the traditions down to their children.  This year, Native Trails is focusing more on how the culture is handed down, so has incorporated more youth into their dances.

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Davis, a member of the Hopi tribe, is a seven-time World Hoop Dancing champion.  He showcases his talent during the festival in several of the dances.   According to Davis, performance dances such as the Camp Dance represent a time when people lived a simpler life, with a good heart and joyfulness about the things around them.  His favorite dance is the Round Dance, the last dance of the festival, a simple  yet beautiful dance celebrating life.

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My Thoughts

Native Trails was more than a performance for the cast members, this was an intimate celebration of the life and culture of their people, and I was honored to witness it. I was pleasantly surprised at the simple beauty of the song, dance, and costumes. With restaurants and art galleries within walking distance of Scottsdale Civic Park, you can easily make an afternoon of a visit to Old Town Scottsdale, with Native Trails as your first stop.

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  • Native Trails is a free outdoor festival performed on the center state of the Scottsdale Civic Center Complex park.
  • Native Trails runs from January – April, almost every Thursday and Saturday from 12 noon – 1p.m.
  • Free parking is available in the parking garage adjacent to the Scottsdale Civic Center.
  • Seating is available on the lawn in front of the stage, so bring lawn chairs and a picnic basket.
  • Children will especially enjoy this performance, and the artists are available after the show to talk to the audience.
  • In addition to the performance on center stage, Native Trails also features booths with Indian jewelry, baskets, art, and light snacks.

You can find the performance schedule on the Experience Scottsdale website.

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