Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1020nepais20.html

Culture of Native Americans shared by tribes at Pai festival
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 20, 2003

by Michael Ferraresi

FORT McDOWELL RESERVATION - More than six Indian tribes united over the weekend under the desert sun of their ancestors to celebrate their cultural similarities and unique traditions.

About 3,000 people attended the three-day Gathering of the Pai Festival from Friday to Sunday at the rodeo grounds on the Fort McDowell Reservation. The fifth-annual event celebrated the coming together of Yuman-language tribes of the Southwest.

Besides Yavapai people from Fort McDowell, members of the Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai-Apache, Yavapai-Prescott and Pai Pai tribes participated in the ceremonies.

A circular ramada made from cottonwood and willow trees provided peaceful shade for those watching the center dance floor, where young dancers from around Arizona performed in traditional dress.

Food, crafts and games also were shared between tribes. A sweat lodge was set up for those who wished to pray and purify themselves.

Bernadine Boyd, vice chairwoman for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, said it was the first time that Fort McDowell hosted the event. Boyd said the host tribe had to retrieve chairs from the nearby casino to accommodate all the visitors, some of whom were non-Indian.

"I think it's a time to gather, put aside our differences, and open our hearts," Boyd said.

Elders from each tribe blessed the arena and led songs. Boyd said some of the songs, performed in the elders' native languages, had rich spiritual meaning that were not translated into English because it would be futile to try and put them into words.

"The songs these medicine people sing," Boyd said, "are our foundation. We have to teach the young because they're going to be elders, too."

People from the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes, both located near the Grand Canyon, took time to travel because of the importance of the multicultural event. The Havasupai elders took a helicopter from their homes at Peach Springs inside the Grand Canyon.

Carrie Imus, vice chairwoman of the Hualapai tribe, said children, especially those near urban areas, need to be taught the storytelling, legends and spiritual rites. She said elders have a gift of delivering messages that Pai, meaning "people," understand.

"There are just certain people who have the talent to do that," Imus said.

Members of the Pai Pai tribe, located south of San Diego on the Baja Peninsula, also traveled to celebrate.

The Pai tribes, which share many similarities, have helped each other throughout history and may have been part of the same community centuries ago.

Mike Wilken, an anthropologist and spokesman for the Pai Pai tribe, traveled with a group of 10 Pai Pai from their home in Mexico.

The group brought with them hand-made traditional weapons such as rabbit-hunting sticks, war clubs, bows and arrows.

Wilken said some tribe members were curious to hear the dialects of others and to share stories.