SCOTTSDALE – The bustling Arizona Indian Festival showcases Native singing, dancing and art to promote tourism and awareness of Arizona’s tribal communities. Visitors can learn about Indigenous culture and history through vendors, art and demonstrations.
To ensure visitors to the festival, which was Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 10-11, interact with real Native art, an Arizona Indian Festival committee vets all festival vendors for authenticity. Vendors are also required to show a certificate of degree of Indian or Alaska Native blood, which proves they are authentic members of Native American nations in Arizona.
Silversmith Steve LaRance from the Hopi Tribe said people visiting the Southwest find Native American culture interesting and want an authentic experience.
“Our artwork carries a lot of that beauty and culture when we create it," he said.
LaRance said the authenticity of Native American arts and crafts is important because there are knockoffs from Indonesia, China, Japan and other countries that take away from the income of Native people and their families.
“It’s all about the money because Native American arts and crafts is a multibillion-dollar industry annually,” LaRance said.
LaRance said Native American arts and crafts are highly regarded all over the world because they carry the culture and history of Indigenous people.
“Each piece I create is a one-of-a-kind piece and I always am glad that I have a client or customer that just is really appreciative of the work that I put into my creations, and they appreciate the culture that it comes from and not only the culture but the artists that created it,” LaRance said.
LaRance said he can create simple sterling silver rings that take about a day to finish or make an elaborate piece of jewelry that takes two or three months, depending on the complexity, design and materials.
Another artist at the festival, Navajo jeweler Tonya June Rafael, said there are knockoffs threatening her business, and there is nothing she can do about it. Rafael said once at a show she sat next to two big booths that resold mass-produced jewelry.
“I’m a one-man person and I’m trying to sell my jewelry. … I mean how do I compete with that?” Rafael said.
Despite the challenges, Rafael said she wants her work to inspire younger Native artists to create their own designs.
Rug weaver Sonja Morgan from the Navajo Nation said there’s been a push for authentic Native art because Native American tradition is being recognized more, even in movies.
The festival raises awareness about Indigenous culture and all the hard work artists put in. Morgan used a Navajo loom to show people the complex process of rug weaving.
She said authentic art is always the best because a buyer knows the work came straight from the artist and the artist didn’t add anything cheap or skimp on the process.
Morgan said when she makes a rug, she thinks about who she is making it for and keeping good spirits in the product.
“There’s more of the blessings and the prayers,” Morgan said of authentic art. Morgan said she loves showing people her work and seeing their positive reactions.
“These are the things all colonizers tried to take away from us. They tried killing all of us, but we are still here … trying to keep it alive,” Morgan said of Indigenous art and culture.
Navajo silversmith McHale Alcott explained the festival is also about family and continuing Indigenous art across generations.
“It’s like a family gathering,” Alcott said. “It’s like a family reunion for all of us.”