PHOENIX-Pueblo Grande Museum and the Smoki Museum presents a special Phoenix area screening of the new documentary film, Raindance in a Storm: Arizona's Smoki People as seen at the Sedona Film Festival. The documentary film chronicles the rise and fall of the Smoki People organization, which was a major cultural entity in Prescott throughout the twentieth century. The film will be shown on Friday, March 23 from 7 to 9 p.m.
Thriving as a major Arizona tourist attraction from 1921-1990, the Smoki People were a group of primarily Anglo businessmen and their families. Each year, under the dark of the August moon, the Smoki would paint their bodies brown, dress in "Native" regalia and perform aspects of Native American rituals in front of large paying audiences. The Hopi Tribe formally protested the Smoki's activities in 1990.
Of course, the notion of a non-Native group of people dressing up as Indians and essentially mocking their rituals for public display is a highly charged cultural topic. The film explores this issue, showcasing interviews with Native American leaders, scholars, longtime Prescott residents and past members of the Smoki People. It also chronicles the Hopi Tribe's formal protest and picketing of the Smoki ceremonials.
The annual "ceremonials" took place at the Rodeo grounds in Prescott each August in front of crowds of up to 5,000. They would perform different dances each year, mimicking several tribes' rituals. They repeated their feature dance every year, the Smoki Snake Dance, which was an attempt to re-create the Hopi Snake Dance. In this performance, the Smoki would dance with live bull snakes in their mouths.
The Smoki were very popular in its heyday. Prominent members of the group included former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, local hero Gail Gardner, several past Mayors of the City of Prescott, and current Mayor Rowle Simmons. The organization was founded in the 1920's when the federal government was actively enforcing a policy of forced assimilation on the Native American people of the United States. Working to preserve Native culture through their performances, the Smoki People assumed that the Native Americans were a "vanishing race."
In the 1980s, as membership in the fraternal organization declined, the Hopi Tribe took notice of the group. After meeting with the Smoki and accepting their invitation to witness the dances, about 100 members of the Hopi Tribe attended the Ceremonials in 1989. Following the performance, the Hopi continued to affirm their stance that the Smoki should discontinue all activity. When the Smoki People ignored this and begin planning for another performance, the Hopi began preparations for a public protest and media blitz. That year, in August 1990, while crowds picketed throughout Prescott, the Smoki People performed their 70th and final Smoki Ceremonial.
This new telling of the Smoki People's history is the first to include so many community perspectives. The Museum consulted with both a Native American Advisory Council and a Smoki People Advisory Council, in addition to hearing input from the local community, historians and scholars.
This special viewing is free and open to the public. However, advance registration is required. Please call 602-495-0901 to make your reservation. Also, visit the Pueblo Grande Museum website at www.pueblogrande.com for more information.