Experience culture and arts of the Zuni people this weekend

Mark Romancito of Zuni Pueblo Band will perform at the Zuni Festival.

Mark Romancito of Zuni Pueblo Band will perform at the Zuni Festival.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - At the headwaters of the Little Colorado River, at what is now western New Mexico, amidst wide red mesas, golden buttes, pinyon/juniper forests, and an expansive blue sky lies the scenic valley homeland of the A:shiwi or Zuni. They are descendants of an ancient Puebloan people who have lived at the Zuni Village for thousands of years and call Ribbon Falls their place of origin, where they emerged from Mother Earth within the Grand Canyon and migrated across the Colorado Plateau.

This is the 22nd year Zuni will gather at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) for the Zuni Festival of Arts and Culture, bringing with them cultural presentations, fine arts, music, and dances to explore A:shiwi philosophy, beliefs, worldviews, values, and current issues on the Zuni Indian Reservation.

The festival is Saturday and Sunday and is produced in partnership with the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) in Zuni, N.M.

"Today's A:shiwi have managed to preserve their core beliefs and identity, while integrating useful parts of the outside world into their culture. They are often considered the most traditional of all of the Southwestern pueblo people," said Anne Doyle, Heritage Program manager. "The Zuni language is known as an isolate, which is indicative of their physical and cultural isolation. Their language bears no similarity to any other known language and may have been spoken by many Southwestern populations in the distant past."

"The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center emphasizes A:shiwi ways of knowing, while exploring other concepts of knowledge. The Zuni Festival provides an opportunity for the AAMHC to represent the Zuni people as a society that continues to define and influence the art, economy, and history of the Colorado Plateau. Practically everywhere you look around the region, you will see Zuni images, yet very few people know their connection to Zuni," said Jim Enote, director.

"MNA's relationship with the Zuni people has been many years in the making, and assures that our dialog and cultural exchange about the Zuni people comes directly from the source. Their spiritual and ancestral landscape includes the Grand Canyon and the San Francisco Peaks, and their presence and influence on the Colorado Plateau was substantial. For that reason, it's important for the Flagstaff community to continue to enhance its understanding of this ancient culture," said Robert Breunig, MNA director.

Four cultural programs will be given by the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center staff. These presentations are funded in part by the Arizona Humanities Council.

AAMHC Museum Technician Curtis Quam will once again tell the ever-popular story of the Zuni emergence and their migration to Halona Idiwana'a or the Middle Place of the World, today's Zuni Village. The tribe's history gives non-Zuni visitors a context for all they will be learning at the festival. Quam will also discuss the importance of language and cultural place names in the perpetuation of traditional Zuni identity.

AAMHC Director and farmer Jim Enote will present an outdoor presentation (weather permitting) on Zuni gardening and planting traditions learned in the dry, high altitude farming environment at Zuni and passed down through generations. Enote will give a presentation on the Zuni Consolidated Collection System, a multi-museum database of Zuni cultural items. Enote will talk about how the Zuni people are often misrepresented in the museum world, museum collecting, and museum scholarship.

Zuni tribal member and archaeologist Dan Simplicio will introduce visitors to the complex history of Zuni art, an artistic continuum told through oral traditions.

The AAMHC Photo and Motion Picture Archive contains approximately 4,500 still photos taken from the late 1800s to the present. The photographs include Smithsonian photos, photos donated by community members, photos of tribal programs, photos taken at Zuni schools, Indian Health Service photos, and Bureau of Indian Affairs project photos. A collection of 15 motion picture films was also made between 1923 to the present. A sampling of films and photos from the archive will be shown at the festival and Museum Technician Curtis Quam will cover the history of early filmmakers, who they were and why they were at Zuni Pueblo; controversies around the films and their makers; the content of the films; who can see the films today; and how these films are helping to reinforce Zuni identity.

The Nawetsa Family Dancers bring the pageantry of traditional Zuni social dancing, with colorful headdresses, beaded and fringed arm bands, traditional woven outfits, and turquoise jewelry adding to their performances of dances symbolizing the dreams, visions, and beliefs of the A:shiwi.

The Olla Pottery Maidens, decorated with turquoise jewelry and traditional woven outfits, dance while carefully balancing water pots on their heads. The pots are indented on the bottom for this purpose and in the past, these same pots were used for carrying food and water.

The Zuni Pueblo Band is one of the few remaining American Indian community bands in the U.S. today. They proudly wear the traditional Pueblo style of dress, with a red woven sash belt around the waist, a handmade concho belt, exquisite Zuni jewelry, and red leather moccasins. Membership in the band is open to all Zunis, regardless of age or experience. The Zuni Pueblo Band plays marches by John Phillip Sousa, K. L. King, Roland Seitz, and other well-known composers for parades and concerts.

Eighty percent of Zuni families are involved in making fine arts. Through their distinctive sense of color and patterns, intricately crafted designs, and traditional symbols, they create some of the most sought after Native arts. Artist demonstrators will create artwork at the festival and talk with visitors about materials and designs they use, and award-winning artists will bring their unique pieces of Zuni art for sale.

Zuni Festival's Heritage Insight Presentations were made possible through a grant from the Arizona Humanities Council. Additional supporters of this year's Heritage Program festivals include the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Flagstaff Cultural Partners, the City of Flagstaff / BBB Revenues, and Coconino County. Main Street Catering, Salsa Brava, Simply Delicious, and Fred Nackard Wholesale Beverage Company support this year's members' previews.

About the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center

Established in 1992, the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center is dedicated to serving the Zuni community with programs and exhibits that reflect on their past, and are relevant to their present and future. This museum emphasizes A:shiwi ways of knowing, while also exploring modern and mainstream concepts of knowledge. AAMHC teaches Zuni youth traditional life skills and how to apply them to modern circumstances. Old films, photo archives, and a collection of digitized oral history interviews are popular with many Zunis. Art is a fundamental part of the culture and with collections of contemporary and prehistoric Zuni art, AAMHC provides a venue and forum for local artists to study and reflect on the possibilities of art in their community. Visit ashiwi-museum.org for more information or call (505) 782-4403.

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