Native dancers on Grand Canyon South Rim ambassadors for tribes

Native flutes, storytelling, dancing and chants captivate audiences on South Rim of Grand Canyon

From left: Kassitty Morris, Albert Brent Chase, Garrick Yazzie and Chasitty Toney before a recent performance on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The four make up the Pollen Trail Dancers.  Loretta Yerian/NHO

From left: Kassitty Morris, Albert Brent Chase, Garrick Yazzie and Chasitty Toney before a recent performance on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The four make up the Pollen Trail Dancers. Loretta Yerian/NHO

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Albert Brent Chase and his family of dancers and performers make up The Pollen Trail Dancers of the Navajo Nation and welcome travelers to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park during the summer months.

The opportunity to see traditional Native American dances and Native flute playing and drumming combined with singing and storytelling is just one of the many reasons visitors keep coming back to the South Rim of Grand Canyon.

"It's good to know that there are still places upon this earth that you can come to rejuvenate and to re-gain your harmony and your peace," said Chase, director of the Pollen Trail Dancers. "If we are a part of that (experience) then we are certainly doing our job."

The Pollen Trail Dancers are from Joseph City on the Navajo Nation and include Garrick Yazzie, 11-year-old Kassitty Morris and 13-year-old Chasitty Toney.

For the last 15 years, the Pollen Dancers have contracted with Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C. that operates some of the dining and lodging options on the South Rim.

"I am the uncle who took the cultural route, teaching the Navajo language and the culture," Chase said. "(Dancing and performing) is most important because, of course, immersing the young people into the culture, first and then secondly, sharing it with our visitors that come to these tourist attraction places -we don't just dance here at Grand Canyon, we dance at other places where people gather. Our goal is to educate our visitors."

Chase helped to teach most of his young dance troupe the traditional dances, which include traditional Navajo dances as well as inter-tribal powwow dances.

"We try to show the different styles of dances, from the cultural authentic dances of the Navajo people as well as the intertribal dances," Chase said. "We perform the northern traditional dancing of the men, the fancy shawl dance, the jingle dress dance and at times when other dancers come they do dances from the powwows such as the grass dance that the men do and the traditional buckskin dance of the women. Sometimes we will do a Puebloan style dance to kind of showcase the style of the Pueblo."

Yazzie has performed traditional hoop dancing done by Navajos and other Native American tribes for the last 15 years. On a normal day, Yazzie will use around 20 hoops while dancing.

"When these hoops connect they begin to make shapes and connect shapes that are out of the beautiful earth and all the beautiful life forms and shapes," Chase explained during the dance. "Often times we get too busy to recognize these beautiful shapes."

Slowing down to appreciate the natural elements in the world and our surroundings is one of Chase's goals for visitors to the Canyon. He considers his dance troupe to be hosts to the many visitors to the Canyon each summer.

"We fit in as a puzzle to be the hospitality of the people who come here, to make them feel at home and as a place to really come and visit," Chase said. "Not just as a Seven Wonder of the World but maybe the best hosted place to really come and really feel at home and to rejuvenate and be re-inspired from the complicated world we have made for ourselves."

As a Native performer on the South Rim, Chase said he has observed that there is a continual need for education in Native American culture. While one might think visitors from around the world would not know as much as North Americans about Native traditions Chase said there are many U.S. citizens who lack knowledge of their Native people.

"To me that was an awakening, (I want) to awaken the American people to learn about their indigenous nations," he said. "Because they should be proud of them. We have a long history here and our history wasn't always good, but we are taking that first step to make it good by telling and educating people in a good way. There's no contention, only a feeling of hospitality."

Chase said every year there are many visitors who return to see the Pollen Trail Dancers perform.

"They say, often times that it is a highlight of their trip, because they didn't expect to be greeted by Native Americans or even see parts of Native American culture," Chase said. "So it is a very good thing we are doing."

For Chase, this is one of the reasons he returns each season with his dancers, to teach and to learn from Canyon's visitors.

"It's always inspiring to hear our visitors really take in our history," Chase said. "I come back each year because the people who come here - their show of appreciation and gratitude for our time here with them, it's really fuel to our passion as cultural ambassadors."

In addition to being an emissary for Native Ameican people, the Pollen Trail Dancers have also made dancing and singing cultural themes their career and depend on the seasonal work as part of their livelihood.

"We are entrepreneurs, the tribe is not, in any way, obligated to pay us," Chase said. "This is our own passion and our own entrepreneurial practice."

Chase still tends his sheep and goat herds and works with tribal elders and makes traditional Navajo rugs.

"Some are showcased here in the Hopi House, they are little tiny ones that are affordable for people to take with them," Chase said.

The Pollen Trail Dancers perform from June through August at the pavilion located in front of the Hopi House and across from the El Tovar hotel and restaurant. They have afternoon performances at 1 and 2:15 p.m. and special sunset flute music at 6 p.m.


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