8 of the Best Ways to Immerse in Native American Culture in Phoenix

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There is much more to visit in Phoenix than luxury spas, golf courses and luxury resorts.

As one of the largest cities in the United States, Phoenix is ​​home to over 4.6 million people, a number growing at an unprecedented rate. It’s also home to dozens of distinct communities, from artsy Old Town Scottsdale to a revitalized downtown neighborhood and the lake-studded area around the University of Arizona. And while some 19 million visitors flocked to this desert-mountain destination in 2019, there’s another side to Phoenix that begs to be explored.

Centuries before the city was founded in 1881, the valley was home to indigenous peoples, primarily two distinct tribes: the Akimel O’odham (people of the river), more commonly known as the Pima, and the Xalychidom Piipaash (people who live to water). ) commonly called Maricopa. Both share cultural values ​​but maintain their unique traditions.

About 11,000 members of the Pima and Maricopa tribes live in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community that spans 52,600 acres northwest of downtown Phoenix, with 19,000 acres of green space held as a nature preserve . In addition to visiting casino resorts that operate on sovereign Indigenous lands, visitors can connect with living Native American culture in many ways in the city, ways that step back in time and look toward future possibilities.

From the pageantry of tribal dance and ritual to connecting with local artisans and exploring how tribes have been treated by the U.S. government, exploring Indigenous culture adds depth and wealth to any Phoenix experience.

Visit a booming entertainment district

Talking Stick Golf Club in the Entertainment District — Photo courtesy of Discover Salt River

The Talking Stick Entertainment District is a compact strip filled with activities and attractions – business ventures planned and owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community. Visiting neighborhood attractions is a way to directly support tribal businesses and contribute to the well-being of the community – and have a blast.

The 12-year-old district is anchored by Talking Stick Resort, a luxury hotel-casino with 10 restaurants and bars. This includes the five-star gourmet Orange Sky, with its 360 degree views over the valley from the 15th floor.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the first MLB stadium on tribal landSalt River Fields at Talking Stick is MLB’s first stadium on tribal land — Photo courtesy of Discover Salt River

You can also catch a game or concert at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Major League Baseball’s first stadium on tribal land. Topgolf offers golfers the opportunity to improve their game in air-conditioned comfort. Arizona Boardwalk includes OdySea in the Desert, the largest aquarium in the Southwest, as well as Butterfly Wonderland, America’s largest butterfly conservatory.

As you walk, note that the culture and history of the O’odham and Piipaash peoples are also shared through building design, landscape, and interior art at many sites.

Hike A Mountain to see petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are easy to spot on Mountain APetroglyphs are easy to spot on a mountain — Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

The 60-foot-tall letter “A” on the side of Hayden Butte Preserve Park, known locally as A Mountain, stands for Arizona State University. Long before the founding of the university, the mound was considered a sacred place by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community, and thousands of years ago by the Hohokam people, who lived in the area between 750 and 1450 CE.

Today, this section of the mountain is popular with hikers and history buffs interested in seeing hundreds of petroglyphs, some of which are easily visible from the trails on the south side of the mountain.

Connect with local artists

Some of artist August Wood's pottery at the Native Art MarketSome of artist August Wood’s pottery at the Native Art Market — Photo courtesy of Beth D’Addono

Frustrated by the lack of opportunities to showcase their Indigenous jewelry designs, Denise Rosales and her daughter Heather Tracy founded Native Art Market in 2018. It’s a parking lot-turned-gallery for about 30 Indigenous artisans, their trades and their stories, as well as bread fry and music and dance performances.

Open on weekends between November and March, the market spotlights artists like August Wood, who has spent the past 13 years working with elders to learn both paddle and anvil pottery, as well than Pima basket weaving techniques. Maricela Hinojosa is another regular at her company, Beaded Plume, a modern take on custom beadwork from her Pima and Yaqui heritage.

Maricela Hinojosa creates modern beadwork in Beaded PlumeMaricela Hinojosa creates modern beadwork in Beaded Plume — Photo courtesy of Beth D’Addono

During the heat of summer, artists hold indoor pop-up shops, community art fairs, and First Friday art events. Tracy and her sister, Devin Shea Tunney, along with their mother, opened a physical gallery in 2020, also called Native Art Market. It’s open all year round.

Be aware of imported goods sold in trading post stores that do not give local artists their due. For more information on purchasing authentic arts and crafts, contact the Indian Arts and Craft Board and the Indian Arts and Crafts Association.

Try fried bread

Fried bread is a Native American specialtyFried bread is a Native American specialty — Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

The Fry Bread House was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as an American Classic in 2012, an honor given to authentic family businesses. The first Native American-owned restaurant to be so honored, the Fry Bread House was opened in 1992 by Cecilia Miller, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The fried bread is made from white flour, baking powder, salt and shortening, an ingredient list that mirrors government products handed out to reservations for decades. Golden brown and crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, fried bread is used in sweet and savory dishes, replaced by tortillas to enclose green or red chilies with beef, pork, chorizo or refried beans and cheese. .

The menu also features chumuth, a large hand-stretched tortilla favored by the Tohono O’odham, used for all kinds of stuffed burros. On the sweet side, the fried bread is served open and drizzled with butter and chocolate, cinnamon sugar or honey.

Another spot for a good fry is The Stand, a trendy roadside restaurant at 3996 Alma School Road owned by Cindy Washington, who is also Tohono O’odham, and her Pima-Maricopa husband, Michael.

Facing the past

A recent Aboriginal event at the Heard Museum — Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

After touring the Heard Museum’s exceptional collection of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art, be sure to visit “Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories,” the recently updated installation of the Boarding exhibit. School which opened in 2000. The powerful exhibit examines an important and often overlooked period in American history.

The Heard Museum website states, “From the 1870s, the U.S. government aimed to assimilate American Indians into ‘civilized’ society by placing them in government-run boarding schools. The “indicium” has been removed. Students were trained in bondage and many went for years without family contact – events that still impact Indigenous communities today. »

At the entrance, there is a wall of hundreds of portraits of Native students who attended dozens of boarding schools across the United States — many against their will — over the course of 140 years.

Before your visit, check the museum’s calendar of events. The Heard also hosts ongoing cultural celebrations, such as the recent 2022 World Hoop Dance Championships.

Reflect on the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River

Built and funded by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the USS Arizona Salt River Memorial Gardens opened in February 2020 to honor the troops aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbour. Open from dawn to dusk, the five-acre development was built around a relic of the ship’s boathouse, which is enclosed in a glass case.

The attack killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crew members, and the Gardens honor each of them on metal monuments of stacked blocks engraved with names and ranks. The site is thought-provoking, with benches carved with quotes from survivors found along paths that end in flagpoles marking each branch of the military. Memorial columns form the outline of the 608-foot-long battleship and light up at night to remember the lives lost in the attack.

Take a tour of Aboriginal carvings

One of Jeffrey Fulwilder's sculpturesOne of Jeffrey Fulwilder’s sculptures — Photo courtesy of Beth D’Addono

Follow the Salt River Sculpture Trail and feel the strength and power of the Pima and Maricopa cultures through the work of artist Jeffrey Fulwilder. His large-scale steel works scattered throughout the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community include a magnificent moving mustang (located across from the school in Rancho Solano) and “Basket Dancers”, a group of four women carrying baskets braided across the head, reflecting a harvest dance that fills each basket with food from a different season.

Fulwilder bases his work on his own dreams and the traditions of his culture. A resident and member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community, Fulwilder works with a local fabricator to create his imposing piece. Ask about tours with the artist, a wonderful way to hear Fulwilder’s stories firsthand.

Let yourself be lulled by native plants

When Stella Rojas was growing up on the edge of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community, she remembers the importance of the creosote plant to her grandfather and uncles. When they returned from working at the reserve’s community farm, the men would soak their feet in water floating with pieces of the bushy plant, a sacred shrub prized for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

Rojas, whose mother is Pima and father has roots in Mexico, took those memories and created a treatment at Aji Spa, a treatment palace that emphasizes Native American-inspired wellness and botanicals. native. As Cultural Manager of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Spa, she helps interpret and integrate Indigenous practices into the Aji repertoire.

In the spring, she searches for creosote, mixing it with neutral oil to make a healing balm. Used with a heat-activated body wrap, the balm revitalizes thirsty skin, leaving the body glowing and smelling like the desert when it rains.

The Talking Stick Resort’s spa also uses indigenous ingredients and practices, including using products containing indigenous desert lavender balm, sweet mesquite pima bean encaustic and indigenous wild chaparral oil formulated by a native botanist from Sedona.

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