The directions were easy enough. Take a left at Allsup instead of a right. The grounds were on the right about a mile. For the price of five dollars, I was granted permission to enter and park. Various Nations from Colorado, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, and beyond were represented. During the opening ceremony, the Native American announcer used the term “Indian.” It was a loaded word. I had been taught by a Navajo that it was not an acceptable term to use so it left me a little confused. Everyone was asked to stand as an elder carrying the flag of Taos Pueblo walked in behind a dancer covered head to toe in blue and white feathers. Singers cried out to the beat of huge drums surrounded by five to six men. Much like the Olympics, participants danced single file past judges and spectators. The line became a swirl. Children as young as two paraded alongside their parents. Everyone was moving and singing. One little girl in the circle, about three years old, had on a bright blue costume with feathers on her back and head. She watched as a man dressed in bright red feathers and bells danced around in a circle to the beat of the drums. Unselfconsciously, she began to imitate him by bouncing up and down like a bunny. She never questioned what he was doing or why she should join in. It was, for her, natural.
Before the judging began, the announcer asked all non-Indian people to come into the circle and dance to the beat of the drum themselves. It was a gesture of welcome, to make the visitors feel like a part of the festivities. At first, two or three people walked out to the middle and started to dance. They were very aware that all eyes were on them. Watching the spectacle, it became apparent how difficult it must be to live under a microscope. To have the world stare at you as an object and not a person. The privacy Tony talked about on his “Indian land” was perfectly understood in that moment. I watched as Native American families talked excitedly to each other in their various languages. Smiles and laughter came easily. I decided to try Indian Fry bread and laughed when I realized that it was a big, flat pizza-shaped Mexican Sopapilla. It was so good that I ate two of them. I tried to engage my vendor, a young girl, in conversation. She just stared at me with a nervous expression on her face. I wasn’t sure if she heard me so I asked about Fry Bread again. It was not until I turned around to walk away that I heard her talking to her mother in Tewa. It had never occurred to me that she might not feel comfortable talking to a stranger. I also noticed that nobody was mixing together. I walked around the entire circle and observed how people were interacting. Native Americans sat next to non-Natives under the cover of the circle. It was strange to watch two worlds in the same space not mingling together. Was it shyness? Language barrier? Those in costume, however, were very open to questions about their costumes and dances and were happy to pose for pictures.
….to be continued….