Courtesy Steven Paul Judd
Poster of the 40th Annual American Indian Film Festival.

Seven Events Worth Experiencing: 2016 Hot List

Sarah Sunshine Manning

The depth and breadth of talents in Indian country will keep you entertained all year long, and inspired for the rest of your life. Here are seven must-experience events.

1. Stirring Show of Resilience

The Rezilience Indigenous Arts Performance concert performers Facebook Rezilience.

The Rezilience Indigenous Arts Experience is an all-ages, alcohol and drug-free event where more than 60 indigenous artists and art-related professionals showcase their talents. An array of performers from the U.S., Canada and Latin America fill the space with a variety of styles and empowering messages of indigenous resilience. “The philosophy behind the event is to show the value of community and community involvement, and to highlight living examples of resilience in our communities,” said Rezilience Executive Director, Warren Montoya.

Musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and poets are highlighted in seven creative areas (Movement, Design, Inspiration, Voice, Vision, Expression and Exchange), with engaging activities devoted to each. To celebrate life and longevity, the event commences with a morning 5-K along the Rio Grande River. After the run, there is a day-long concert of musicians and visual performances, and on the last day of the event, there are activities and workshops for all ages. A contemporary indigenous art market, highlighting a variety of artists, is also featured.

The first Rezilience Indigenous Arts Experience took place on April 30 of 2016 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Featured performers included hip-hop artists Frank Waln and Supaman, visual artists Yatika Fields, Jaque Fragua, and Jaycee Beyale, filmmakers and poets, Tanaya Winder, Mercedez Holtry and Steven Paul Judd. The second annual event is scheduled to take place over two days at the same venue on the last weekend in April of next year. Performers and artists for the 2017 event are to be determined.

2. Ultimate Marketing Campaign

The Santa Fe Indian Market 2015 artists and performers. Courtesy Facebook, SWAIA Robert Mesa.

Since 1922, the Santa Fe Indian Market has brought together some of the most gifted Native American artists to historic Santa Fe, New Mexico. The unrivaled Santa Fe Indian Market, affectionately known as “Indian Market,” takes place on the third weekend of every August, with over 1,000 indigenous artists showcasing their talents and creations. The widely popular Santa Fe Indian Market is nearing its 100th year, and has attracted millions of visitors and collectors from around the world.

During the event, Santa Fe’s central plaza and surrounding streets are filled with featured indigenous artists and art performances. Up to 80,000 people flood the streets of Santa Fe for the Santa Fe Indian Market each year, and in the weeks leading up to the event, there are hundreds of art openings in the many Santa Fe art galleries.

Each year, a wide variety of works are showcased, including pottery, baskets, textiles, silverwork, beadwork, quillwork, paintings, sculpture, drums, hides, leather goods and more. The Indian Market also includes an awards ceremony, the Live Auction Gala, a Native American clothing contest, and the Native Cinema Showcase. The Native Roots and Rhythms portion of the event features performances of indigenous music, dance, storytelling, and comedy. Attendees can also enjoy food booths serving up both contemporary and traditional Native American foods.             

The 2016 Indian Market is set to take place on August 20 through 21.

3. Unbeatable Collection of “Move Me” Movies

Poster of the 40th Annual American Indian Film Festival. Courtesy Steven Paul Judd.

American Indian Film Festival is the longest-running and best-known film festival dedicated to Native Americans. Since 1975, the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI) has hosted the festival, beginning first in Seattle, and after 1977, in San Francisco, now the permanent home of the event.  

The annual American Indian Film Festival includes screenings, panel discussions, workshops, an awards ceremony and networking events. Films include both long and short documentaries, features, live shorts, animation, public service, music videos and youth films.            

The 2015 American Indian Film Festival was the 40th annual event, and featured 95 new films from Indigenous Peoples from throughout the U.S. and Canada. Awards presented annually at the festival include Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short, Best Music Video, Best Animation and Best Public Service.  The 2015 awards ceremony featured performances by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Primeaux and Mike, Murray Porter, Swil Kanim and comedian Ernie Tsosie. The show was hosted by actors Michael Spears and Tonantzin Carmelo, and was taped for broadcast in San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix and Tulsa.  

The 2016 American Indian Film Festival will be November 4 through 12.

4. World’s Biggest Teepee City

Woman on horseback in the Crow Fair Parade. Courtesy Adam Sings in the Timber.

Every August, Crow Agency, Montana, transforms into the “teepee capital of the world,” for the annual Crow Fair. For the past 97 years, the Crow Fair has drawn thousands of spectators and participants, and has become home to the largest Native encampment in the country, with more than 1,000 teepees erected annually. Native people from many tribal nations come together for the stacked competitions and attractions of Crow Fair, including a contest pow wow, a traditional parade, a rodeo and horse relay races.    

The contest pow wow consists of the many stunning dance categories seen throughout all of Indian country, but also the traditional Crow style dance categories, where dancers dress in traditional Crow regalia much like their ancestors wore more than 100 years ago. Spectators and participants are kept entertained around the clock with singing and dancing, and many arts and crafts and food vendors.

The rodeo and horse relays draw large crowds, as men and women demonstrate their horsemanship skills. The Crow Fair is also home to one of the most stunning parades — men and women in traditional regalia atop horses adorned in intricate beadwork and traditional saddles.

The 98th Annual Crow Fair will take place August 17 through 22.

5. Great Reason to Steel Away

An Ironworkers Festival participant climbs up a pole during the festival. Courtesy Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.

The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort hosts the annual Ironworkers Festival to celebrate past and present ironworkers. For more than 130 years, the Mohawk have been known for their ability to work high steel, and for their enormous contribution to shaping New York City’s skyline.

Ironworkers from throughout the northeast travel to Hogansburg, New York, to compete in the rousing skills competition, which includes events such as the beam walk, the column climb, the bolt toss, knot tying, rod tying, spud throw and a rivet exhibition. There are also fun events for the whole family, including a chicken wing cook-off, a watermelon-eating contest, and a women’s packing contest — competitors scramble to fit clothing and toiletry items in a suitcase, neatly and efficiently. The festival also keeps attendees entertained with live music, food and vendors.  

The Ironworkers Festival is held on the third weekend in July. The 2016 festival date is TBD.

6. Show of Women Warrior Strength

A team of two women canoeing across Bde Maka Ska in the Kwe Strong Triathlon. Courtesy Kwe Strong.

The Kwe Strong Triathlon is so much more than your standard triathlon. For this unique and empowering event in Minneapolis, indigenous women of all ages and ability levels gather to reclaim traditional practices of wellness as they walk, run, canoe and bike. This event is not timed, and there are no “winners” in the conventional sense. “The whole day is about women, girls, fitness and strength,” says Lisa Skjefte (Ojibwe), one of the co-founders of Kwe Stong. “It is a day where hundreds of other indigenous women are at your side, cheering for you and motivating you.”  

“Kwe” is an Ojibwe word for woman, and the event takes place on traditional Dakota land, but the women who participate in the event are from many nations to run alongside their sisters, friends, daughters, mothers and even grandmothers. In place of the standard swimming event of most triathlons, this indigenized triathlon highlights the traditional practice of canoeing. Males in attendance play a powerful supporting role for the women, carrying canoes, bringing water and cheering for their relatives, significant others and spouses.  

The Kwe Strong Triathlon is approaching its 6th year, and continues to be led by grassroots efforts, which is 100-percent volunteer. This year’s Kwe Strong Triathlon will take place on August 21, 2016.

7. An Entrepreneur’s Dream

One of the best kept secrets for Native American entrepreneurs and tribal business development lies tucked away in southern California at the annual American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California EXPO. For the past 12 years, the EXPO has hosted tribal leaders, Native American business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, and young entrepreneurs, as they build business capacity, network, and gain one-on-one access to businesses in both government and private sectors. “If Indian entrepreneurs come to EXPO, they’re going to get business,” says Tracy Stanhoff, President of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California.

EXPO is all about creating opportunities for tribal businesses and entrepreneurs, and the two-and-a-half-day conference is packed with experts from corporate America, to tribal enterprises, and federal government agencies. A significant portion of the conference and panel discussions involve the “buy Indian” initiative, and how to make “buy Indian” work for small business and tribal business operations.

Another highlight of the EXPO is the youth conference, which takes place on the last day of the event. Nearly 200 youth participate in entrepreneurial training, workshops and business-related competitions. Youth entrepreneurs are divided into teams, and together, they come up with either a business plan or business solution, then deliver a presentation on their final product. Winning teams earn tickets to the Disneyland Resort.

For American Indian-owned businesses and young American Indian entrepreneurs, the opportunities and potential connections to be made at the EXPO are vast. This year, the 13th Annual EXPO will be held July 31 through August 2 at the Agua Caliente Resort in Rancho Mirage, California.

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