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Pioneer Day Native American celebration honors culture, tradition (+photos)

Published: Wednesday, July 24 2013 7:45 p.m. MDT

Ramone Ereaux dances during the powwow as Native Americans gather at Liberty Park to dance and celebrate Wednesday, July 24, 2013, as part of the Days of '47 celebration.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Shirley Reeder got a call once from her child's school teacher, wondering if her son had really been to all the states he said he'd visited.

The boy was right, Reeder told the woman. In the summer months, Reeder and her husband and children spend the bulk of their weekends traveling for Native American celebrations, or powwows, throughout the West.

"My kids have seen practically the whole Midwest to the West," Reeder said. "We spend a lot of time on the road. It's a hoot. We have fun."

But the Native American Celebration in the Park, which marked its 19th year Wednesday at Liberty Park, is special for them.

"We're (Latter-day Saints), so it means a lot to us," Reeder said. "We celebrated in Primary, but now that I'm grown up it seems like this brings back a whole different meaning — pride in my culture, pride in my dancing, in my children's dancing."

She said her family has come to the celebration since its inception 19 years ago. As they travel, they often see the same groups and families at the various celebration events and some question why they always go to the one-day event in Salt Lake City. As Logan residents, it's close to home, but it also blends family, faith and culture.

"It's tradition," Reeder, a Kiowa, said. "Culture. Pride in who we are. This is something meaningful. This one day powwow means a lot to me and my family."

Liberty Park was busy Wednesday, full of people and vendors, but in its midst was a large circle of chain link covered in dense mesh. From within, Native American singing and drumming could be heard.

Inside, there was another circle made up of tents, canopies and chairs marking the inner arena. A few vendors sold turquoise jewelry, handmade purses and boxes and painted pottery. Carlos Slim came from northern Arizona to sell his gourd boxes, lined in Pendleton blankets, that are meant to house the eagle feathers worn by the dancers.

It was his first time to the Salt Lake City celebration, though he had heard about it almost a decade ago. "There' s a lot of people," he noted.

Karyl Zanocco, of Spring City, was also a first-timer to the event. She said she and her husband came with three of their grandchildren, one of whom is half Native American.

"We want to nurture that culture in her and expose her to it," Zanocco said.

As a quilter, she loved looking at the textures and patterns of the blankets hung from some of the tents. But that wasn't the highlight.

"I love the costumes, I love the sounds that the costumes make," she said, pausing as a man passed by. "Listen as this gentleman walks by — it's great."

Like the Reeders, Kassaundra John and her mother, Shirley, both Navajo, spend most of the summer on the road. Already this year, they have been to New Mexico. Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

Kassaundra John is a jingle dress dancer, and her elaborate costume featured rows and rows of bells made of the lids of chewing tobacco that have been formed into cones. Shirley John dances Northern Traditional style.

"It just keeps the culture alive and helps us stay healthy," Shirley John said.

"I like traveling and learning about the different tribes we've seen," Kassaundra John said. "We stay with locals and they tell us about their tribes."

The crowd was a mix of Native Americans from various tribes and states as well as Salt Lake locals, like Candi Edwards, who said she has come for five or six years just for the dancing. Around 5:30 p.m., all of the dancers made their way into the arena behind spiritual leader David Yazzie, who said a few words after the procession before offering a prayer.

"We're here today to celebrate the Pioneer Day and our Native American ways," he said. "We're here where we are today because of our creator, that Great Spirit. … I'd like to tell all of you dancers that I'm proud of you … for carrying on that tradition. History is history. We have to go on."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

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