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Yree Lepa

Yree Lepa

Celebrating the 75th year of the Tohono O’odham Nation Rodeo & Fair, the longest running All-Indian rodeo in the United States! The Rodeo & Fair is the biggest and most expansive event of the year. Bring the family out to enjoy the full experience there is sure to be something for everyone – rodeo competitions, traditional games, food, crafts, carnival rides, fun run, exhibits and performances. The U.S. longest-running American Indian rodeo has a Junior Rodeo which this year fielded 300 young ones, it has a powwow, carnival, parade, Wailia dances, and food/crafts at the Livestock Complex in Sells, 60 miles west of Tucson. PKW_1326 This year’s schedule ran from January 31 through February 3, 2013 at the Eugene P. Tashquinth Sr. Livestock Complex in Sells, Arizona. Named after the long-time voice of Tribal Rodeo’s, the Chu Chui resident (1929-2006) Eugene Tashquinth spent his days bringing order to chaos, heading up most of the events at the livestock area, so when they built the new one, they named it after Eugene Tashquinth. Equally proud is the Tohono O’odham Hedricks family whose matriarch Silas’s name blesses the Rodeo pavilion where he excelled in the arena, his grandson Chad Hedrick put the first score (6.3) on the clock with his bareback ride. Sells is a place of tradition and for the ten thousand residents of the third largest Indian reservation in the United States the annual rodeo and fair is a time of gathering, folks begin gathering before noon and the festivities go way into the night with the Wailia ending around l a.m.. The Rodeo and Pow Wow bring in native American competitors from all over the South West, particularly from Arizona tribes, like the Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache Tribe and their Tohono cousins: the Pima and Maricopa Tribes. Every year, is an old-home-town visit, with folks coming together to visit, catch-up, see who big all the cousins have gotten and to get new pictures of the kids. PKW_1184PKW_1197PKW_1134 The mid-way is a beacon to all who love carnivals, greasy food, fast rides, regge music from Bob Marley, and tee shirts featuring heavy music idols and black goth signs. Visitors pay $8 for a wristband allowing all day access, for those over 55 years-of-age, the senior charge is $2. The annual Toka Tournament brings together the Tohono O’odham “Dream Teams”, like “Sun-Running-Women” who battle it out on a football sized field fighting over a wooden puck laced with leather and flung up-field with long sticks pulled from the ribs of the saguaro cactus. The start is much like the game lacrosse-another Indian game, it begins almost like a rugby scrum–and then off down field, very little is out of bound. These women celebrate this age old tradition all afternoon long with teams chasing each other up and down the playing field, the ebb and flow, the eventual goal and high-fives all around, losers too. The Pow Wow begins with the traditional Gourd Dance and breaks down into male, female, fancy, Plains categories featuring the finest in Pow Wow and Drum traditions. Just off the mid-way, the crowd not to photograph are the Yaqui Deer dancers nor can you record them with smartphones. The Yaqui Band features a combination of home-made instruments which accompany the dancers, one wears the head of a small deer atop the head, the main dancers each wore a mask to fill out the cast for their dance.

The Santa Rosa Shell Dancers

The Santa Rosa Shell Dancers

Earlier the Santa Rosa traditional dancers displayed their dance abilities, wearing their eye-catching shell-leg chaps, made from the shell carried from the Sea of Cortez by their ancestors who later traded the shell to Hohokam in the Salt-Gila River area for their cotton. The Tohono’s Hohokam ancestors valued the shell as a sign of rank, wealth, and much of it was fashioned into jewelry, like bracelets, necklaces, and leggings with shell leg tinklers for dancers The Tohono ancestors had a prehistoric salt trail across the vast waterless Sonoran Desert, across what is today’s US-MEXICO Border and into the blackened landscape of the Sierra de Pinacate lavafields, before crossing the enormous star sand dunes of the Grande Deserto for ten miles before reaching the Gulf of California where they harvested the precious salt and processed the shell, carrying home only what they needed to make jewelry to trade. Traditions have lasted thousands of years in the lands west of Tucson, they exist today and they will thrive tomorrow. The Tohono Tribe are gracious hosts and they welcome young and old, Indian or not as visitors to their Rodeo and Fair. It surprises me how few Tucsonans take advantage and visit the annual Tohono gathering, it surprises me more how few Tucson businesses sponsor, advertise or even acknowledge the tribe and its good work and its people of sterling, ageless character who have been our faithful neighbor for centuries.





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