By Victor Merina
On an artfully lighted ballroom stage, before an audience of leftover convention-goers, the singers and drummers and dancers of differing tribes reminded everyone of what brought them together in this Valley of the Sun.
"This is what we're about, who we are," said Ernest Stevens Jr., the Oneida president of NIGA. "We can't do gaming, we can't even do economic development without this, because this is us. If we do not have this, we are not Indian."
What Stevens meant with the sweep of his words is Native culture, which was symbolized by dancers from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico who appeared in regalia to perform the buffalo dance and other dances to the beat of drummers and song.
There were the Dishchii'bikoh Apache Crown Dancers, who traveled the short distance from their Arizona homes to perform dances that told the story of their people, the White Mountain Apache.
Making the long journey from Alaska were the Yaaw Tei Yi Tlingit dancers, who had appeared at the Obama Inaugural and who now journeyed to the desert to sing their love songs and bird songs and to share their stories through the clan symbols woven on the blankets they wore and the floating swan feathers that swirled in the light with each shake of a dancer's headdress.
Finally, there were the dozen boys and men—and one yellow-and-purple clad girl—from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians who took the stage with their voices and traditional shakers and whose ancestors came from a cluster of small islands off the Southern California coast.
I'd be more impressed with this cultural display if it happened at the beginning or in the middle of the trade show. Or at the Wendell Chino dinner before the Beach Boys. Saving it for the end when everyone was gone isn't much of a commitment.
For more on the subject, see The Fact About Indian Gaming.