PRESCOTT – Lorencita Saufkie dips her right hand into a bowl of blue cornmeal batter and quickly brushes it across the flat surface of a black, rectangular stone, heated by a small fire below.
As several people look on, Saufkie shares her 25 years of experience making piki, a paper-thin traditional Hopi bread often prepared for weddings and baby-naming ceremonies. It’s a tight fit in this replica Hopi house built for the recent Arizona Best Fest centennial celebration here.
“How do you eat it?” a woman asks, glancing at Saufkie’s growing pile of thin, blue, rolled-up bread. “Do you put beans in it?”
“No,” Saufkie replied. “You just eat it like this.”
American Indian tribes are taking part in state’s centennial celebrations to share their traditions and highlight their role in Arizona’s history and future. As part of that, 17 of the 22 tribes created a native village at the festival that began here Sept. 16-18 and later will move to Tucson and Phoenix, the other two territorial capitals.
“I think that this is an opportunity for us to tell Arizona residents and visitors that this is who we are as Indian people,” said Rory Majenty, president of the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association and member of the Hualapai Nation.
Saufkie said her mission was simple. “I want to teach the other people what our main food is,” she said.
The experience also gave people a chance to ask how she keeps from burning her hands.
Saufkie said she no longer feels the heat from the stone because she’s been making piki for so long.
“I went through my grinding initiation when I was 13,” she told the onlookers.
Outside the Hopi house, Kassondra Yaiva, a University of Arizona student and chairwoman of the Miss Hopi Committee, greeted visitors and asked them to take a tour.
“Arizona’s our home,” she told a reporter. “Arizona’s where we’re connected to the land, and so we want to celebrate Arizona as well.”
Elsewhere in the village, which occupied Mile High Middle School’s football field, tribes displayed native dwellings, performed ceremonial dances and sold traditional food and wares.
In a large Tribal Economies Exhibit tent, Hualapai Tribal Councilmember Wynona Sinyella sat hunched over a table, talking with visitors as she strung tiny purple and white beads to create a ceremonial cape representing the breast of an eagle.
For the Hualapai, she said, “The sky’s the limit.”
Sinyella said she was encouraged by the interest in the American Indian community and the opportunity to be a part of the celebration.
“It’s a very historical event that we’re doing right now,” she said.
The Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian tribe in the U.S., constructed a native hogan and distributed brochures promoting the reservation as a tourist destination.
Geri Arviso, the Navajo Nation Tourism Department’s economic development specialist, said some American Indians still hold grudges against the U.S., but she has no animosity.
“We’re moving on. We’re our own sovereign nation,” Arviso said.
And, she added, “Arizona state has acknowledged our sovereignty.”
Majenty, with the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association, said the centennial is significant to American Indians because they are proud to live in the state and want to be included in the celebration.
“I like to think that we’re not only citizens of the United States but also the state of Arizona, and citizens within our own community as Indian nations,” Majenty said.
Joanne Ingram is a reporter for Cronkite News Service