Arizona Indian Festival

Photo credit: Christine Johnson/Special to the Progress

Caption: The Arizona Indian Festival returns to Western Week this year. The inter-tribal event takes place Feb. 9-10 at Scottsdale Civic Center.

Western Week returns to Old Town Scottsdale for its third year, and organizers promise that this year’s week-long event will be bigger and better than ever.

From now through Feb. 11, the City of Scottsdale pays homage to the area’s Old West history with a slew of returning and newcomer signature events.

“We are delighted to, once again, offer a number of themed events throughout this special week that bring the community together to remind us all of our city’s Western roots,” said Karen Churchard, director of tourism and events for the city.

Returning this year is the 61st annual Hashknife Pony Express arrival. The oldest officially sanctioned Pony Express in the world, Hashknife Pony Express comprised of two dozen riders and horses, will ride into Scottsdale on Friday at 10 a.m. to deliver more than 20,000 pieces of U.S. mail to the front steps of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

Following the mail drop, attendees will have the opportunity to take photos with the riders and horses, and enjoy food trucks, family friendly activities, entertainment on site, as well as free admission into SMoW.

The Western Week Gold Palete ArtWalk also returns on at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Throughout the Scottsdale Arts District, galleries will display traditional and modern Western artwork.

The Edge Gallery will feature four artists’ southwest work as part of its “best of the west” showcase. Artists include Arlene Meyer, who specializes in ceramics and mixed media; Beth Meranto, who specializes in oil paintings; Tim Gallegly, a pastel and pencil artist; and Jan Downey, gourd artist.

While gallery hopping, attendees will be treated to live music by the Desert Dixie band, and can learn line dancing and watch artist demonstrations.

“This is part of our heritage,” said French Thompson, Scottsdale Gallery Association president and owner of French Designer Jeweler. “There are all these wonderful, different forms of art. It’s a national and international event that people do come here from all over the world to see.”

New to Western Week is the Arizona Native Experience on Friday.

This three-hour event at the Saguaro Scottsdale will kick off the Arizona Indian Festival, a two-day inter-tribal event held Saturday and Sunday at Scottsdale Civic Center.

“The Arizona Native Experience adds indigenous texture, voices and experiences to Western Week that are historical, unique and contemporary,” said Steve Geiogamah, Scottsdale tourism development manager and a member of the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association board.

“This only-in-Arizona experience helps bridge and celebrate the many diverse cultures and communities that call Arizona home,” he said.

From cooking demos and interactive conversations to traditional and contemporary Native arts and more, Arizona Native Experience is a curated evening of Native American chefs, artists and arts that reflect and introduce guests to authentic native culture and cuisine.

In a cocktail setting, guests will have the opportunity to taste traditional and fusion foods and cocktails by various reputable Native American chefs.

Chefs include San Carlos Apache chef, Twila Cassadore; Tewa/Xicana chefs, Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz and Xicana/Renetto-Mario Etsitty; and Navajo chef and executive chef of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Freddie Bitsoie.

“We are collaborating with chefs who diversely represent tribes around Arizona and who have different takes on Native foods,” Geiogamah said. “It should be a delicious lineup.”

These chefs will also take part in the Arizona Indian Festival, which will feature traditional food, storytelling, arts from Native American artisans, traditional dancing and singing and traditional dwellings.

Although Arizona Indian Festival’s venue footprint decreased in size this year due to construction on the Drinkwater Bridge, Geiogamah said AAITA was still able to increase the number of event performers and artists.

“We got creative on set-up, and it will provide a new experience in itself,” he said.

The Arizona Indian Festival addresses the association’s goal of promoting Arizona Indian tourism and education.

“AAITA decided that growing the event annually was the best thing to do,” Geiogamah said. “AAITA has discussed growth options over the next three years and may continue to add other event activations that further our mission.”

Dozens of tribal royalty, comprised of young women dressed in traditional garb, will practice and demonstrate their cultural traditions through songs, dance and stories at the main stage and children’s craft area.

“The response [to last year’s Arizona Indian Festival] was fantastic from participants, attendees and partners, such as the City of Scottsdale and Arizona Native communities,” Geiogamah said.

Also taking place on Saturday is the Parada del Sol parade and the Trail’s End Festival, featuring live Western-themed music, Aztec and Folklorico dancers, the famed Howdy Dudettes from 1959 and more family friendly entertainment and events.

On Wednesday, also at SMoW, Chris Wimmer will give guests a behind-the-scenes look at how he produces episodes for his “Legends of the Old West” podcast, which tells classic tells of the Old West.

“As our town continues to grow and develop, we work hard to keep a tight grasp on our unique history that makes Scottsdale so special,” Churchard said.