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Editorial: Smoki People had good intentions

Smoki Museum/Courtesy photo

Smoki Museum/Courtesy photo

However misguided the original purpose of the Smoki People may appear now, it's fair to say that their intentions were genuine at the time they began their ceremonial dances decades ago.

The genesis of the Smoki People began with a group of Caucasian Prescott businessmen who wanted to help pay for the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo in 1921, because the annual event was floundering. Laboring under the misconception that the Native American culture was vanishing, the group decided to put on a show mirroring Southwest and Plains Indian dances.

The event was an instant success and, over the ensuing 70 years, people of Prescott and around Arizona looked forward to the annual event, which took place on "the dark of the moon" every August at the old fairgrounds. The Smoki People went to great lengths to research the dances for their performances, hoping to retain their authenticity. The most prominent of these dances was the snake dance.

Through the years, though, Native Americans, such as the Hopi, had expressed discontent with the ceremonials, saying they were insulting to the solemnity of the Native Americans' sacred rites.

In 1991, in light of waning numbers to put on such elaborate performances and on the heels of a peaceful Hopi protest against the dances, the Smoki People disbanded.

Yet today, disquietude still exists over the Smoki People and the ceremonials they produced. The Smoki Museum is striving to make amends for slights the Native American people feel by incorporating their input in planning the exhibit "The Sign of Smoki: Art & Artistry of Prescott's Smoki People."

The collection includes Smoki clothing, arts and crafts, historical documents and other artifacts. Museum Executive Director Cindy Gresser said the museum wants people to know of the Smoki People's talent and skill in recreating native regalia. And she wants to help people to separate fact and fiction about the Smoki People.

Gresser asked for Native American help in order to avoid displaying any item that might be objectionable to their people. Beyond this, a plan is in the works to bring together tribal leaders in a discussion that would conciliate any bad feelings that remain over the Smoki People - an effort that deserves praise and support.

Let us hope that we can now lay to rest controversy over the Smoki People and focus on one aspect of their legacy - a museum that pays sincere homage to Native American cultures and their enriching contributions to our society.

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