Tuesday, September 1, 2015


I do a few weeks of traveling through Native American lands every summer, in New Mexico and Arizona.  These states are dotted with what remains as a reminder of some of the worst travesties inflicted upon a people by the greed of the United States government - the Indian Reservations of the American Southwest.  I have a weird relative that halfway believed, right up until a few years ago, that Indians lived in tepees, still.  Those would probably be more comfortable than some of the hard truths of the reservations of today, and those that choose to remain - but that's a post/photos for another day.  Today is for old traditions being passed, thankfully, to a younger generation - at least in one family, but I'm hoping this rings true for quite a few.
We spent a day at the Loveland Invitational Fine Arts Festival, outside of Denver, this past month. The arts committee had brought in the Tony Duncan family, from Mesa, Arizona, to entertain during a short period of the first morning.  Tony, and his three beautiful children, ranging in age from 6 to 2 - not only is dad (with Apache/Arikara/Hidasta tribal nation roots) an accomplished Native American Flute player, he is also a 5-time World Champion Hoop Dancer.  We were told that Mom, Violet Duncan (Plains Cree and Taino), an author and former Miss Indian World, was the one responsible for most of the beadwork seen that day.
She's already been a Tiny Tot Princess, several times over!  These are not everyday clothes, but typically reserved for ceremonial dances, such as the big Pow Wows (the family had spent the summer apart, attending events in Canada and the States).  The dress worn here is referred to as a Jingle Dress.  Originating with the Ojibwa tribes, and spreading through the Sioux nation and Plains tribes later, the tin cones on the dresses were originally fashioned from tobacco can lids.  The sound is enchanting.
Mom's brother hailed from Canada, and performed the fast-paced Men's Fancy Dance, based loosely on the War Dance.  During the 20's and 30's, many of the Native American dances were outlawed by the American and Canadian governments.  Many dances went underground to avoid detection, and eventually dances were reworked as to be danced legally in public.
The Kiowas and Comanches created new styles of dance regalia in the1930s, that included long-johns with bells attached to the knees, arm and back bustles, beadwork harnesses, feathers, streamers of horsehair, and a large porcupine hair roach atop the head.  This was all eventually incorporated into the Fancy Dance.
The Grass Dance was another Northern Plains Indian style of dance.  The dance wear generally has few feathers, as compared with the Fancy Dancers, but is plentiful with swaying fringes of yarn and ribbons.  Not as fast as the Fancy Dance, this is still "taxing" in its movements.  We were told this dancer was of the Arikara nation - gorgeous regalia including another beautiful roach atop his head, colorful applique work, and what appeared to be porcupine quill work on the dance moccasins. 
As someone who "dabbles" in sewing and the occasional beaded piece of jewelry, I can tell you the sheer amount of skill and time in these handmade pieces was mind boggling!  The breastplate on the upper right was all hand beaded by the dancer's sister (Violet), and I had to smile at the little guy's beaded Ninja Turtle medallion - infusing new with old.
Dad (Mom can be seen in the background) and the Hoop Dance - a storytelling of sorts, with the use of between 1 to 30 hoops, at any given time.  During the dance, shapes are formed for storytelling - eagle, snake, coyote, to name a few,  Fast-paced, with the dancer moving through or using the hoops as an extension of his body - Tony Duncan holds 5 World Championships, and is now passing his art down to his little ones.
Another beautiful example of Violet's mind-blowing beadwork craftsmanship, and Tony's prowess with the hoops.
Truly a modern-day family affair of time-worn traditions, most thankfully!
Which brings me to the youngest of the troupe - Manaya, Naiche, and little Nitanis.  Words cannot express the love on this stage - proud of a heritage, and carrying on the old ways through a new generation.  The oldest daughter poised beyond belief at 6 years old - performing dances completely by herself, as well as with her younger siblings.
It saddens me to see many of the old ways and traditions (crafting and ceremonial events included), being pushed aside due to progress and time, and a desire for moving ahead with "the new"...
THIS renewed a hope that all is not lost - carried on through the eyes and hearts of these little ones. Also, a pretty cool day at the park with Dad - I could never really master a Hula Hoop, and these little ones have it going on, and then some!  Carry on, Duncan Family - you're doing it COMPLETELY right!


Mary Ann Potter said...

Unspeakably terrible things were done to these proud people. It is a dark blot on our history as a nation. I loved your photographs, Tanya. These traditions must be preserved. It's too late to do anything about the past, but it's not too late to recognize the dignity of these people.

Quinn said...

I can only imagine the time and skill involved in the beadwork, let alone the dancing! Thanks for this interesting post, and many great snaps.

Small sidenote: I once lived in Loveland. Yep. Long time gone. The only "historical" memory I have (apart from the landscape of CO which is a different matter) is seeing Baby Doe Tabor's carriage in, if I recall correctly, the Loveland Historical Society building.

Maywyn Studio said...

Bravo to the Duncans!
Beautiful photographs and text, Tanya. You say it all very well.

Laurie said...

Wow! I'm so glad the Duncans are keeping their heritage and traditions alive. Their outfits are drop-dead gorgeous! I can't imagine all the work that went into making them. You did a great job capturing them through the lens of your camera, Tanya!

Jackie said...

Beautiful people and clothing! Love your travel blogs!!! You should write a book!

Vicki Boster said...

Tanya-- no one can tell a travel story like you can.... Complete with amazing photos- it's almost like being there. The costumes are beautiful and colorful-- the story is amazing. It's embarrassing how terrible these people were treated. I admire them for keeping their story alive..