Group wants Native American dances protected

Noel Lyn Smith
nsmith@daily-times.com

TSÉ BONITO — The New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee listened to a presentation today that called for state action to protect ceremonial dances by Native American tribes.

Shawn Price, co-founder of Sacred Preservation, talks during the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday in Tsé Bonito about how there is no state law to prevent non-native groups and organizations from performing Native American dances during the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday in Tsé Bonito.

The issue was brought to the committee by Shawn Price, co-founder of Sacred Preservation, who spoke about concerns surrounding non-Native Americans performing dances used by the Navajo, Apache and pueblo tribes.

Price told the committee some individuals travel to New Mexico in order to watch tribal dances, then they copy the actions and charge for performances.

Another issue is many of those groups travel internationally, and when audience members see the group's performance, they think it is an accurate representation of Native Americans, he said.

Price, who is Navajo, asked the state lawmakers to "send a message" that such action will not be tolerated by adopting measures to protect native dances.

"It's sad to say that at this point, our dances are not protected. Our objects, even our arts and crafts are protected by federal law," Price said, adding the dances carry meaning and significance.

Sen. William Soules, D-Doña Ana County, asks whether non-native organizations are generating profits by performing Native American dances on Tuesday during the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee meeting in Tsé Bonito.

As part of his presentation, Price showed video of the Kwahadi Dancers of Amarillo, Texas, performing the Zuni Olla Maidens’ pottery dance, the Navajo ribbon dance and a dance from the Yei’Bi’Chei ceremony.

He added the fee to attend the performance in Texas was $15 each night.

"These groups know that they are doing something wrong, but they continue to do because they are not being challenged on a legal basis. …They don't get that it's offensive. These dances were divinely given to us," he said.

Sen. William Soules, D-Doña Ana County, "vaguely remembered" performing such dances when he was in the Boy Scouts of America.

"Your presentation made it clear to me that what we are talking about is cultural theft. These groups are stealing the culture," Soules said.

Earlier in the meeting, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-McKinley and San Juan counties, asked Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye about the tribe’s ongoing response to the Gold King Mine spill and development of an Amber Alert system.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-McKinley and San Juan counties, asks a question about the Gold King Mine spill and the Amber Alert system at the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday in Tsé Bonito.

Begaye said in response to the mine spill that the tribe will file a lawsuit soon "because we do have great concerns, in terms of what happened to our nation." The tribe will continue holding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for the Aug. 5 spill and will continue advocating for compensation, he said.

As for the Amber Alert, the president said the tribe issued its first notification under the system in June when two boys were taken from Wheatfields, Ariz.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, left, and Arlando Teller, acting deputy director for the Navajo Division of Transportation, respond to comments and questions during the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday in Tsé Bonito.

Many cellphone users on the Navajo Nation received the notice, but Cellular One customers did not, Begaye said. Since then, he said, the company has implemented a notification system.

Meanwhile, criteria have been developed for the tribe to issue Amber Alerts, the president said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.