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Pioneer Day festivities honoring white Salt Lake Valley settlers draw crowds annually to downtown's July 24th parade. But the Intertribal Powwow at Liberty Park, which honors the rich cultural heritage and contributions of the region's American Indians, is also becoming an annual Utah tradition.
"We want to be recognized as well," said Alex O. Shepherd, who will emcee the this year's powwow, now in its 14th year.
It's significant that the event is celebrated on Pioneer Day, organizers say. "I felt like July 24 was the day to celebrate everybody's culture, and it was especially important for Native Americans to be a part of the celebrations," said founder Cal Nez. "The first year we got together, more than 3,000 showed up and I thought 'Wow, we've got to build on this."'
The powwow, one of the largest in Utah, includes a competition showcasing American Indian traditional songs and dances. But the event is also interactive - after powwow winners are announced, everyone is encouraged to join the dance.
"It's a great honor to look out there and see people of all colors dancing in that circle," Nez said. "The freedom of expression on their faces brings joy to me, my family and my committee. We should all continue to build on that unity."
The celebration has grown to include multicultural musical performances, a children's activity area, food, jewelry and arts and crafts, as well as a fireworks display.
American Indians are also playing a larger role in the official Days of '47 parade this year, by marching in the pre-parade, which travels down the parade route before the pioneer-themed floats. "We're excited to have them," said Jodene Smith, spokeswoman for the Days of '47 parade. "We think it will be a great experience for both groups."
Nez said he is hoping that sharing elements of American Indian culture during the parade and at Liberty Park will help Utahns gain a deeper understanding of the region's history. "This is who we are," he said. "We are still dancing on Mother Earth. These are our songs and drums. Our culture is alive and well."
14th annual Native American Celebration in the Park
When » July 24.
Where » Liberty Park, 500 East and 900 South, Salt Lake City
9-11:30 a.m.: Gourd Dancing
Noon-4 p.m.: Intertribal Powwow first session
5-9 p.m.: Intertribal Powwow second session
5 p.m: Dignitaries and sponsors honor song
10 p.m.: Fireworks
Cost » General admission $4, free for children under 6 and seniors 65 and older. For information, visit http://www.nacip.com