Huhugam Heritage Center hosts festive opening night for ATALM conference
October 21, 2016
Thomas R. Throssell
Gila River Indian News
As guests walked through the front entrance of the Huhugam Heritage Center on the evening of Oct. 11, they were greeted with a jubilant atmosphere of festive lights, music, food, and at the center of it all, a ball court full of dancers, hand in hand, performing the mazurka.
The evening welcoming event was opening night for the Association of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums’ (ATALM) conference, held at the Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa from Oct. 9 – 12.
As guests stepped off of Wild Horse Pass shuttles in the HHC’s parking lot they were warmly greeted by tribal royalty, escorted to ballroom style tables, and entertained by traditional dancers from Arizona’s southern tribes.
While the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the evening may have seemed to develop naturally, it was in fact a finely tuned and well-planned project that took almost a year to complete.
The goal of the event was to make guests feel welcomed and at home, said Shirley Jackson, Executive Director for the Huhugam Heritage Center, because “when you come to an O’otham person’s house, they should offer you water, they should offer you food,” she said.
Planning for the event began in October 2015 when word first came that the ATALM conference was coming to Gila River. Jackson said that they didn’t want to make the event only about the Gila River Indian Community, but to highlight all four O’otham sister tribes.
“Yes, we are separated by these boundaries but at the same time we are relatives, cousins, sisters, and brothers,” said Jackson. “We wanted to make sure that people coming from Alaska or back East would know that we are one people, that we share the same language and history [and] welcome them into our territory, our land.”
Over three hundred representatives from different indigenous museums made their way to the Huhugam Heritage Center to attend the welcoming, some of them coming from as far away as Switzerland and Qatar.
Guests enjoyed the sights, sounds and flavors of the Akimel O’otham, Tohono O’odham, Ak-Chin, Salt River, and Pee-Posh tribes.
Traditional dancers performed in front of hundreds of guests in the center of the museum’s ball court while others dined on plates of red chili, chumuth, beans, and squash.
The evening also featured art booths, live art performances and tours of the Huhugam Heritage Center’s collections.
To top off the night, guests were treated to the sounds of waila performed by none other than Gertie and the T.O. Boys, who got conference attendees dancing the polka, mazurka, and always-popular cumbia.
Susan Feller, President of the ATALM, said of the opening night, “The theme of our conference this year is 'Culture Builds Community' and this [event] is a wonderful example of how culture keeps [community] strong.”
The ATALM is an organization that aims to raise awareness concerning the needs of indigenous cultural institutions throughout the world, provides culturally responsive services through training events, and advocates for indigenous cultural institutions.
“It’s not just preserving the relics, it’s also preserving the language,” Feller said of the organization.
She continued, “Our [organization’s] board chair, Walter Echo-Hawk, who is Pawnee, says that no tribe can truly be sovereign unless it is in control of its own cultural heritage. Therefore, we all believe that every tribe should have its own archive, library, and museum that manages its own culture.”
As the evening came to an end, Feller expressed her thanks for the warm welcoming.
“We have people from all over the world [here] and I think they are all very impressed with what [has] been done here. We feel very welcome and we thank [them] for their hospitality,” she said.