Denver American Indian Festival draws thousands of people in an effort to preserve culture and tradition
The Denver-made soaps for sale at one of the tables at the 8th Annual Denver American Indian Festival were infused with essential oils and scents like powwow dirt, teepee campfire and soap from Sweetgrass – Ingredients sourced from native and native peoples of the United States for Colorado’s first Native American Soap Company.
The owners of Lakota Body Care connected with other American Indians at the festival on Saturday and Sunday, and also educated those who were willing to listen. The event at Riverdale Regional Park and Fairgrounds in Adams County included traditional Native American dances, musical performances, and food. Vendors sold artwork, jewelry, and other handmade goods, while other stalls provided historical information and resources.
“Because of the colonization and genocide of our ancestors, this is the reason why we work hard and keep our culture and traditions alive, to take up space on this land that was meant to be ours,” said co-owner Akalei Brown. “People think we don’t exist anymore.”
Brown, who is of Taos Pueblo and Kanaka-Maoil (Native Hawaiian) origin, runs the business with her husband and 9-year-old daughter. It was the idea of the young girl to embark on the manufacture of soaps.
“I do this to make everyone, for the family, feel strong and proud,” said Haleakala Brown of the work she does with her parents.
Akalei Brown said she was a generation from residential schools – where the US government forcibly took Indigenous children from their homes to these schools to “assimilate” them.
Her parents took them to powwows and rodeos, but she wanted to make sure that more of their culture survived and was passed on to other generations.
It’s the same generational attraction that led Darius Charley to learn more about his Diné (Navajo) ancestors after high school.
His father’s own work influenced Charley’s traditional Native American cradles, into which he incorporates Navajo design themes, and he tries to use all materials and exotic wood by turning them into jewelry so that nothing is wasted.
Charley traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico to participate in the Denver Festival.
“If you don’t follow (your culture), you lose it,” Charley said. “You lose the sense of yourself, where you came from.”
The festival has also set up tables for groups that help Indigenous people find housing, navigate the foster care system, and bring attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The nonprofit Denver Indian Family Resource Center distributed brochures on upcoming events and encouraged Indigenous families to complete a housing survey to learn more about the needs. They also shared information about the child protection system, which they say disproportionately affects indigenous children.
“Some of it is attributed to historical generational trauma,” said Alyssa Willie, family engagement specialist. “Denver is a relocation state, so a lot of families in the 1950s went back and forth between reservations and here, so some of those families might not have the resources. “
The event drew around 3,500 people on Saturday and another 2,500 on Sunday, making it the largest to date, said organizer Carolyn Hayes.