TCA’s new Indigenous Cultural advisor making her mark with Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival

This is how Violet Duncan recalls her first exchange with administrators at Tempe Center for the Arts.

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“They said, what ideas do you have? I said I have a bunch!”

They must have liked the sound of her ideas. Duncan was hired as  Indigenous Cultural advisor for TCA in January.

“Basically, it’s a dream-come-true job,” Duncan said. “I’ve always wanted to make sure there were spaces for Native American performing arts.”

And with November being National Native American Indian Heritage Month, it’s only right that Valley audiences get to see the fruits of Duncan’s ideas on Nov. 20, with the inaugural edition of the Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival.

“It’s the first one, but we hope it becomes an annual event,” Duncan said.

A native of Kehewin, Alberta, Canada, with Plains Cree and Taino tribal background, Duncan went to school and worked in Canada and the U.S. before settling in the Valley 14 years ago. She’s a performing artist—a dancer, choreographer and storyteller, who has performed both nationally and internationally, even in Nelly Furtado’s “Big Hoops” music video.

She also held the title of Miss Indian World.

More recently, Duncan is the author of several children’s books, including I am Native, When We Dance and Let’s Hoop Dance! A mother of four, she’s married to Mesa native Tony Duncan, an Apache with an impressive performing record of his own. He’s a six-time world champion hoop dancer.

The Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival runs all day Nov. 20. Opening ceremony is 10:30 a.m. featuring the Ira Hayes Color Guard. A variety of dance and theater performances follow, including mainstage events by Red Mountain Creations—“traditional people from the Tempe area,” notes Duncan—and Yellowbird Productions, also from Arizona. “Across Turtle Island,” featuring traditional and contemporary dances and “trickster stories,” including hoop-dance performance by Tony Duncan, will be on the main stage.

The event isn’t only about performing arts, however. Workshops, in painting and mask-making for kids, as well as wellness and mindfulness classes, are on the bill, as well.

“It’s possible to everything,” Duncan said.

There is no admission charge.

Duncan says that the festival represents a new, ongoing commitment to indigenous performances at Tempe Center for the Arts.

“This is just one big event, but we’ll have other, smaller events. … We’re just excited to offer more space for indigenous artists,” she said.


Indigenous Arts Arizona Festival

10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20

Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe.

No admission charge.

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