New Experiences Created Through Old Tribal Stories

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), March 19, 2006


Tim Terry Jr. dragged a white-painted finger from the corner of his eye to his cheek, hair feathers twirling in the breeze, as he told the ancient Pima story of creation.

“We don’t have a word for love in our language,” Terry, a 40-year-old Pima, shared with the group, “because we don’t tell people we love them, we show them.”

This is Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa’s latest attempt at giving guests a cultural experience. All winter, members of the Pima and Maricopa tribes, known collectively as the Gila River Indian Community, have been sharing stories with tourists who pass through the $359-a-night hotel.

Anywhere from a dozen to 100 people participate in the storytelling nightly at a fire pit sandwiched between the lobby bar and the pool. Sheraton is sticking to tradition; storytelling ends this weekend because the Pima and Maricopa people tell the tales only in winter.

Gila River Indian Community owns the hotel, which sits on the reservation just south of Phoenix, land filled with mountain views and cactus. Since it opened in 2002, the property has staked out its niche as a cultural hotel and aggressively courted tourists who want a Western experience.

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation leaders said operating a cultural hotel on the reservation is an advantage because it is authentic. Terry, who works as a youth counselor as well as a Gila River storyteller, said that the tourism industry has to walk a fine line between attracting guests and selling out the tribe.

He is careful not to share every detail of his people’s oral history, sacred stories passed on to him by his grandfather. He gives tourists what he calls “the Reader’s Digest version.”

The payoff is educating outsiders, something he sees as a positive step.

“When you go to other (Valley) resorts, you’ll see hoop dancing, which came from the Great Plains,” he said. “There is a rich culture already here that can be shared in a respectful way. We want to share it; we don’t want to be disrespectful.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education

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