A striking wall mural featuring a Tohono O'odham woman with a basket on her head at one end, and a strong shouldered Yaqui deer dancer in the desert on the other end, were among Indigenous scenes of traditional life under a distant, yet sparkling Milky Way.
The 120-foot-wide by 60-foot-tall outdoor mural was unveiled Nov. 28 at Native Music Coalition's newly opened Southwest Native Trading Post at 301 W. Ajo Way, east of South 12th Avenue.
Native Music Coalition is a nonprofit organization that offers Indigenous youth, families and adults an opportunity to explore Native American culture with activities designed to heal, restore and preserve Indigenous identity. The program offers services to communities in Southern Arizona.
A celebration of the mural unveiling and the opening of the store culminated with a performance from the 2022 World Hoop Dance Champion Sampson Sinquah of Phoenix. He danced while the Wild Medicine drummers — Sinquah's father, Moontee, and brother, Scott — kept a steady beat and sang in front of the picturesque towering mural, serving as the backdrop. The family is Gila River Pima/Hopi-Tewa, Cherokee and Choctaw.
The artists who created the mural were Lucinda Y. Hinojos "La Morena" of Phoenix; Kayla Bellerose of Edmonton, Canada; and Jay Lopez of Guadalupe. Hinojos identifies herself as Chicana of Apache and Yaqui descent, Bellerose is Cree, and Lopez is Yaqui.
The crowd applauded and shouted in praise of the Sinquah family's performance and for the muralists. Many walked into the trading post and erupted into more smiles while looking at works of artisans who are members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Tohono O'odham Nation, along with other nations in Northern Arizona and South Dakota. The trading post plans to buy Yaqui pascola masks, deer eye necklaces and drums to sell in the store in the near future.
There are T-shirts displaying Native Pride, Yaqui Pride, Frybread Power, and a man in the maze image that was originally created by the Tohono O'odham as an illustration of the emergence story representing all O'odham communities. There are clothing racks with ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts that are worn by all tribes. The distinction is in the design. Racks also hold quilts, cloth handbags and blankets. The store sells kachinas, wooden flutes, moccasins, beaded jewelry and beaded hair pieces, dream catchers, and cradleboards, traditional protective baby carriers, used by many Indigenous cultures in North America. The trading post also has tribal flags in stock.
Quillwork, the art of using colored porcupine quills to decorate items, including medallions, sheaths for knives and moccasins, are on display. Quillwork is done by artists from Northern tribes, but Native Americans from various regions have adopted quillwork in their art, said Vince Flores-Maldonado, founder and chief executive officer of Native Music Coalition.
Flores-Maldonado, an aficionado of tennis shoes, has an option with Nike to customize shoes and has two styles for sale in the trading post. Native American culture is represented through the colors of turquoise, red, black, yellow and white tennis shoes. Some shoes have the lettering MMIW, which stands for Missing Murdered Indigenous Women, and others carry NDN VBS, meaning Indian Vibes. The shoes come in adult sizes, and more styles will be carried in the store depending on sales. These shoes range from $160 to $200. Prices of other items in the store range from $5 to $1,200.
Flores-Maldonado, an artist who began the coalition’s work with Yaqui families in 2016 — two years before it became a nonprofit — received help from other Indigenous artists who recognized Western medicine was not treating the spiritual needs of Native American families. He and other artists held events for youth and families, and they saw a cultural yearning among participants in search of Native American spiritual healing as an integral part of treatment that included substance abuse, depression, physical and emotional abuse, anxiety and bereavement.
Now, Native Music Coalition has an annual budget of $720,000 from grants, donations and reimbursements for services through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.
The coalition has a Native American staff of 35, including therapists, behavioral health technicians and counselors who are members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
They offer treatment at a Wellness Center where activities include painting, drum- and- gourd-rattle-making, beadwork and talking circles designed to help clients connect to their emotions, resulting in soothing and calming effects. These artisans, who utilize the coalition's housing program, could sell their pieces at the trading post and keep 100% of their sales. Once they are discharged from the program, they could use their money to start their independent living, said Flores-Maldonado.
The organization purchased the building that houses the trading post, and also serves as its administrative headquarters on the second floor, for $480,000 in May. Native Music Coalition's other location at 811 S. Sixth Ave. where it runs its programs now has more space with the relocation of its administrative offices, explained Flores-Maldonado.
The main focus of the trading post is for local Indigenous artists to have a place to display and sell their work, and profits would go back into the coalition's programs. If Indigenous artists are not members of the coalition, they can place their work at the store on consignment.
NMC's Southwest Native Trading Post, 301 W. Ajo Way, is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.