Conference opens at 1 pm Phoenix time on Thursday with a special ceremony. Jeffrey Lazos Ferns will share a brief introduction from an Arizona Native Lens, followed by a Blessing Song and Welcome by Gila River Tribal Members Anthony Grey and Yolanda Elias

Following the blessing and welcome, the Belford Chissay Cibecue Crowndancers from the White Mountain Apache Tribe will perform a welcome dance and song. 

Yolanda EliasAnthony Grey and Yolanda Elias are part of The Gila River Indian Community, and are part of the O'odham People, descendants of the first people of the Valley, The Huhugam. They are both respected cultural leaders and preservationists within their community.

Anthony GreyThe O’odham people have lived in the Sonoran Desert since time immemorial. They are descendants of the ancient Hohokam (archeological western name) people and have thrived despite the harsh desert climate. The O’odhams’ relationship to the landscape is paramount in their cultural and spiritual beliefs. Their mythology tells that the land was given to the O’odham by Elder Brother to live on when the earth was created. Therefore, the O’odham have become experts at living not only on but with the desert and its plants and animal life.

In Indigenous culture, it is always considered respectful to open with a land acknowledgment and blessing to honor those that came before and the gatherings of spirit for the occasion.

Belford Chissay Cibecue CrowndancersThe Crown Dancers are the Gaan or mountain spirits. Apaches believe that Usen, the Creator, sent the Gaan to the Apache to teach them to live in harmony.

There are five Crown Dancers, four masked dancers representing the directions of north, south, east, and west. The fifth dancer is the clown, who protects the others by driving away evil spirits with the sound of his humming bull roarer, a thin piece of wood suspended from a string and swung in a circle.

The dancers decide what symbols to put on their crowns. Symbols often honor forms in nature, and many crowns include the Apache cross to signify the four sacred directions. Some crown headdresses are adorned with eagle feathers because the eagle is sacred to the Apache. Lightning, another sacred symbol, is often painted on the bodies of Apache Crown Dancers.

Here is a video of the dance.