Illinois DNR pulls Aztec promo of group reportedly headed by Aztecs
'Minstrel show' appropriation, or authentic Indigenous celebration?
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has removed a social media post promoting an event scheduled for this weekend featuring a group of dancers who perform in Aztec-inspired outfits.
The group is called the Omeyocan Dancers, which the Chronicle Media of Illinois publication bills as ”a spectacular Aztec dance company hailing from Milwaukee.”
According to the Omeyocan Dance Company’s website, the group “exists to celebrate Mexico’s colorful cultural history and to share it with others.”
“Through performances that feature authentic dances, costumes, and music, we entertain and educate audiences of all ages and cultures,” the site says. “We seek to enrich both our audience and dancers alike with appreciation and an enhanced cultural awareness of Mexico‘s storied past and vivid traditions.”
The site continues, “With authentic steps, rhythms and regalia, the Omeyocan Dance Company performs the Aztec Fire Dance, the Eagle Dance, the Aztec Deer Dance, the Day of the Dead Dance and more.”
While many of the members of the group are not Indigenous — according to postings on social media — the site says that the company “is privileged to have brothers Roberto and Alejandro Franco, both traditional Aztecs, to direct this group, and to dance and drum alongside its members.”
Why did the Illinois DNR pull the post if the group is led by Aztecs? We have queries out to Illinois DNR Director Colleen Callahan, and others, and will update when and if we hear back.
The dancers are scheduled to perform at the annual Great River Eagle Days event in Quincy, Ill. on Jan. 22 and 23.
The Illinois DNR was taking heat from Native Americans on social media before they removed the post, which is screenshotted above.
“That’s a state agency that ought to know better,” said Shawnee Chief Ben Barnes on Facebook, who decried the Illinois DNR’s sponsorship of the event and its promotion of it.
Barnes called the planned performance a “minstrel show” that “looked like white folks with peacock feathers.”
“When does it end?” Barnes asked. “I think minority people cannot make it end alone. The people that frequent these events have to have it pointed out that by attending, supporting, and spending money on minstrelsy is the root of the problem.”
While there are no federally recognized tribes in Illinois, there are thousands of Native people living in the state. Barnes further said that he knows of “three tribes with significant dealings in Illinois: “Shawnee, Osage, Peoria all been heavily involved in that state.”
According to Chronicle Media, the event will also feature:
“Bald eagles [that] will be present all weekend for close-up viewing from the Raptor Rehabilitation Center.”
“The traditional blessing of the eagle ceremony” on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
“Native American vendors and food booths will be on site both days, offering authentic ‘Fry Bread’ and Indian tacos.”
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