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Delight at Days of '47 parade, Native American celebration

Published July 25, 2014 9:49 am

Parade's colorful floats and marching bands, American Indian festivities offer a glimpse of the state's origins.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A gigantic roaring Tyrannosaurus rex pulling a handcart, a cartoon Elvis and a huge cherry pie collided with a Native American dance off in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park Thursday, the meeting point for two major cultural events with ties to the founding of Utah.

The Days of '47 parade, one of the nation's largest, wound its way from Temple Square to Liberty Park on this Pioneer Day, which celebrates the Mormon pioneers who entered this valley in 1847. It included classic cars, marching bands, the military and dozens of elaborate floats, as well as dignitaries from the LDS Church and government.

LDS Church President Thomas Monson rode in the back of a white Mercedes, surrounded by security. He waved to the crowd that stood as he slowly rolled by.

Seeing a Mormon apostle is one of the reasons the West family has made a tradition of camping out the night before the parade to secure a prime location near the end of the route. This year, they instead rented a spot in front of a home across from Liberty Park, erecting three canopies and setting up 10 reclining yard chairs. They watched the festivities in style and comfort.

Robert West, from Draper, remembers going to the parade as a kid dressed in a leather jacket, cowboy boots and a holster for his toy gun.

"It's tradition and a good wholesome clean parade," he said.

Randy Russell from Salt Lake City got tired of carrying his daughters on his shoulders so he invented his own way to get the kids above the crowds. He put a 10-foot plank across two painters ladders and covered it with a blanket. The family calls it their own "mobile grandstand."

Reanna Russell said the family has used the getup for at least 15 years.

A float created by the Midvale Utah Stake was the clear crowd favorite. It included a T. rex holding a handcart in its tiny, stunted arms. The dinosaur could open its mouth, turn its head and roar. The side of the float said, "pushing like a T-Rex," a play off the parade's slogan, "pioneers pushing toward the future."

This wasn't the only float to include an unexpected handcart from pioneer days. The Bennion Stake had a cartoonish plane with a handcart loaded with huge pencils and books.

Parade organizers rejected a float from the group Mormons Building Bridges, which seeks to build better relationships between members of the LDS faith and gay Utahns. Days of '47 officials considered the group political and said it would distract from the purpose of the celebration, which is to honor the pioneers.

Connie Charboneau of Salt Lake City said Pioneer Day is a day of family celebration and it should be inclusive.

"Everyone who is a part of Utah should be here," said Charboneau, who has attended the parade for 20 years. "It is a Utah holiday."

But Todd Parks of Taylorsville, whose family uses the holiday as a mini-reunion, said he's glad the group was excluded, saying he's against gay marriage and doesn't want the issue of gay rights to be in a parade that's largely devoid of politics.

The parade concluded at 11:45 a.m., less than 100 yards from the Native American Celebration in the Park, now in its 20th year. The powwow honoring the state's earliest inhabitants includes a tribal dance competition, arts and craft booths and traditional foods. And it ends in one of the larger displays of fireworks on Pioneer Day.

Longtime organizer Cal Nez is running for president of the Navajo Nation, so he handed over the reins to his daughters, Courtney Gambler and Chelsey Nez.

Chelsey Nez said she's proud of the growth in the celebration, which gives Native Americans a chance to share their culture. The powwow attracted Sandra Lucas of Salt Lake City, who stood in the hot direct sunlight to watch the dancing.

"It is incredibly moving," she said. "It's real American history."

The celebration was an added bonus for Elaine Mills, a former Utahn who now lives in Commack, N.Y. She brought her daughters to their first Pioneer Day rodeo Wednesday night and the parade Thursday morning.

"I wanted to share the tradition with them, because we have a lot of pioneers in our family," Mills said.

She hadn't known the Native American celebration was being held, but paid the entry fee so that her daughter Colleen, who has studied such celebrations, could see one in person.