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Fiesta will go on despite protests, organizers say

Florida AIM says the parade and other parts of the Chasco Fiesta are offensive. Organizers say the event is all in fun.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 21, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Rebutting claims of racism and vowing to stage a peaceful parade this weekend, Chasco Fiesta organizers touted their event at a news conference Thursday.

"The best thing we feel we can do is hold this event, it represents community spirit," said county Commissioner Peter Altman, a member of Chasco's steering committee.

Threatened disruptions by the American Indian Movement of Florida will not deter any part of the 11-day fundraiser, Altman said hours before the 81st annual event.

He and other organizers were joined on the steps of City Hall by almost a dozen Native Americans, including award-winning singer Bill Miller and Tampa Seminole leader Bobby Henry, who arrived in limousines.

"I'm not going to let one group, especially a small, political group tell me not to come," said Miller, who received several Florida AIM e-mails criticizing the festival and urging him to spurn it.

"This is probably the most controversial thing I've had in my touring," said Miller, A Mohican from Wisconsin's Mahicanuk tribe.

With heated words, the assembled Native Americans from throughout the United States and South America decried the actions of Florida AIM, saying the group does not represent them.

"What these guys are trying to do is become famous," said Bill Lacey, an American Indian from Oklahoma who has attended Chasco for five years -- this time as security chief for the festival's pow-wow.

For the first time, Chasco this year expanded its American Indian programs and activities to run throughout the festival's duration.

The Fiesta, which raised almost $300,000 for local charities and nonprofits last year, provides entertainment and education, said Henry.

Added Lacey: "If we're not offended by it, then why should this handful of people be offended?"

Lacey said traditionally, problems within American Indian society are taken up with tribe elders and not through the channels protesters are pursuing.

On Wednesday, Florida AIM went to court and filed injunctive requests to stop the Krewe of Chasco float and to permanently end an "offensive" pageant that was canceled this year.

But on Thursday, Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Stanley Mills denied the emergency motion to stop the krewe.

AIM organizers and supporters have promised to disrupt Saturday's parade and float some other way if their legal attempts failed. Past tactics entailed spreading fish guts along a parade route.

Florida AIM says it wants to end parts of Chasco that it feels are offensive and the portrayal of Native Americans as savages. The group also is critical of whites dressing in American Indian regalia atop floats.

"It's all in fun," countered Lacey. "This isn't ceremonial stuff, people. It's for enjoyment."

About 100 officers will be on hand Saturday. A crowd of 100,000 is expected.

"We support the right for a peaceful protest," said Sgt. James Astuto with the New Port Richey police, but to have fewer officers to protect paradegoers and AIM in a time of war would be inappropriate.

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