After a two-year COVID hiatus, Chasco Fiesta Returns for its 100th birthday

The Chasco Fiesta, New Port Richey’s premier community event, began in 1922 based on the fictional story of the Calusa Indians. It is celebrating its 100th birthday with this weekend’s event, returning after a two-year hiatus brought on by COVID-19.

The big anniversary is also a time to look back at a festival that had what even its organizers acknowledge were outdated “Cowboys versus Indians” optics in its beginning. They have worked hard in the past two decades, they say, to welcome and embrace Native American performers, history and culture into the annual Celebration.

Related: The fictional story behind Chasco Fiesta

Spread out over 10 days, the Chasco Fiesta begins Friday with entertainment every night, as well as food, a Carnival, a street parade, a boat parade and a Native American Festival that will have dancing, demonstrations and educational programs. Headlining concerts will be by country artists Chase Bryant and Drew Baldridge on April 2 and Night Ranger on April 3. The shows are included with admission, though you can pay $ 20- $ 60 for reserved seating through rutheckerdhall.com.

Regalia worn by the Krewe of Chasco, shown here during the 2012 Chasco Fiesta, has been the target of protests over the years as an example of non-Indians exploiting Native American culture. The krewe now instructs its members to dress in “Americana” style such as pioneer, Revolutionary War or Old West costumes. [ PENDYGRAFT, JOHN | Times (2012) ]

After taking some breaks for world Wars, the festival has been held annually since 1947, except when it was canceled because of the Pandemic two years in a row.

New Port Richey City Councilman Peter Altman, a former Mayor and county commissioner, serves on what is now an all-Volunteer organization that puts on the festival.

People line the streets of New Port Richey for the first Chasco Fiesta Parade in 1922.
People line the streets of New Port Richey for the first Chasco Fiesta Parade in 1922. [ Fivay.org ]

It has its roots in what city Founders call the “Hacienda days,” when New Port Richey and the city’s historic Hacienda Hotel became known as “Hollywood East” due to the number of Celebrities who visited, including Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin and notable sports figures.

Protesters, such as this one in 2005, show up every year at the Chasco Fiesta Parade in New Port Richey because of the way the krewes historically portrayed Native Americans.
Protesters, such as this one in 2005, show up every year at the Chasco Fiesta Parade in New Port Richey because of the way the krewes historically portrayed Native Americans. [ SCOTT ISKOWITZ | Times (2005) ]

The festival was first held in 1922 as a fundraiser for the library, and it continues today to raise money for numerous local charities. Like Gasparilla, the storyline of the Chasco Fiesta is a fictional one, set along the Pithlachascotee River with the central characters of King Pithla and Queen Chasco. The story was created by Gerben DeVries, New Port Richey’s first postmaster.

“It was a campy story,” Altman said, “how the king and queen are part of a native tribe that encountered the Spanish Conquistadores. People used it as an excuse for dress-up. And the political correctness kind of goes downhill from there. ”

Gerben DeVries, New Port Richey's first postmaster, is credited with helping create the festival and its fictional storyline.  He is shown here at an early Chasco Fiesta dressed as a Spanish Priest who hoped to convert the Calusa Tribe to Christianity.
Gerben DeVries, New Port Richey’s first postmaster, is credited with helping create the festival and its fictional storyline. He is shown here at an early Chasco Fiesta dressed as a Spanish Priest who hoped to convert the Calusa Tribe to Christianity. [ Fivay.org ]
Planning your weekend?

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter

We’ll deliver ideas every Thursday for going out, staying home or spending time outdoors.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, Weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Looking back, Altman recalled some wince-inducing images of white people dressed in native headdresses and selling Calusa headbands as a fundraiser. A cage was dragged through town and anyone not in a headband was thrown in “jail.”

Although the Fiesta is based on a Legend about the now-extinct Calusa Tribe, it wasn’t until 1995 that Native Americans were invited to participate. Katrina Big Mountain, a Cree from Ocala, and Bobby Henry, a Seminole Elder and spiritual leader from Tampa, were instrumental in putting together the expanded cultural elements in the late ’90s, Altman said.

Otter Oliver, 33, has been a part of the Chasco Fiesta since he was a teenage dancer working with his mother, Katrina Big Mountain. He has now taken over the role of Educator with the Troupe his mother founded.

“I grew up Educating about my culture and powwow culture, and I’ve always been someone who likes to break stereotypes and bring Authenticity to people who really don’t know what’s going on with Native American culture,” Oliver said. “You’d be surprised at how many people don’t really know a lot about Native American people.”

Seminole Tribe Elder Bobby Henry, known as the Rain Maker, was a special guest at the Chasco Fiesta Street Parade in 2019. He is credited with helping the festival become more inclusive beginning in the late 1990s.
Seminole Tribe Elder Bobby Henry, known as the Rain Maker, was a special guest at the Chasco Fiesta Street Parade in 2019. He is credited with helping the festival become more inclusive beginning in the late 1990s. [ M | Times (2019) ]

The Central Florida chapter of the American Indian Movement takes credit for the pressure it has put on the festival over the years to end some of its most offensive practices. It brings dozens of Protesters to the Parade every year to call out images it finds disrespectful.

“We put enough pressure on the Fiesta organizers to stop the Chasco Indian Pageant, a play depicting Native Americans as bloodthirsty Heathen Savages until the Christians came to their rescue,” the late Ruby Beaulieu, the head of the Pasco chapter of AIM, said in a report in 2011 when the group tried to get the Krewe of Chasco dropped from the Parade. “We were also successful in stopping the Junior League’s Offensive games of ‘Pin the Tail on the Indian’ or ‘Pickpocket (a drunken) Indian.’ Another game was ‘Search for Treasure,’ where children could dig in an Indian Burial mound. “

The Chasco Fiesta is rooted in a racist origin, AIM said in a recent news release in anticipation of the event.

“The Chasco Fiesta is akin to Pasco County having a ‘Sambo Festival’ or a ‘Frito Bandito Festival,'” AIM’s statement said. “It is time in the 21st century to leave these racist depictions of entire peoples in the past.”

Some of the Protesters in recent years have criticized the Native American groups who work with Chasco Fiesta as sellouts. But Oliver said being a part of the festival serves an important purpose.

“I think us being there, being a part of the festival, actually breaks that cycle,” Oliver said. “The people who show up get educated on a lot of these cultural appropriation things and breaking stereotypes. As long as I can be there to show that different side, I think what we do is very positive. ”

Aztec Fire Dances, such as this one shown in 2001, will return to the Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey.  The event has expanded its Native American Festival in the past two decades.
Aztec Fire Dances, such as this one shown in 2001, will return to the Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey. The event has expanded its Native American Festival in the past two decades. [ Times (2001) ]

The Krewe of Chasco in recent years has since changed its policy regarding Regalia during the festival’s street Parade. Instead of Native American headdresses, those on the float are encouraged to wear “Americana” -themed costumes depicting things such as Revolutionary War Soldiers, pioneer dress, the Roaring ’20s and the Old West. Only Legacy members of the krewe are still permitted to wear Native American Regalia.

Some entertainment from bygone eras, such as animals Performing in the Circus, have closed. Others, such as the Gasparilla Parade, which didn’t admit a Black member to its premier krewe until 1991, have evolved and embraced a diverse lineup.

Altman hopes the changes they’ve made to Chasco Fiesta put it in the latter camp.

“It’s been a good journey as we have made adjustments along the way,” Altman said. “We are getting better at representing the theme of the event, making it more authentic in its representation and with respect for the true native Floridians.”

If you go

Founded in 1922, the Chasco Fiesta is the oldest annual festival in Florida. It includes a Carnival, Native American Festival and nightly live entertainment. The festival is at Sims Park (5547 Main St., New Port Richey), which for the first time will be gated and charge a $ 5 admission for those over age 12. The exception will be Monday, when there will be free admission, and the event will expand its Native American Festival to include entertainment such as the Lowery Begay flute demonstration, Aztec Fire Dances and the one-woman play The Spirit of the River.

The Carnival has been moved this year to 5520 Grand Blvd. behind the Harry Schwettman Education Center. There is no admission charge, and a free shuttle will run continuously from the festival to the Carnival.

When: Opens Friday noon-10: 30 pm and runs daily through April 3.

Admission: $ 5 at the festival for ages 12 and older; reserved seating for April 2-3 concerts $ 20- $ 60 at rutheckerdhall.com. There is no admission charge for the Carnival. See chascofiesta.com for information.

Calendar Highlights

Friday: Festival opens. Christian music night.

Saturday: Street Parade 1-4 pm begins at Gulf Drive and Grand Boulevard.

Sunday: Car, Truck and Bike Show at 8 a.m. in downtown New Port Richey. Sertoma barbecue 11 am-6 pm

Monday: Free admission. Native American Festival and entertainment 4-10 pm

April 2: Boat Parade 1-3 pm Country concerts headlined by Chase Bryant and Drew Baldridge 6-10 pm

April 3: Night Ranger concert 6-10: 30 p.m.

Chasco Fiesta includes Carnival rides, parades, food and music.  It is the oldest and largest community event in New Port Richey.
Chasco Fiesta includes Carnival rides, parades, food and music. It is the oldest and largest community event in New Port Richey. [ Times (2012) ]

Leave a Comment