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Food, parades, controversy

The Chasco Fiesta is expected to draw more than 100,000 to its barbecues, parades and children's events. But some American Indians are not happy with how they are depicted.

The 79th annual edition of the popular Chasco Fiesta starts Thursday in downtown New Port Richey amid criticism from the American Indian Movement about the festival's depiction of the Florida native populations the event ostensibly honors.

The festival, which continues until April 1, is expected to draw more than 100,000 people to eat, watch, buy or participate in barbecues, pancake breakfasts, carnival rides, a huge parade, a boat parade, a bicycle tour, fun runs (and walks), an arts and crafts fair, a softball tournament, a golf tournament, a stamp show, a gala ball where Queen Chasco and King Pithla will be crowned, and an Indian village for children.

AIM members have complained that the Chasco participants who dress up as Indians and dance around present an image that is "stereotypical and racist." But promoters said the Chasco Fiesta has improved its portrayal of American Indians in recent years and continues to seek the input of American Indians to improve the authenticity of the event.

The event officially starts at 5 p.m. Thursday when the Native American Festival, featuring various tribes from around the country, kicks off in Sims Park. Also at that time, the West Pasco Sertoma Club starts serving its barbecued beef and the Chasco Carnival pushes the levers to start the rides.

The Native American Festival will be open until 10 p.m. Thursday and continues 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 23, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 24 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 25. The Sertomans will serve barbecue until 10 p.m. Thursday, then again from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 23 and 24 and noon to 4 p.m. March 25.

The carnival midway around Orange Lake will be open throughout Chasco; hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. A special $12 wristband will allow unlimited rides March 26 through 29.

Also on Thursday is the Junior Service League Indian Pageant at 7:30 p.m. in Sims Park. Admission is free.

Starting March 23, Chasco will have daily entertainment on the amphitheater stage in Sims Park, each show with a different theme:

March 23: Variety night (5:30 to 10:45 p.m.)

March 24: Rock 'n' roll in the park (5-11 p.m.

March 25: Catch a Rising Star variety show (2-7:45 p.m.)

March 26: Bluegrass (6-10 p.m.)

March 27: Radio Disney's Magical Night of Entertainment (6-9 p.m.)

March 28: Broadway review, featuring Just Us Girls (starts at 5:45 p.m.)

March 29: Rhythm & Bluesmasters, featuring Indigenous, a Sioux blues group (6-11 p.m.)

March 30: Contemporary Christian family night (6-11 p.m.)

March 31: Country concert, with headliner Collin Raye (starts at 7 p.m.) Cost is $20 general admission, $30 Golden Square premium seating. Call (727) 842-7651 or purchase at People's Bank or West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

April 1: Henry Fletcher Orchestra (2-4 p.m.)

Among the largest events are the Holiday Rotary Club Chasco Street parade at 1 p.m. March 24; the Port Richey Rotary Club River Raft Race at 1 p.m. March 25; and the New Port Richey Rotary Club Boat Parade at 1:30 p.m. March 31.

A new event this year is the American Diabetes Association's Kiss-A-Pig Contest. The person who raises the most money for the association will get to kiss a real, live pig provided by Old McMicky's Farm.

Why kiss a pig?

"The pig is where (researchers) found the insulin diabetics need," said Jeff Kivler, husband of Marylou Kivler, who is trying to raise a mile's length of dimes in order to be the winner. "They have Kiss-A-Pig contests to honor the pig. There will also be little piglets for kids to touch and pet." The winner will be announced on March 24.

Chasco Fiesta is the main fundraiser for many of the 30 not-for-profit organizations that participate in the celebration.