Western Navajo Parade gets political

By Anne Griffis
Special to the Times

Tónaneesdizí, Oct. 24, 2013

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SLIDESHOW: Scenes from the fair. Photos by Krista Allen - Navajo Times.

Six-week-old Kallan is dozing in the sunshine, but his mother, Charlie Akee of Page, Ariz., is confident her son will pick up on the positive theme of the 45th annual Western Navajo Parade: "Educating Future Leaders."


"Because he's Navajo!" smiles Akee. "He'll be a leader."


Giant tent protects powwow dancers from cold

A child's first teachers are his parents and family members, and it's never too early to begin his education, according to registered nurses Sarah Barela, Rantreva Peaches, and Mildred Garcia from the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation Nursing Division's obstetrical unit. The busy unit averages 50 births per month, yet the nurses laughingly encourage parade-goers to, "Bring all the pregnant women to us! Support OB: Make love!"

"Not here and now," quips parade emcee, DJ Mike Sixkiller.

Grand Marshal Joachim Chino, chief of surgery at TCRHCC, who is Navajo and Acoma, shyly waves from his float. Chino, from Chinle, exemplifies the possibilities for children who begin life and pursue their dreams here on the Navajo Nation. Co-marshal Thomas Drouhard of TCRHCC, an outspoken opponent of street drugs, reminds parade-goers that success is more than a matter of knowing what you want in life; it's choosing the right path.

Among 90 entries in the float competition, Head Start states the theme in the words of Dr. Seuss: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself. Any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide. Where to go ... "
The float of Council delegate Russell Begaye (Shiprock), from which candy fell like rain showers, promoted, "Intelligent Leaders for a New Navajo Nation."

By "intelligent" leadership, Begaye refers to the current 24-person Council, most of whom, he says, are college-educated and willing to debate and address issues, ask lots of questions, work together, make decisions and take actions that are transparent.

Key to becoming a leader is to know who you are and where you come from, according to newly crowned Miss Western Navajo Jessica Hazel Dodson.

"Learn the Navajo language, teachings, and way of life," urges Dodson. "It's how we heal our loved ones."

Miss Navajo Teen, Krishel Augustine of Ramah, N.M., agrees: "To become a leader, learn your language and culture."

Floating activism

On a serious note, a spokeswoman for the environmental and social justice organization Forgotten People, passionately urged everyone to become educated about the Navajo language and culture.

"Remember who you are! It's your responsibility as a holy people," she said. This float was papered with hand-lettered signs protesting the current Shelly administration's decisions on water, land, and resource management at the Confluence and throughout the Navajo Nation, and urging parade-goers to take action on the chapter level.

"Our land is not for sale; our future is not for sale. Restore hozho," the Chicagoan activist said.

Equally political, yet much more elegant than Forgotten People, the parade entry for Havasu 'Baaja -- People of the Blue-Green Water -- includes basket dancers in silken blue dresses celebrating the harvest and abundance.

"Stop uranium mining in the Grand Canyon," states a sign on behalf of the Havasu Baaja tribe.

"We are asking for support from the Navajo Nation and its people to stop uranium mining in the Grand Canyon," said Carletti Tilousi, elderly program coordinator. How?

"Educate yourselves about water contamination," Tilousi said. "Secondly, become independent about power: Go solar."

"I hear those people," said Navajo Nation presidential candidate Kenneth Maryboy acknowledging the environmentalist protesters. "We really need to focus on economic development. The Navajo Nation receives one billion dollars in federal funding; 80 percent goes to the administration in Window Rock and only 20 percent goes to the chapters. The money needs to get back to the chapters to support local entrepreneurs."

Where's the candy?

The environmentalists challenged parade-goers to become aware of political issues that affect their lives; however, they're not flinging candy, which dampens the mood on the street.

DJ Mike Sixkiller restores the festive mood by talking to a bipedal tree that is part of the A&M Clayshooters float, promoting, "Ethical, Responsible Sportsmanship." Not the least bit scary-sounding, the tree is, in actuality, a young hunter dressed in full "gilly suit," a type of camouflage.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) receives cheers for making a promise to seek funding for a Veterans Affairs nursing home on the Navajo reservation (see related story).

"Right now, veterans in need of medical care go to Phoenix or Tucson, apart from their families. Being surrounded by family members is important to their healing, so let's bring the veterans home to the Navajo Nation," she said.

Again, Sixkiller restores the parade mood by interviewing newly crowned Little Miss Western Navajo Princess, ages 3-5 division, Auraiya Granger.

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