Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Northern Fair organizers say safety No. 1 priority



Navajo Times | Rima Krisst
A view of Tsé Bit’a’í from the north side.

After a two-year hiatus, the Northern Navajo Fair has come back to life, marking the transition to fall and the return of the beloved nine-day yé’ii bi cheii ceremony that culminates this weekend.

Those heading to the fair today can catch the popular Elder Fest and Youth Day events, the opening of the Indian Market and City of Fun Carnival, and much more (see schedule below).

Considered to be the Nation’s oldest and most traditional Navajo fair gathering, the theme for this year’s 109th Northern fair is “Diné History, Harvest and Healing,” reflecting on the past and bringing hope for the future.

“The history part of it is the long history of the fair; the harvest is what we used to have the fair for, to display local crops from local growers,” Deputy Fair Director Herbert Clah told Navajo Times. “And then, because of the COVD finally starting to let up a little bit, that is the healing part of it.”

COVID-19 protocols

However, attendees should expect that strict COVID-19 protocols will still be in place to protect fairgoers, said Clah.

“We’re trying to run the fair like it used to be, but it’s going to be a little different because of the precautions and everything else that’s required,” he said.

The Northern Fair draws vast crowds and can bring tens of thousands of people into Shiprock for all the weekend festivities.

“We had to write a safety plan to say how we would work with the large number of people, the events, the food booths, and how we would deal with the COVID issue,” Clah said.

This year, the Navajo Nation Office of Environmental Health requires everyone to wear masks and keep indoor areas at 75% capacity, said Clah.

“They want signs posted everywhere saying that we want people to be safe and be aware that they are exposing themselves to a large crowd that could possibly result in coming in contact with COVID,” he said.

Clah said Community Health Representatives would also be present at the fair to reinforce COVID-19 safety.

“They will have tents with temperature taking, sanitizer, and masks available,” Clah said.

The No. 1 objective is to keep everyone safe, said Clah.

‘We’re excited’

All the fair events are back, except for the livestock competitions, because 4-H declined to participate this year.

“The rodeo is happening; the parade is happening, the powwow, the song, and dance, the elder fest, the youth day,” Clah said. “We have the Indian Market going, the horticulture, and the arts and crafts in the exhibit hall.”

The Saturday morning parade alone is historically known to bring thousands of spectators and participants, with dozens of elaborate floats representing schools, businesses, government organizations, political candidates, performers, and royalty.

“We just really have to try and inform people of the COVID precautions and things they need to do,” Clah said. “We have a whole group of volunteer coordinators who are running the events, and they’re aware of the protocols in place and all the requirements.”

Indian Market coordinator James Iron-Moccasin said many people are excited about the market return on Thursday because it’s part of the fair tradition and people “really love to shop” during the fair.

“It just generates really good energy knowing that this is here, so it feels good to be part of the celebration,” Iron-Moccasin said.

He said OEH COVID-19 safety standards are being followed for all the vendor booths this year.

The booth price for Indian Market vendors is $200 a day and $800 for four days for food vendors.

With 170 Indian Market vendor spaces, Iron-Moccasin said booths are still available through the weekend.

“If someone wants to come in and set up, they can pay when they show up,” he said.

Thanks to sponsoring Northern Edge Casino, this year there is a new fence around the Indian Market, which is about the size of a football field, to help control traffic flow and keep everyone safe, said Iron-Moccasin.

“We’re excited; we welcome everybody,” he said. “We just hope they have a safe and fun time.”

Speaking of fun, there will be a free barbeque, sponsored by Arizona Public Service, open to the public on Thursday, from 4-6 p.m., said Clah.

Then the traditional cultural night performances and dances will take place on Thursday.

There will also be plenty of contemporary music and entertainment at the rodeo arena on Friday and Saturday night, provided chiefly by local groups, said Clah.

The only thing that’s not going to happen is a large-scale music concert for COVID-19 safety reasons, said Clah.

After eager contestants participated in traditional and contemporary competition events this week, the coronation for the Miss Northern Navajo Queen and Miss Northern Navajo Teen royalty will be held Friday at 5 p.m. at the Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center.

Oldest fair ceremonial

Clah said the 109th annual yé’ii bi cheii ceremony, which started on Sept. 23, represents the longest-lasting ceremonial event held at a tribal event.

Medicine man Phillip Begay from Ganado, Arizona, is leading the ceremony this year with Larry Joe as the event coordinator.

Clah and Joe both said the significant improvement on the ceremonial grounds is a new steel metal building was constructed to be the cook house for the yé’ii bi cheii next to the ceremonial hogan.

This comes after the last cook shed was burned down to the ground by vagrants, said Clah.

“The Board of Directors have been very involved,” Clah said. “Some of them have gone out and gotten sponsors to help us. They’re thrilled about the new yé’ii bi cheii cook house, and they’re excited about the whole fair taking place.”

Joe said that after two years of “no fair,” everyone is excited for the return of the yé’ii bi cheii ceremony, which was approved in late July.

“Usually, there’s a lot of planning and preparing, especially for the patient,” he said. “We have to help them out a lot.”

He said they’ve also been collecting firewood and ensuring they have enough sheep to feed participants.

Their fair expects about 30-40 dance groups to come in on Friday night and need about 50-60 sheep to carry them through the weekend, said Joe.

The one thing that will be different this year is that the total number of people allowed in the ceremonial hogan will be 12 because of COVID precautions, said Joe.

“Mainly, the people in there are just the patient, the medicine man, and helpers,” he said.

Joe said they usually expect a few thousand spectators at the yé’ii bi cheii through the weekend, and this year should be no different.

“I figure there’s going to be a lot of people because they missed two years,” he said.

For the public, food vendors will be at the yé’ii bi cheii grounds again, and the area will be lit with security lighting.

Joe recommends that attendees dress to stay warm and bring chairs to relax and enjoy the event.


Thursday, Sept. 29:

8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Youth Day

8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Exhibit Hall/Horticulture Expo

9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Elder Fest

10 a.m. Indian Market opens

10 a.m. – 11 p.m. City of Fun Carnival

11 a.m. Miss Northern Navajo/Miss Northern Teen traditional skills and talent competition (Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center)

4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Arizona Public Service (Free BBQ)

5 p.m. – Rodeo Bull-riding Opening Extravaganza

9 p.m. Cultural night performers at the rodeo arena, including Krishel Augustine, Talibah Begay/Shar Redhorse, Zuni Pueblo Dancers, Joe Tohonnie, Jr., and the Apache Crown Dancers

Friday, Sept. 30:

7 a.m. Trail Ride to Yé’ii Bi Cheii

8 a.m.-7 p.m. Exhibit Hall/Horticulture Expo

9 a.m. Youth Day Junior Rodeo

10 a.m. Indian Market opens

3-11 p.m. City of Fun Carnival

5 p.m. Song and Dance (warm-up)

5 p.m. Miss Northern Navajo/Miss Northern Teen 2022-2023 Coronation (Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center)

5 p.m. Pow Wow Gourd Dance

6 p.m. Rodeo Slack/Hybrid performance

7 p.m. Powwow Grand Entry

9 p.m. Entertainment with Diné Boyz and the Lightning Rock Country Band

10 p.m. Ongoing Yé’ii Bi Cheii

Saturday, Oct. 1:

5 a.m. Parade Line-up East 7-2-11

8 a.m. Parade begins

10 a.m. – 11 p.m. City of Fun Carnival

10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Song and Dance

10 a.m. Indian Market opens

11 a.m. Powwow Gourd Dance

1 p.m. AIRCA Rodeo Wild Horse Race

1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Powwow Grand Entry

7 p.m. AIRCA Rodeo Wild West Saturday Night

9 p.m. Entertainment by Tony Knight

10 p.m.-6 a.m. Yé’ii Bi Cheii

Sunday, Oct. 2:

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Exhibit Hall/Horticulture pickup

9 a.m. Song and Dance roll call

10 a.m. Indian Market opens

Noon-10 p.m. City of Fun Carnival

1 p.m. Rodeo Champion Day, Wild Horse Race

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About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst reported for the Navajo Times from July 2018 to October 2022. She covered Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats.Before joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.


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