‘True’ cowboy Karlets Dennison memorial rodeo set for July Fourth
Karlets Dennison died of COVID-19 last January.
Now, family and friends plan to honor him by hosting a “Breakaway Challenge” as a memorial to him at the Dean C. Jackson Area in Window Rock on July Fourth.
The event will be hosted by the Navajo Nation Agriculture Expo and helped by the Karlets Dennison Foundation Athletic Scholarship and family members like his daughter Devyn Dennison.
“We really didn’t get a chance to have any services for him when he passed because of COVID,” Devyn said. “So it’s a pretty big deal. As far as you know, getting him recognized and giving him that celebration, we’re just trying to give back.”
The Breakaway Challenge will be an all-day event with two go-rounds, which will include a $10,000 added purse provided by the expo. But ultimately, Dennison’s family hopes this will bring people together to celebrate the late mentor, father, and grandfather who loved riding, roping, and cattle ranching.
Rodeo coach, family man
Karlets was a collegiate rodeo coach for 21 years at Diné College, an Indian National Finals Rodeo-All Around, and a senior team-roping champion. He was the first Diné coach to send his all-Navajo team to the Grand Canyon Region Championship.
As a student, he represented Navajo at the college’s first College National Finals Rodeo.
“There’s just so much history behind him, what he did for the community and what he’s done for generations of rodeo competitors, not just in the arena, not just as a coach, but as a friend and mentor,” Devyn said.
“And mostly for myself and my dad, he was such a good guy. And I really miss him,” she said. “This is the least that I could do: this breakaway roping and this memorial and help raise money to donate to the Karlets Dennison Foundation to provide another scholarship or two. Hopefully, it’ll grow, and we’ll have more breakaway events and rodeos.”
For all his honors, his daughter Devyn described him as a kind and loving man, first and foremost. He helped his students get scholarships whenever possible and shared his passion for roping and riding. He had passed this same love to Devyn and her sister Kassidy and brother Kyle Dennison.
Devyn said the family was unable to hold a proper memorial service for him, so in a way, they hope the breakaway challenge, an event that he became fond of, would be the appropriate sendoff he deserves.
They also hope this will become a yearly event if it gains enough support.
Helping young Diné rodeo athletes
After his passing, family and friends set up the Karlets Dennison Foundation Athletic Scholarship organization, dedicated to helping young native rodeo athletes. They presented their first scholarship award at the 2021 Indian Nationals Finals Rodeo.
The family had reached out to Department of Agriculture Manager Leo Watchman Jr. to see if they could host an event at the Dean C. Jackson arena. However, the pandemic hampered those efforts; it wouldn’t be until this year that rodeos slowly returned to the Nation that the memorial event would be held.
“Many of his close friends were eager to step up and donate and help organize this event,” Devyn said. “I think everyone was really honored to lend a hand as my dad Karl did. He lent a hand to a lot of people every day of his life. He was a true definition of a Native American Cowboy and the cowboy way of life. ”
Karlets supported breakaway roping, especially as it gained more traction in recent years. His daughter hopes this will help grow the roping event.
They also want to allow local cowgirls to compete again and show their talent. After two years of the pandemic, rodeos will again be held in the Nation while strict COVID-19 precautions will be in place.
With many rodeos taking place off the Nation, local rodeo athletes couldn’t travel and compete; having rodeos on Navajo should be a welcoming change.
At the time of writing, 54 entries are currently signed up, with sign-ups closing on Wednesday; Devyn hopes to get an even 80 for the challenge.
“My dad lost his life to Covid, and I know a lot of people lost loved ones to Covid, and so we’re just really happy to be able to have a memorial for that type of hurt,” she said. “There’s been a lot of hurts. There’s been a lot of pain in the past two years for our rez, our Nation, and our Indigenous communities.
“I’m just grateful for us, as a tribe, to be able to do something this vast, and I hope everyone can come out and, again, it’s a memorial for my dad,” she added, “but if anybody has lost their loved one to Covid or has suffered from that type of loss, then come out, and we’re going to try to get back to being cowboys and cowgirls again. In our Native American roots.”