Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times
A contestant competes in the bull riding competition at the Shiprock Fair on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Augusta Liddic)
SHIPROCK — Good weather and large crowds graced the opening day of the 101st Northern Navajo Nation Fair, signs, perhaps, of a successful weekend to come. Fair organizers implemented a number of improvements to this year’s fair, and already are looking forward to working on next year’s. “The fair board is building a reputation,” said Russell Begaye, president of the fair board. “Last year was a challenge, but there’s more direct involvement with the fair itself now (from the board).” Attendance is up significantly from last year and the events are better organized, Begaye said. One fair staple in particular saw vast improvements: the rodeo. Begaye and other board members enlisted the services of Wilbert Ben Lee after observing his management style at a rodeo near Bluff, Utah. Lee’s reputation as an effective rodeo manager has attracted many riders who normally do not choose to compete at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair, such as Ryan Nez, a nationally ranked rider from Shiprock, Begaye said. The rodeo, however, attracted a number of first time riders, such as Jawaun Henderson, 14, of Newcomb. He stood in the swirling dust as his chaps billowed in the stiff breeze. His eyes brimmed with excitement after finishing his first attempt at competitive bull riding on Thursday. His older sister Lita, 22, snapped some photos.
“Every year’s different, but this year’s special because my little brother is ready to ride,” she said. The fair’s interim director Harry Descheene said he expects Saturday to be the busiest day. The numerous exhibits, pow wow and indian market are all expected to draw large crowds this weekend. The fair’s cornerstone, however, is the Yeii Bi Cheii. The nine day ceremony is the fair’s foundation, and the reason why thousands gather in Shiprock each fall. “We’re concentrating, this year, on doing events that are traditional and doing them well,” said Manuelito Wheeler, a coordinator with the fair board. A top priority is ensuring that clean fairgrounds are maintained and that there are enough rest room facilities, Wheeler said. For many fair attendees, the 101st fair offered something more than entertainment: an invaluable connection to Navajo culture and history. Smoke billowed from the fire pits where contestants in the Miss Northern Navajo contest were making fry bread. Terilynn Bellison of Montezuma Creek chopped wood, made dough and lit a fire in spite of the dust filled gusts that raced across the fairgrounds. “It was only my second time lighting a fire,” she said laughing. “I never thought of cooking as competing. I’m just really happy that I know this stuff.”