Children are seen enjoying a ride in a file photo taken during the 2012 Shiprock Fair.
Children are seen enjoying a ride in a file photo taken during the 2012 Shiprock Fair. (Daily Times file photo)

FARMINGTON — Shiprock Chapter members are laying the foundation to regain management of the annual fair by passing a series of resolutions this month.

For more than a century, people have gathered at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in the fall to celebrate the area's harvest season. The fair coincides with the Ye'ii Bi Chei, a nine day healing ceremony.

In recent years, different organizations have operated the Shiprock fair but it is currently managed by the Northern Navajo Nation Fair Board, which is composed of 19 members representing the chapters within the Northern Agency. It is governed by a plan of operation that was approved in August 2012 by the Resources and Development Committee.

Through the years various fair operators have been criticized for mismanaging the event's finances.

"We are of the position that the fair belongs to the Shiprock community. It is our intention to be the manager and operator again," chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said.

On Sunday, chapter members approved a resolution to change the use of the 33 acres of land that comprises the Shiprock fairgrounds.

In October 2003, the former Economic Development Committee approved withdrawing the land for commercial and economic development.

Yazzie explained that the chapter now wants to take steps to preserve that land solely for fair activities.

Chapter members passed a separate resolution to also authorize the withdrawal of 12 acres of land that has traditional housed the Ye'ii Bi Chei.

The resolution directs the chapter officials to submit appropriate documentation to secure the land withdrawal "for community development purposes including the continued conduct of the 9-day Blessing Way Ceremony as a part of the Shiprock Fair," the resolution states.

Both measures will be submitted to the Regional Business Development Office in Shiprock for review and then to the Division of Economic Development and the Resources and Development Committee, Yazzie said.

Northern Navajo Nation Fair Board chairperson Sophina Tyler and fair director Robert Felson Jr. could not be reached for comment late Monday.

On Feb. 3, chapter members voted 45 in favor and none opposed to have chapter officials establish a blue-ribbon panel to develop a plan of operation for its fair board and to hold a community election to seat those fair board members.

Yazzie said this process is under development but a group of chapter members did meet to discuss ways to select fair board members, including having interested individuals submit applications and resumes then having that information screened. But the ultimate goal, he said, is to have the community decide who serves on the board.

The move to return the Shiprock fair operation and management to the chapter is based on a resolution that chapter members passed in May 2013, which reaffirmed the chapter's position as principal stakeholder and owner of the fair.

According to that resolution, the community has been principal in organizing and staging the fair since its inception, and as a legal entity, the chapter has been a principal and recognized owner of the fair since 1955.

During a special meeting in February 1987, the chapter authorized the separation and incorporation of the Shiprock Fair Board and allowed it to operate independently.

That changed in March 1987 when the Advisory Committee of the Navajo Tribal Council determined that the Shiprock fair would be an entity of the Northern Navajo Agency Council.

The May 2013 resolution also asked the Northern Navajo Agency Council and the Resources and Development Committee to transfer possession of the Shiprock fair back to the chapter.

"Our need is to get our fair back, that's our position," Yazzie said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.