“Growing up on the reservation and living a couple hundred yards away from the fair grounds, I remember waking up with the sun to prepare my show lamb. I remember days before the parade on Saturday we would park our vehicle to “claim” our spot. Laying down lawn chairs and Pendleton blankets, others would have to camp in the freezing night, on dusty sidewalks, or behind pick-up trucks. At night you could hear a mixture of the rodeo announcer, and the pow-wow drum from my house. It is one weekend many Navajos look forward to, some even more so than Christmas. If given a choice between Christmas and the Fair, I’m sure your farthest living relative would choose to travel back for the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock. I would.”
- UC Berkeley Native American Studies Librarian Melissa Stoner
The 29th of September signals the start of one of the oldest and most anticipated traditional events on the Navajo Nation, the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Started 105 years ago by the Northern Navajo Nation Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the fair began as a harvest celebration. It has grown well beyond its simple beginnings, and now brings in crowds in excess of 50,000 from around the Four Corners and all over the country, engulfing the normal population of just over 8,000.
The four-day fair schedule showcases what makes the area so unique; from the crowning of this year’s Miss Northern Navajo, the tarp and plywood restaurants with a mix of traditional and contemporary foods, powwows, rodeos, an Indian arts and crafts market, and the occasional Yeti sighting. The biggest draws are the Ye’ii Bi’ Chei ceremony, a nine day sacred healing ritual held on the edge of the fairgrounds, and the legendary Saturday morning parade.
Running for several miles through the heart of Shiprock, the parade is a marathon affair. With more than 400 entries, it lasts over four hours. For several day prior to the parade, people stake out the best viewing spots with pickup trucks, caution ribbon, and tents.
On the morning of the parade, Shiprock is covered in a sea of people even before the sun comes up and the atmosphere is absolutely joyous as the first banners comes down the highway leading a seemingly endless procession of floats, politicians, bands, royalty, and endless showers of candy.
This year’s theme is “Restoring Beauty to the Navajo Nation through Traditional Teachings and Blessings” and the fair runs from September 29th through October 2nd.
If you go:
105th Northern Navajo Fair
101 Uranium Boulevard
Shiprock, New Mexico