It is fair Season on the Navajo Nation! This week was the Central Agency Fair in Chinle, Arizona, the gateway community of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Not too far from the park at Gorman’s Arena the carnival illuminated the night with an array of dazzling colors. Pop songs blasted by carnival rides mixed together with the bull riding commentary of MCs from the nearby rodeo, and just next to them the beat of the pow wow drum called to dancers. Across town the engines of mud bogging vehicles roared to life, followed by the exuberant cry from another MC of “3.27 seconds!” Even at the main light in town, cars and trucks crowded the corner, eager to see the deals at Navajo Arts and Crafts Central Fair sale. There was more of everything in town this week. More people, more traffic, more excitement. And it just so happened to coincide with the National Park Service’s 100th Birthday (for better or worse).
The week began Tuesday with Youth Day, where Ranger Henry and I spent the morning quizzing young kids about Canyon de Chelly and passing out stickers, magnets, postcards, and posters. Next was the big Centennial Celebration on Thursday, which the park celebrated by partnering with Chinle Chapter House to host a free Tourism Conference during the day, followed by evening entertainment and of course cake! A variety of Native American performers volunteered that night to help us celebrate the park service’s birthday. The Mountain Valley Singers (above) had us bopping our heads to Navajo social songs, two young girls (both residents of the canyon) made us giggle with their round dance song of “Facebook Drama,” and a young man (below) later calmed us with his flute performance. Before birthday cake was served, former Park Ranger William Yazzie Sr. even sang Happy Birthday to the National Park Service in Navajo (if you’re interested you can watch a clip of his performance on the Canyon de Chelly Facebook page). All together it was a relaxing evening honoring 100 years of the National Park Service, as well as the cultural richness of the Diné/Navajo people.
However the centennial celebration Thursday was not the climax of this week. No, we are going BIG this year! Canyon de Chelly is continuing to commemorate the NPS Centennial by participating in all major fairs on the Navajo Nation, starting with our hometown fair in Chinle this week. And that means parade time! Returning home Friday afternoon after a busy day at the park preparing our float, I drove by enthusiastic locals already parked on the side of the road and pitching tents trying to save front row seats to the parade. They made me excited for Saturday morning, as I bustled around at home trying to decide if I should wear moccasins or wear my hair in a Tsiyeeł (traditional Navajo bun). I also made sure to pack a camera and Volunteer Service Agreement Forms (wink).
Early the next morning, dressed in my SCA collared shirt, blue cowboy boots, with my hair tied in a tsiyeeł (courtesy of my grandmother), I was dropped off by my uncle only a half mile away from our house at the start of the parade. Together with Canyon de Chelly rangers and our student volunteers, we speedily assembled our float , only to realize we had nothing to do as we waited over an hour for the 22 parade entries before us to start. Luckily we were parked next to parade entry 48, Diné College, who happily entertained us by blasting popular hip-hop songs.
Our Canyon de Chelly group was four vehicles long, led by Law Enforcement Ranger Yazzie in his Dodge Truck and flashing lights, followed by the Interpretation department’s mini Polaris complete with oversized ranger hat. Next came the park float pulled by our Maintenance Ranger (another Yazzie), who was then trailed by Natural Resource’s Fire Engine 668. Intermingled around them were the rest of us on foot—two Interpretation Rangers, a WNPA Representative, four student volunteers, myself, and two additional volunteers on horseback. Those of us on foot were like bustling bees, running around handing out park brochures and postcards to adults, being surrounded by children impatient to get magnets and rulers, and carrying trash bags for spectators to dispose of litter. There was little time to think as we handed out goodies, hugged friends and family in the crowd, and tried not to get left behind the float.
Once the parade was over, we quickly packed up and headed back to the park, although a few of us returned to the parade route in the afternoon to pick up some of the trash left behind. All in all it was a whirlwind of a day. And to think we will do it another five times! Our next fair is the largest, most hectic fair of all on the Navajo Reservation—the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona. So wish Canyon de Chelly some luck on lasting this fair season! Hopefully we will continue to have many more volunteers to help us make the most of all the upcoming fairs. I, for one, certainly don’t know how the two rangers and I walking the parade route could have possible handled everything on our own. So I thank the volunteers for sharing our load, and making sure we survived the swarms of cute, but at times overly zealous children (and adults).