A Place of Joy - Navajo Nation Fair

Julien McRoberts

2016 - Ongoing

A forgotten corner of the US.

In America, one rarely hears stories or knows much about our indigenous neighbors. It's almost like the government wants to keep it that way existing in the margins. Living in New Mexico for many years I was most fortunate and honored to get know many in the Native community and shoot on the local pueblos and Navajo Nation. Beautiful land, beautiful souls.

I have found my “happy place” and it is a happy place indeed…. A place where constant laughter is in the air, people smiling - engaged with each other and where warm “Hellos’ and Ya’at eeh’s were exchanged. This is Navajo Nation and their biggest celebration of the year – Navajo Nation Fair.

It feels much like any state fair one might visit except one that is far more colorful, cultural and interesting. The path I was on led me to the agricultural section where red, white and blue ribbons were being placed upon traditional Native produce. More ribbons were being handed out next-door where children were getting their prized sheep and pigs ready to show for the 4H competition. Parents were wearing proud smiles as their children paraded their livestock around the arena hoping for a buyer or a coveted ribbon.

The most unique part was capturing the Miss Navajo Nation Beauty pageant. This is a beauty pageant like none other. It is based on INNER beauty, knowledge of traditional skills such as butchery, weaving, the Navajo the Dine language and much more. These girls are very dedicated and give up a great deal over the course of 12 months. Sadly, each year there seems to be less and less participants entering this rigorous contest. It is a tradition that is quickly vanishing.

Across the vast fair-grounds you could hear the beating of drums. This led me to a Pow Wow filled with people dancing in their finest regalia. Temperatures climbed up to 100 degrees and yet it did not deter the dancers (many wearing traditional velvets and heavy clothing head to toe). The dances went on and on, it was simply mesmerizing and beautiful to see the children and elders all participating together, keeping a tradition alive.

My last day was Saturday morning, the day of the big parade. I was up at the crack of dawn to secure a coveted parking spot before the roads closed. Thousands of families and pets lined the main street to watch floats pass by while children raced to scoop up candy that was tossed into the audience. Stalls along the roads filled the air with the smell of fry bread and mutton stew. With these crowds, you were there for the duration till the end of the evening and that was fine by me.

The fair is held annually on the Navajo Nation Reservation located in Window Rock, Arizona. This is the largest land area retained by an indigenous tribe in the United States, with a population of roughly 350k. The territory covers three states and over 17,544,500 acres.

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