With new leadership came a better powwow at the Western Fair
By Diego James Robles
Special to the Times
TUBA CITY, October 25, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
W hen it comes to fair powwows, what a difference a year can make.
By all accounts the 44th annual Western Navajo Fair Powwow exceeded all expectations and surprised many by being a large and well-organized event.
Starting on Friday night, Oct. 19, and concluding hours past midnight the next night, the powwow demonstrated how good an often-overlooked powwow can be when the right people are in charge.
Many powwow goers were shocked to see a very large and elegant white tent where the powwow was supposed to be. The overwhelming majority was pleasantly surprised to learn that last year's shoddy arbor had been replaced and the new powwow boss was none other than the trusted Wanda Brown.
"This year we got a big 100 by 200 foot tent accommodating everything and everyone," said Brown, powwow coordinator. "We decided to go big and people seem to really like it."
In her first year coordinating the event, Brown credited her hard working staff for making her look good. She praised the Western Navajo Fair committee for putting their full support behind her and the powwow and event sponsor Pepsi for much of the infrastructure including the tent.
Well over a 100 dancers participated in Saturday afternoon's grand entry with a number of them attending the event for the first time. Many were curious to see for themselves if this often small and sometimes controversial powwow had improved under new management. The answer was a resounding yes.
Visiting for the first time, northern traditional dancer Earl Sherman of Twin Lakes, N.M., described the venue as something to be admired after a long powwow season full of less than optimal conditions. Normally in Phoenix this time of year, Sherman decided to give it a go and come with his whole family.
"The atmosphere here is so much better," Sherman said. "Other places are rocky and dusty and here the gate people are nice to us."
Sherman also liked the fact that security was present where most dancers camped-out preventing any late night parties like in previous fairs this year.
Something of a rarity on the Navajo Nation was the occurrence of another powwows in the same chapter on the same weekend.
While the fair powwow was underway, there was another smaller powwow taking place in the Tuba City High School approximately a mile away. Many dancers were perplexed by this anomaly and wondered how such a thing could happen.
For local grass dancer Bill Saganitso, deciding which powwow to attend was an easy choice. Although he lives slightly closer to the high school than the fairgrounds, Saganitso opted for the latter mainly due to price.
"Well, it's my hometown powwow and it's awesome that there are two," Saganitso said. "What I don't like about the Pavilion is the price because it's seven bucks and it's five bucks here so I'll celebrate here with my friends."
Traveling from Boise, Idaho to see family in Page, Ariz. Peggy McMahon, an Anglo, made it a point to come watch the powwow – something she had not seen in approximately 20 years.
"I like the tradition of powwows, all the colors and dancing," McMahon said. "Navajos are different than the Nez Perce, what we're used to, so it's something different."
It was difficult to walk under the tent by the early evening on Saturday. Miscommunication between the water truck tasked to spray the dusty powwow circle and powwow officials caused the circle to still be fairly wet and muddy by grand entry time.
Children could be seen from all sides playing with the mud and making small sand walls in a playful attempt to keep the water at bay.
"The water truck was supposed to water down during supper break but instead of doing it once, they did it twice right now, pushing grand entry for about an hour and a half," Brown said.
The night was long with many winner-take-all specials taking place.
Among them were women's fancy, men's northern traditional, teen and junior jingle and many more.
Taking advantage of the men's traditional special was Malcom Murphy, of Window Rock, who gave it his all while competing with many of his childhood friends.
"I think this has been a pretty good powwow that Wanda (Brown) put on because there are a lot of champion dancers and great drum groups," Murphy said. "I've been dancing with all these guys all my life but I did my own thing, I got some good moves in and told a story."
In the end, the powwow committee, especially Brown, received a loud applaud from the crowd and dancers. Many regulars left satisfied if not surprised by what a difference a year makes.
Brown was quick to deflect attention from herself and give high praise to those around her instead.
"I was asked and I accepted but it wasn't just me," Brown said. "I had a lot of help from the head staff, professional people like Kenny Donaghey, the PR staff and everybody else who contributed."