Lake Powell park celebrates 50 years

By Krista Allen
Special to the Times

LECHEE, Ariz., May 24, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Krista Allen)

Throughout the 50th anniversary celebration May 4 for Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, 8th graders from Kaibeto Boarding School danced with members of the audience.

H undreds of people gathered May 4 near Lower Antelope Canyon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park.

"We wanted the community members to be present as well as any tourists for the day," said Geri Hongeva, with the Navajo Nation's Parks and Recreation Department.

Three enormous white tents were set up that were mistaken as revival tents by passers-by driving on U.S. Highway 98.

"My cousin called me to ask if I was hosting a revival," park manager Effie Yazzie said as she joked about welcoming guests who assumed a revival was taking place.

In fact, the site is the location for a future visitor center.

With perfect weather and KXAZ radio from Page broadcasting the event, Lionel Bigthumb, the master photographer from Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tour, is taking pictures. Dewayne Johnson, the master of ceremonies, looks over an agenda.

A tattered 1920 diyogí provided by the Navajo Nation Museum hangs on the south side the tent where VIPs sat. Its estimated cost is $75,000, yet the weaver is unknown.

"The park was made 50 years ago," said Parks and Recreation Department Manager Martin L. Begaye. "Since then we've been maintaining it to what it is today."

The park and the system it oversees have come a long way since 1962. The Advisory Committee of the Navajo Tribal Council voted to approve a resolution on March 27, 1962, to establish the park. But the park has only been in operation for 15 years.

"It will be 16 years in July," Yazzie said.

The park was established to preserve and develop this part of the reservation spanning over 2.2 million acres, she said.

President Ben Shelly said food wasn't costly 50 years ago when his grandparents lived in the area. A carton of eggs was only 32 cents, he said.

Pearl Begay said not a single white man was around before the 1950s when she was a child living with her family in the area before the park was created.

"During that time, no one was living here, there was no one here," recalled Pearl Begay, who is Tsi'naajinii (Black Streaked Wood Clan) and born for Naasht'ézhí Tábaahá (Zuni Edge Water Clan). "We used horses and wagons for transportation.

"Our livestock grazed the Antelope plateaus," she continued. "And we didn't need to haul water because it rained a lot."

She said the then-chairman didn't inform her family about the proposal for the Navajo Generating Station during the 1970s.

"Land was approved for them," Begay said. "We didn't know about it."

Today her home isn't equipped with electricity and running water.

"We're thirsty," she said. "We live right under the power line, but we don't have it."

Meanwhile entering Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral for other Diné. However the canyon can be a death trap too.

In August 1997 a flash flood after a thunderstorm sent an 11-foot wall of water charging through the slot canyon where it engulfed 11 tourist hikers. One person survived.

Today the slot canyon remains one of the most visited canyons in the Southwest, even rivaling the Grand Canyon.

"We're blessed with a beautiful scenery," said LeChee Chapter President Irene Nez Whitekiller. "All we had to do was step in and make a development."

With nine tour operations inside the canyon, 80 to 85 percent of visitors come from around the globe. According to information provided by the park, people from Germany, France and Italy are the most frequent visitors.

"We need to make Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon a park that's known through the media and tourism attractions," Council Delegate Duane Tsingine said. "I'd like to see advertisements - come visit Navajo land, come visit Page-Lake Powell."

At noon Kis-Aani Catering from Tuba City served barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, dinner rolls, and a slice of pie.

Throughout the day the LeChee Preschool, Navajo traditional singer Davis Mitchell, the Page High UNITY Club, the Tódí Neesh Zhee Singers, and Joe Tohonnie Jr. and his Apache Crown Dancers performed.

An estimated 500 people attended the event based on how much food was served, said Hongeva.

"It definitely was a successful event," she said. "We are fortunate that the majority of the tour operators were generous sponsors for this event. They were involved from the beginning stages of planning and as the event day approached they were all eagerly present."

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