SHIPROCK — Much-needed songs of music and laughter filled the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center during the For the People: Assayii Lake Wildfire Relief Benefit Concert on Thursday evening.

A mixture of music, comedy and spoken word brought smiles to the crowd, replacing — at least temporarily — some of the worry and concern expressed since the Assayii Lake Fire started on June 13 in the Ch'ooshgai Mountains on the Navajo Nation.

The fire has burned 13,450 acres and was about 20 percent contained as of 9 p.m. on Thursday, said Donna Storch, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 3.

HOW TO HELP

The Navajo Nation Emergency Operation Center is asking for the public to pause donations for those affected by the Assayii Lake Fire.

Donations centers have received an influx of items, according to a press release from the Navajo Department of Emergency Management.

Items are currently being sent to a temporary distribution center at the Fort Defiance Chapter in Arizona to be inspected and organized.

The press release notes donations of food, water and personal hygiene packages have been distributed to people in the affected community.

Monetary donations can still be made to the Navajo United Way.

Throughout Thursday, the fire's behavior was “fairly minimal,” Storch said. Light winds made it possible for helicopters and planes to drop water and fire retardant on the blaze, according to an evening update from the incident management team. As the fire migrated east, the vegetation changed from ponderosa pine and piñon juniper to sage and grass, which helped slow its growth.

On its northern, eastern and western edges, the fire is smoldering, and crews on Thursday removed vegetation with axes, shovels and chainsaws, quashing hot spots up to 66 feet inside the blaze's boundaries. Firefighters removed vegetation by hand and bulldozers on the fire's southern end.

About 50 structures still are threatened, and five have been destroyed. A press release from the Navajo Department of Emergency Management seeks to clarify that no livestock, pets or animals have been hurt in the fire.

The idea for the concert in Shiprock stemmed from similar events held last year in response to massive flooding on the Navajo Nation, said Brandon Benallie, one of the benefit's organizers.

“The reason why we do these is that we are about community empowerment,” Benallie said.

Rather than paying for admission, attendees were asked to donate food or other supplies, which will be given to Naschitti Chapter.

As the concert began, the front lobby of the performing arts center teamed with canned food, cases of bottled water, household items, bags of potatoes and flour, and dry food for dogs and cats.

After taking a look at the donations, Benallie said, “It makes me happy. It fills me with such pride and joy.”

Miss Northern Navajo Nation Megan Badonie kicked off the event by sharing her experience of volunteering at Naschitti Chapter and the heartache she felt at seeing the Ch'ooshgai Mountains on fire.

“It's our mountain that's being affected, so hopefully this song will help it heal,” Badonie said before launching into a song in the Navajo language.

Tundra Tigers, a two-man group from Shiprock, followed with a vocal and acoustic guitar performance.

Laughter was provided by the comedy troupe Chieftain Comedy, which performed skits on the Navajo style of delivering the news and a faux tribal presidential debate — featuring two candidates named “Rufus Benally” and “Linda Lovehurts” — in which the mediator asked candidates about the stray dog population, developing a green economy, casinos and Bigfoot.

Ken Frazier organizes donations on Thursday before the start of the For the People: Assayii Lake Wildfire Relief Benefit Concert at the Phil Thomas
Ken Frazier organizes donations on Thursday before the start of the For the People: Assayii Lake Wildfire Relief Benefit Concert at the Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock. (Jesse Hankins/Special to The Daily Times)

Less than one week after winning her title, Miss Indian Farmington Shenoa Jones shared stories behind the traditional style of dress worn by Navajo women.

“When you wear it, you should be proud, proud to be Diné,” Jones said.

Also among the performers were Isiah Nez, who played his electric guitar to deliver the blues, and the Delbert Anderson Trio, which added to the variety with jazz.

Grammy Award-nominated Navajo singer Radmilla Cody sang three songs in Navajo.

“Right now, we are practicing the true meaning of K'é,” Cody said, referring to the Navajo word for kinship among all people.

Benallie said donations collected from the event will be picked up by Shiprock Chapter personnel and delivered to the Naschitti Chapter. United Way of San Juan was also at the concert to collect monetary donations.

Melvin Stevens, the incident commander at Naschitti Chapter, attended the event and addressed the audience.

“On behalf of our community, we express our deepest thanks to everybody,” Stevens said.

 

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.