Totah Festival returns from one-year hiatus this weekend at Farmington Civic Center

Navajo Rug Auction, 5k run and Native dancing will highlight event

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington's Adam Topaha competes in the junior boys Fancy Dance during the 2016 Totah Festival outside the Farmington Civic Center. The event returns after a one-year absence this weekend.
  • The festival was not held last year for the first time since its inception in 1988.
  • Social distancing measures have been put in place this year to maintain the safety of visitors.
  • Admission to the festival is free.

FARMINGTON — While they are hoping for and anticipating a good turnout, organizers of the 32nd annual Totah Festival & Indian Market are unsure about what to expect as the event returns from a one-year absence this weekend while the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.

The festival was not held last year for the first time since its inception in 1988, and organizers have scaled this year's version back as a concession to the threat the pandemic continues to pose. But they are confident the way they have structured this year's event will keep everyone safe while maintaining the festival's more popular elements.

"We are so glad it's back, and we are so glad we are able to hold it now," Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey said.

But Wilsey acknowledged he doesn't know if the large crowds that typically turn out for the event will materialize this year.

"We have talked about that as a board, and we just have no idea," he said. "We do know we have had a lot of interest from vendors."

More:Totah Festival will be held Sept. 4-5, but powwow, fashion show cancelled

Bart Wilsey

Organizers originally planned to limit the number of artist booths at this year's festival to 50, with those booths set up both inside and outside to provide for social distancing. But Wilsey said so many artist vendors applied this year, the number of booths had been expanded to 54 by the morning of Sept. 2.

One of the festival's highlights is the Navajo Rug Auction that is held every year, and Wilsey said he is equally in the dark about how people will respond to that — both in terms of how many rugs are entered in the auction and how many buyers show up.

He did say that representatives of trading posts throughout the area already have submitted several rugs for the auction, and many more are expected to arrive on Friday, Sept. 3 when rugs from individual weavers will be accepted. But he said the overall number of rugs could be smaller this year.

"We've heard from different trading posts that their number of rugs is down coming in," he said.

That's not because demand for the rugs has declined, Wilsey said.

"They said they've also sold their inventory, so people are still buying rugs," he said.

Tohatchi's Daniel Etsitty performs with the Sun Eagle Singers during the 2016 Totah Festival outside the Farmington Civic Center.

But the bottom line is, with much of the trading post inventory already gone and some weavers apparently having scaled back their work, there may not be as many rugs available this year. Wilsey doesn't expect that to dampen the enthusiasm of buyers.

"I've been getting calls (from buyers)," he said. "In fact, I spoke to a couple in Moab (Utah) who are coming to the rug auction to buy. So that's fantastic."

Wilsey is confident that despite the elimination of the powwow, juried art reception, showcase and fashion show from this year's festival, there remain enough attractions to satisfy any visitor.

"We've got a great schedule of events planned," he said. "Of course, a lot of it will be outside so there's an opportunity for social distancing."

The lack of a powwow does not mean there won't be any Native dancing, Wilsey emphasized.

"In fact, we've got several different high-level Native American dance groups coming into the festival in the afternoons," he said.

The list includes the Zuni Olla Maidens and Diamond Creek Apache Crown Dancers on Sept. 4, and the Sky City Buffalo Ram Dancers and the Oak Canyon Dancers on Sept. 5.

The festival will conclude each day with shows by other Native performers, with the comedy team of James & Ernie taking the stage on the first day, and two-time Grammy nominee Joe Tohonnie Jr. and the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers providing the finale on the closing day.

"We really have an outstanding lineup of entertainment," Wilsey said. "And I hope people come out for it."

The festival also includes the Run the River 5k and 1-mile walk at 8 a.m. Sept. 5 at Animas Park, 209 825 N. Browning Parkway in Farmington. Registration is $20.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Admission is free. Call 505-599-1174 or visit

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.