Totah Festival strives to keep culture alive

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — Johnnie Dick began creating sand art when he was 8 years old growing up in Newcomb.

Now in his 40s, Dick shows and sells his work. This year, he was invited to show his art at the Totah Festival in Farmington.

The festival began today at the Farmington Civic Center and continues through Sunday. It features Native American artists, demonstrations by Navajo weavers, a rug auction, and Native American songs and dances.

Adam Topaha, 5, of Farmington competes in the junior boys Fancy Dance during the Totah Festival on Saturday outside the Farmington Civic Center.

This year's Totah Festival includes several new features, including a dance expo Sunday and more demonstrations by Navajo weavers.

Dick said it was an honor for him to be invited to the Totah Festival to show his art.

"Everything that I do is just my thoughts, nobody else's," Dick said. "I draw what I see, what I feel."

While Dick attended the festival to show his art, he brought his daughter, Precious Denetsosie, 2, who donned pink regalia and danced the jingle dance.

Dick said he wanted Precious to learn the dances because they are part of Native American culture. She has enjoyed dancing since she began, and Dick said Precious was excited to put on her regalia.

Darnell Etsitty of Tohatchi and the Sun Eagle Singers perform at the Totah Festival on Saturday outside the Farmington Civic Center.

"If she could, she would dress like that every day," Dick said.

Zachariah Ben, 20, attended to demonstrate spinning wool and to show his sand art.

Ben has attended the festival twice. The first time, he attended as an artist. He said his art is a way for him to express himself and his culture. The Totah Festival gives him a chance to share that with both natives and non-natives.

He said it also is a chance for him to learn from other Navajo people who attend the Totah Festival and stop to tell stories.

Kourtney Bitahey of Winslow, Ariz., prepares for the Fancy Shawl Dance with the help of her uncle, Jimmy Antonio, of Dilkon, Ariz., at the Totah Festival on Saturday outside the Farmington Civic Center.

While Ben has been learning the art of weaving, his main art form remains sand art, which uses natural pigments.

"I collect this pigment," he said. "I express myself and Mother Earth, and I tell her stories."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.