Dancers, fashion show, rug auction and comedy night will highlight Totah Festival

Annual celebration of Native art, culture back with no restrictions this year

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Totah Festival & Indian Market runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Civic Center.
  • The event has been a Labor Day weekend tradition in Farmington for more than three decades.
  • Visit totahfestival.org for more information.

FARMINGTON — With concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic having faded, organizers of the Totah Festival & Indian Market are planning a return to a full slate of activities for the 33rd edition of the event this weekend at the Farmington Civic Center.

The popular celebration of Native art and culture, which has been a Labor Day weekend tradition in Farmington for more than three decades, was cancelled because of the pandemic in 2020 before returning in a limited fashion last year. This year, organizers say the event will operate with no restrictions, and they have some special offerings planned to ramp up the excitement.

"Last year, we had to scale things down," said Robert Felson, the treasurer of the Totah Festival Foundation board of directors, referring to the lingering concerns over the spread of the virus that led to the cancellation of some of the event's more popular attractions, including a powwow, a fashion show and a juried art reception.

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This year, the festival will bring many of those attractions back, in addition to adding a new feature — a Native comedy night featuring Chizz Bah and Joshua Fournier. Felson said Fournier is a popular Albuquerque comic who recently headlined at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Felson said this year's edition of the festival will feature more than 80 artists, which he said is the largest number in at least five years. The outdoor market that organizers started last year in response to the pandemic proved to be so popular that it will return this year, allowing the festival to accommodate more artists and vendors than ever.

A member of the Zuni Olla Maidens balances a piece of pottery on her head before her group's performance at the Farmington Civic Center during the 2021 Totah Festival & Indian Market, which returns this weekend.

Another highlight of this year's festival will be the Hozho Fashion Show, which is being organized by Jolonzo Goldtooth of the JG Indie fashion brand.

Goldtooth said the show will feature five Native designers — Jumbo Creations-Navajo Clothing by Wilfred Jumbo of Two Grey Hills, Cynthia Trujillo Designs of Kirtland, Sheel Designs-Contemporary Clothing by Sherleen Yellowhair-Jones of Red Rock Springs in Arizona, Red Wing Collections by Shirley Pino of Santa Ana Pueblo and Goldtooth's own JG Indigenous Creations — who will showcase 15 looks each.

Dozens of models from throughout the area will tread the area around the outdoor fountain at the Civic Center during the show as they display those creations.

"I think it's an awesome runway around the fountain," Goldtooth said, describing how pleased he was with the idea of holding the fashion show in that location. "I think that represents how water is sacred, and I appreciate the significance of that."

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Helping the models prepare for the show will be students from the San Juan College cosmetology program, which is led by Tracy Caddy. Goldtooth said 20 students from the program will be doing hair and makeup for the models at the school the morning of the show, allowing them to gain practical experience as they pursue their certification from the program.

Goldtooth, who recently returned from an indigenous fashion show in Australia, said he learned a great deal from that experience, and from listening to the stories of and becoming educated about indigenous issues of the aboriginal people there.

The Totah Festival & Indian Market returns Saturday, Sept. 3 and Sunday, Sept. 4 to the Farmington Civic Center.

"It definitely has changed my perspective since coming back," he said. "I look forward to sharing their stories here in the United States."

Of course, the festival also will feature several other well-established attractions, including a cultural expo and Native dancing by such groups as the Zuni Olla Maidens, the Soaring Eagle Dancers, the Dineh'Tah Navajo Dancers, and Joe Tohonnie Jr. and the White Mountain Apache Crown Dancers.

One of the festival's primary attractions is the annual rug auction, which draws collectors from across the region who come to bid on the elaborate weavings. The auction is likely to be especially well attended this year, Felson said, because so many other rug auctions throughout the year on the Navajo Nation have been cancelled, meaning there is likely to be both pent-up demand and supply for this auction.

Potential bidders examine the items included in the Navajo Rug Auction at the 2021 Totah Festival & Indian Market at the Farmington Civic Center.

Felson said last year's auction featured approximately 150 weavings, but he expects this year's event to draw closer to 250 pieces.

The festival also includes the Run the River 5k run and walk in Berg Park.

While no social distancing requirements or attendance limits are mandated at the festival this year, Felson said organizers are still asking festival visitors to voluntarily don a facemask inside the Civic Center as a health precaution.

The Totah Festival & Indian Market runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. in Farmington. Admission is free. Visit totahfestival.org for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.