Yei'Bi'Chei' grounds relocated ahead of fair

Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK — When the Yei'Bi'Chei' ceremony commences days before the 105th annual Northern Navajo Nation Fair, it will be held at a new location.

Work continues on the Yei'Bi'Chei' vending area Thursday at the Shiprock Fairgrounds.

For decades, the Yei'Bi'Chei' — a nine-day healing ceremony — has taken place on land outside the fenced area that houses the fair's exhibit hall, rodeo and powwow arenas, midway and 4-H structure.

While the Yei'Bi'Chei' territory remains outside the fair activities this year, it has been relocated a few yards south of the area it has occupied since the 1940s.

Fair Director Harry Descheene said the relocation was approved by the fair board in late July, and construction started in August on a new hogan, concession stands and a building to shelter cooking activities for the ceremony.

"It is progress. It's also respect to the continuity of the tradition," Descheene said, adding that the concession stands will be equipped with water, electricity and drainage.

He said the move will allow people to resume selling food from the concession stands, an activity that ceased at the former location because a nearby residence houses livestock on its property. Having livestock located close to the vending area created a health concern, Descheene said.

Northern Navajo Nation Fair Director Harry Descheene examines the new hogan for the Yei'Bi'Chei'  Thursday at the Shiprock Fairgrounds.

Cordell Tyler, who is coordinating the Yei’Bi’Chei, said the relocation was also made because of concerns about the aging structures and the need for more space.

"I like it. …It's better than being on the other site," Tyler said adding he has heard positive comments about the location change.

This morning, a traditional blessing was completed for the hogan and the new site.

The Yei'Bi'Chei' will begin on Sept. 23, followed by the fair on Sept. 29. Shiprock resident Zachariah Ben will be the patient and Roy Lester, of Cornfields, Ariz., is the medicine man.

Eugene B. Joe, CEO and president of the Shiprock Historical Society Inc., visited the new location today as part of the organization's effort to document Shiprock's history. Joe said the Yei'Bi'Chei' moved to former site in the 1940s after previously being held in various locations throughout the community.

Beside the Yei'Bi'Chei' grounds, workers were also renovating the rodeo arena, increasing the size of the roping boxes to accommodate the bulls that will be used in competitions.

Construction worker Delbert Nez works on a roofing frame Thursday as part of a construction project at the Shiprock Fairgrounds.

Descheene said fair coordinators are working with six stock contractors to bring the best bulls to the rodeo.

Repairs are being made to the exhibit hall, and to a building that houses the arts and crafts competition.

Both structures will receive interior and exterior paint and new electrical wiring.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.