Coronavirus could cancel fair season on Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Fair season on the Navajo Nation draws hundreds to amusement rides, rodeos, parades, livestock shows and musical performances, but lingering uncertainty about the novel coronavirus could cancel the season this year.

The Navajo Nation Council is being asked to back a proposal to cancel all fairs, rodeos and roping competitions held in communities across the reservation.

The bill, introduced while the tribe confronts new cases for COVID-19 daily, calls on cancelling the events to prevent further spread of the new virus and to protect the public.

The Navajo Department of Health, Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Epidemiology Center reported on May 22 that 4,529 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19.

Participants take part in the Elderfest Song and Dance activity on Oct. 4, 2018 during the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who represents Shiprock Chapter, is sponsoring the bill.

Shiprock is home to the Northern Navajo Nation Fair, which occurs in October and is the oldest fair.

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The bill seeks to cancel that fair as well as the Fourth of July Celebration, Kayenta 4th of July Rodeo, Eastern Navajo Fair, Ramah Navajo Fair and Rodeo, Naatsis'áán E'eaniih Day Celebration, Southwest Navajo Fair and Rodeo, Central Agency Fair, Navajo Nation Fair, Utah Navajo Fair and Rodeo, Alamo Indian Days and Western Navajo Fair.

The Eastern Navajo Fair was cancelled this year by the fair board membership on May 9 due to public health orders that ban large gatherings.

Charles-Newton explained in a telephone interview that the legislation is part of the council's work to keep the public safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She explained that fairgrounds present challenges to maintain social distancing and can lack hand-washing stations or access to water for hand washing.

"Can you imagine going to Window Rock fair and trying to tell people to stay six feet apart? There's just no way to guarantee that social distancing will happen," she said.

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She added that another concern is that a second wave of the coronavirus could hit later in the year.

"As long as one person has this virus and there is no cure or no vaccine for it, we run the risk of falling into the same pandemic," Charles-Newton said.

A group of kids search for healthy food and snacks during a food scramble hosted by the Navajo Nation Department of Behavioral Mental Health Services on Oct. 4, 2018 during the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.

A copy of the bill posted on the council's website shows Delegates Pernell Halona, Jamie Henio, Daniel E. Tso, Otto Tso, Edison Wauneka and Jimmy Yellowhair have signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill has 24 comments submitted by the public that support the proposal, including some that recommend cancelling song and dances, powwows, conferences, sporting events, bingo and traditional ceremonies.

A few comments also suggest holding livestock sales by 4-H'ers online because members started raising animals because the coronavirus outbreak and use the money from sales to pay college tuition or to invest in their next projects.

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The bill has been assigned to the Resources and Development Committee, the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and the council, where final authority rests.

It was introduced on May 14 and became eligible for consideration on May 20.

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

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