Navajo Nation Fair History

The Navajo Nation Fair

The Navajo Nation Fair 

Your Cultural Connection

By Roberta John

WINDOW ROCK, AZ. – Whispering canyon walls….towering rock formations….picturesque mountains….relaxing lakes and rivers….crisp clear blue skies….wide open spaces….the earthly scent of cedar, sage and juniper after a light sprinkle of mother rain….this is Navajoland….a myriad of awesome scenery and where freedom reigns supreme.

Every year more than two million people from throughout the world take a sabbatical to see Mother Nature’s timeless creation here within the four sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation.

Most domestic visitors come from Arizona, California and Texas while international visitors primarily come from Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada.  Interestingly, many tourists come back for a second visit.

However, the treasure and true beauty of the Navajo Nation are the Navajo people and their unique heritage.  And the ultimate reward is having a conversation with a Navajo who can enrich your knowledge of the Dine’ – the People.

To liven up your pace and if you desire to feed your inner soul….make a cultural connection and get a taste of Navajo culture this September.

Mark your calendar and embrace some old west nostalgia and rustic charm….Navajo style.

Come and experience the premier social event of the year and celebrate the vibrant spirit of the Navajo people at the Navajo Nation Fair, which is “The Largest American Indian Fair in North America.”

This coveted and prestigious celebration is also known as the Grand Daddy of all Tribal Fairs and for that matter all American Indian festivals in the country.

The week-long colorful event showcases the legacy and hallmark of the Navajo people.  It is a fashionable ensemble of Navajo authenticity accentuated with a little chic.  See a visual symphony of elegant art, sizzling indigenous Navajo cuisine, traditional Navajo attire, perfectly poised beautiful Navajo queens, mesmerizing Navajo entertainers, soul-soothing music, a traditional Navajo song and dance and top caliber Indian rodeo competition.

There’s no shortage of fun….just a wealth of options and a silhouette of artistic Navajo beauty.

Nestled in northeast Arizona, the Navajo Nation Fair will be held on September 1-7, 2014 in the Navajo Nation capital.  The theme for the68th Annual Navajo Nation Fair is “Promoting Family Values Through Culture and Tradition.”

Literally thousands of people from throughout the world get enthralled with a cascade of excitement and prepare for the Navajo Nation Fair…whether it’s to be there just to enjoy the fair or to participate in one of many events.

Back in the day, the Navajo Nation Fair began as a small gathering.

Unbeknownst to many, the very first Navajo Nation Fair was the brainchild of a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employee, according to Historian Martin Link.

“The Assistant to the BIA General Superintendent John McPhee came up with the idea of a Navajo Fair as an opportunity for Navajos to gather together for a couple of days to socialize, compare each other’s harvest, have something positive and enjoyable to do rather than just dealing with the Depression, stock reduction, unemployment and having their kids hauled off to boarding school,” Link explained.  “He and other BIA workers assembled a kind of crude fairgrounds just southeast of Window Rock and invited everyone to the party.   Surprisingly enough, a lot of Navajos came and seemed to enjoy it.”

The Navajo Nation Fair was held under the supervision of the BIA in 1937-1941.  Link said in the late fall and early summer of 1937-38, McPhee was authorized to recruit a number of Navajos into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to create a fairground.  Some abandoned buildings from a former Crystal CCC camp was disassembled to build exhibit halls, offices and living quarters at the fairgrounds. Link said the only building that still exists from this effort was the CCC Mess Hall, which has served as an exhibit hall, Arts and Crafts Guild and tribal museum.

Link said on September 15, 1938, the Navajo Tribal Council passed a resolution which stated, “The Navajo Tribal Council recognizes the educational benefits accruing to the tribe through the exhibits and demonstrations to be held in connection with the Navajo Tribal Fair and the Navajo Tribal Council believes this fair will encourage friendly competition between the members of the tribe to better their economic status and will stimulate a greater interest in livestock improvement and management, and finally the Navajo Tribal Council believes that this fair will assist in creating a better understanding of government and Navajo problems and that it will promote inter-tribal relations.”  The resolution was signed by Navajo Chairman Henry Taliman.

The very first Navajo Fair did not have much funds, but organizers did have such events as a chicken pull, Indian rodeo, horse racing and foot races.  The grandstand, which still stands today, was built in 1938.  The very first Miss Navajo contest was held in 1957 – the first queen was Emmo Louise Anderson.  The Sports Center, formerly called the Civic Center was built in 1958.  It was initially built as an exhibit hall for the fair.

The Navajo fairs were held under the BIA supervision from 1937-41 then it was discontinued during World War II.  It began again in 1946 under the direction of McPhee.  In 1952, the BIA turned over the fairgrounds area to the Navajo Nation, formerly called Navajo Tribe.  That year, Peter Yazza served as the first Chairman of the Navajo Fair Commission.

Link noted McPhee worked for the tribal chairman and still assisted along with a Hopi named Victor Sakiestewa who was hired as the fairgrounds superintendent.

Moving forward, the Navajo Nation Fair attracts people from all parts of the world including tribes from the U.S. and Canada.  Fair organizers try to incorporate echoes of early Navajo history and modern-day events and activities such as a fry bread contest to wild horse racing to a parade filled with pageantry.

To complete your unfinished symphony and to add a hint of sparkle to your year of adventure, create your own Navajo cultural memoir this September.

For more information about the Navajo Nation Fair, call the Special Events Office at (928) 871-6478 or log onto their website at