The show begins inside the Indian Exhibit Hall with tons of silver and mountains of turquoise beneath sails of hanging, billowing, handwoven rugs, the glory flags of Indian country.
Outside in the rodeo arena the Zuhi band goes boom boom boom. The banners of all the great Indian lands are paraded on darting, splash-colored, gay horses. The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial has begun.
The faces in the crowd are mostly Indian. Faces that belong with the mesas, the clean and final sky, the pi�on and the mesquite and sage. Faces that perfectly belong. "It is possible," an Apache says, "to tell which nation an Indian is from by his face, the way an Indian wears his outfit and his style."
This is Navajo country, so as well as talking of the coming events they talk, too, about becoming the 51st State. They talk, too, about expropriating the Anglo traders on occupied Indian land. The Indians talk of independence and horses and cattle and sheep and pi�on nuts and cradleboards and rug looms. The Indians talk with love of the wide land, too, because together they perfectly belong.
Behind the rodeo stands, the Indian performers are busy with blacksmithing, rubbing down their bright ponies, cursing the delays, bargaining for the use of a good mount, moving with the quick lithe grace of athletes in supreme condition. But always Indian, always with the genius of place carved on the strong quiet faces. Today is joy to their world. Today is the Indian as hero. The Indian doing something true and well in a ceremony—in a country—of himself.
The first event is the wild horse race. This is uniquely Indian. An Oglala Sioux, talking into the stolid silence of four waiting Kiowa bull-riders, says, "The rodeo, the original rodeo, was started by Indians—the Indians were the first true horse people. The first to play with horses. The white rodeo people only discovered how to make money out of the rodeo." The Kiowas agree with the Oglala Sioux.
The wild horses are released from the chutes, trailing ropes. The idea is to drag the wild horse down, saddle this tornado and ride this wild wind across the arena—which is impossible. There are four wild horses and four teams of three Indians each. They all expect to win—which is impossible. A Blackfoot grabs the lead rope of a wild pinto, is dragged until he loses his shirt and then is flung gaily into the Zu�i band. The pinto stands at attention and expects some applause from the crowd, but the crowd is watching a group of Navajos who have a hammerlock on a wild bay and are forcing it to pay attention by biting its ear, which is against the rules. But the judges, who may be Crow or Zu�i, both apparently have failing eyesight.
The Apaches are throwing the saddle on another wild bay when they suddenly disappear, all the Apaches disappear in a violence of dust, leaving the horse all alone. The Apaches were probably thrown somewhere out there among the spectators. No one knows. But somewhere out there a Modoc Indian named Sonny Jim James has a good hammerlock on an Appaloosa. His tribesman slips on a saddle without the Appaloosa suspecting. A third Indian jumps on, the Appaloosa explodes, and the three Modocs have won the wild horse event before you can say, "We lost the wagon train."
Three Navajos lean on the calf chute, all wearing Seventh Cavalry badges, which seem ironic and popular ornaments among the Indians this year. The Navajos are getting ready for the calf roping. One says, "If I miss one day of practice roping, I know it. If I miss two days' practice, my friends know it. If I miss three days' practice, the world knows it." Dugan LeBeaux, a Dakota Oglala Sioux and all-round champion in '73, walks off to study the bulls for the bull-riding event. He will practice by looking at the bulls. He will win.
Now the rodeo announcer. Frankie Marianito, a Navajo wit from Window Rock, announces he wants to welcome all the Indians from Texas to the United States. Then he announces that the Indian who had streaked across the rodeo grounds was a hoop dancer by the name of Running Bare.