Approximately five and a half miles south of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is an arena where the largest rodeo event in Indian Country took place.
The 44th Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo was held from Oct. 22 to 26 at The South Point Equestrian Center. More than 350 Native cowboys and cowgirls competed for over a million dollars in cash and prizes. Each year, the level of talent showcased at this rodeo is elevated.
With its humble beginnings in 1976 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Indian National Finals Rodeo has become the largest and oldest Indian rodeo organization in the world, with more than 3,000 members and counting.
The mission of the rodeo is “to provide, promote and preserve the advancement of Professional Indian Rodeo by empowering families, youth and communities through positive role-modeling, educational opportunities, competition, culture, and tradition."
The rodeo has 11 regions within the United States and Canada and provides a special opportunity to bring the best of the best in Indian Country together each year to compete under one roof.
With members ranging from as young as eight and as old as 80, the level of expertise is all across the spectrum.
Indian Pro Rodeo is among one of the only sporting events where children can compete with, and sometimes against, their parents and grandparents.
This rang true for the mother-daughter duo from the Tsuut’ina Nation of Canada, Sonya and Cadya Dodginghorse.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have the opportunity to do this with my daughter,” said Sonya Dodginghorse. “After I ran my final run I had to hurry up and compose myself because my daughter was up right after me. When it was all done, we just gave each other a big hug, because we both know how much work goes into this.”
Sonya Dodginghorse, a fifth-grade school teacher, was the first First Nations person to take home a world championship in the women's barrel racing category.
Cadya Dodginghorse did not leave Las Vegas empty-handed either. She took the world champion title in the junior barrel racing category, and an impressive fifth overall in the women's category.
“I didn't even know I was capable of doing that,” said Cayda Dodginghorse. “I found it very busy and scary to compete in both juniors and ladies, and it was really cool getting to experience it with my mom.”
As a school teacher, Sonya Dodginghorse hopes to inspire her students to pursue their dreams no matter how daunting they may seem.
“I showed them that I was the only First Nations girl among all of the barrel racers in the CPRA standings,” said Sonya Dodginghorse. “It's tough to go out and barrel race in that type of world, but when you have a dream you follow it and you chase after it.”
Every little cowboy and cowgirl dreams of winning a world championship one day and with a strong support system and a lot of hard work that day can become a reality.
Wyatt Nez, the 21-year-old Navajo bull rider, made his first appearance at the Indian National Finals Rodeo this year and walked away with his first world championship title.
“I’ve spent my whole life training for this moment,” said Nez. “Ever since I was a kid I used to dream of being at the level of bull riding I am, and further, and it really means a lot to me that I am reaching my goals and getting to the spot in rodeo that I wanted to get to.”
He credits the support of his family, friends, girlfriend, and sponsors for getting him to this point in his career.
“I just really want to say thank you to them for supporting me this year and helping me get down the road,” said Nez. “I really appreciate all they have done for me with my long-short rodeo career. I say long because it feels like it's been a long, but it's just starting out.”
Many people outside of the rodeo community might not realize how much goes into this sport. These cowboys and cowgirls are always on the road with a horse trailer in tow, hours upon hours of training and injuries that come with riding fifteen hundred pound animals.
One thing that keeps these cowboys and cowgirls going while on the road is the sense of family and community both inside and outside of the arena.
Quinton Inman, Cherokee and champion of this year’s tie-down calf roping world, says he has come to find a family within the Indian National Finals Rodeo community.
“There are people there to help you while at the same time they are there to beat you,” said Inman. “Nobody wants to see you do bad, everyone is in your corner when it comes to rodeo.”
The 23-year-old father of two describes how difficult life on the road can be, but when all the hard work pays off it means the world to have your family’s support.
“I came up on the stage with my four-year-old when they introduced the world champions and they said they could tell I was a good dad, that meant to me about as much as that gold buckle did,” he said.
Above all, rodeo is a community filled with support and encouragement, and the mission of the Indian National Finals Rodeo is no different.
The world champions and the junior senior champions of the 2019 Indian Nationals Rodeo Finals are listed below.
2019 World Champions
Bareback: Jayco Roper
Steer Wrestling: Bryton Edmundson
Ladies Breakaway: Jareth Hale
Saddle Bronc: Cole Elshere
Tie-down Roping: Quinton Inman
Team Roping: Edward Hawley, Myles John
Ladies Barrels: Sonya Dodging Horse
Bull Riding: Wyatt Nez
Ladies All-Around: Shantell Brewer
Men’s All-Around: Fran Marchand
2019 Junior Senior World Champions
Senior Breakaway: Bart Ness
Junior Breakaway: Ty Vaile
Junior Barrels: Cayda Dodging Horse
Junior Bulls: Chance Thomas
Senior Team Roping: Daryl Boyd and Alfred Armajo, Jr.
Jarrette Werk, A’aniiih and Nakoda, is junior at the University of Nevada Las Vegas studying multimedia journalism. Werk has been a fellow of the Native American Journalists Association since 2017.