Erich Rogers and Cory Petska rode into the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo second only to regular-season leaders Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira. They’ve won or placed in five of the first seven rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center, and currently lead the NFR average with 41.40 seconds on seven steers.
A huge herd of people are pulling for Arizona ropers Rogers of Round Rock, and 15-time National Finalist Petska, who lives in Marana, to pull off their first pair of gold buckles. They’ve both been world-class ropers for a long time, and are obviously that good.
Seven-time NFR qualifier Erich is one of several successful Native American cowboys who’ve had huge success in recent years. His fellow Navajo team roping kingpins include 2015 World Champion Team Roper Aaron Tsinigine and seven-time NFR header Derrick Begay. Five-time NFR header Dustin Bird is a member of the Black Feet tribe.
“There are a ton of Native American rodeo fans, and the Navajo Nation is one of professional rodeo’s biggest fan bases,” Rogers said proudly. “Native American team ropers have a huge following through Indian country. We’re role models to a lot of kids, and it’s a great privilege when people look up to you.”
The Navajo Nation is a sponsor of this year’s inaugural Ote Berry’s Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship over at the Junior NFR at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye pulled up an arena-side seat to cheer on the next generation of steer wrestling greats, so he stuck around for the next event—Bret Beach’s Junior NFR team roping.
“The Navajos have always been horsemen and cattle ranchers,” said President Begaye, who’s a distant relative to team roper Derrick Begay, despite the slight variation in the spelling of their last names. “Most of our children grew up around this lifestyle, so rodeo is a very natural sport for them. Many Navajo families are very rodeo-related. The cowboy lifestyle is a highly valued part of our culture and who we are as a nation.
“Getting behind Ote’s event and these young cowboys is only natural, and is something we want to continue to do. Ote has always been a great friend to our people, and now he’s helping our young people. This is who we are. Native Americans are a big part of the cowboy culture. Our Native American team ropers are household names, and they’re highly respected. Our people are huge rodeo fans.”
It’s true. The Native American cowboys have tremendous followings, including family, friends and fans.
“A lot of Native Americans will save all year long to be here for the NFR,” Begaye said. “Our Navajo people follow the top-ranked cowboys. We love it.”