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A day in the life of a Navajo cowboy

By VBS.TV
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Take a ride with a cowboy
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • VBS.TV spends time with Navajo cowboys who are part of a bronc and bull riding league
  • VBS.TV says it's an unusual portrait of Americana in the 21st century
  • Navajo riders face difficult economic hurdles as they seek success in rodeo circuit
  • Navajo riders have managed to get some mainstream exposure
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Editor's Note: The staff at CNN.com has recently been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. VBS.TV is VICE's broadband television network. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.

Four Corners region of U.S. (VBS.TV) -- Earlier this fall. VBS.TV went to the Four Corners region of the United States to hang out with indigenous cowboys of the Navajo (Diné) tribe.

These riders were all from the Triple B Association -- a bronc-riding, bull-riding and barrel-racing league catering to the Native American community of the U.S. Southwest.

Given the difficult economic circumstances under which most of these cowboys and their families live, it's an unusual portrait of Americana in the 21st century.

Early this year, it was reported that more than 56 percent of Navajos live below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in the U.S., even among the traditionally marginalized indigenous communities.

Add to that a frightening unemployment rate climbing above 50 percent --disconcertingly higher than the national rate, which hovers around 9.5 percent --and the picture is extremely bleak. Many of these families throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado also lack electricity, running water or telephones.

Still, theirs is a spiritually rich culture, based on family-operated, small-scale farming and ranching.

Though the professional rodeo circuit offers a slight opportunity for some of the best riders, by and large members of this community are relegated to the Navajo league.

The best many can hope for is a berth at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, each year. The winnings are not high and neither is the exposure compared with many of the larger stadium rodeo events.

Triple B, like several other rodeo associations, provides young riders with an opportunity to sign up and compete against each other from March to November each year.

The cost to enter can be high, and if you don't win, you have to find a way home, struggle to get back in the circuit in upcoming weeks and somehow find the resources to feed the livestock that await back home.

The Navajo riders have managed to get a degree of mainstream exposure over the years, mostly because bull and bronc riding are becoming a big-buck industry elsewhere in the U.S.

Over the course of a week, we tailed several of the group's riders all across the region, accompanying them during training and traveling with them to and from assorted events.

Over that time, we came to know their families, witnessing as they coped with personal struggles and sharing in occasional successes.

For more on this story, head to the VBS.TV site.

 
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