Story: Be a Voice for Your People

March 11, 2019

The last two weeks, we have highlighted our partnership with NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community.  Their work is a great example of what happens when seminaries think differently about how to walk alongside students in a journey of theological education.  This week, we share the story of another NAIITS student who knows the value of NAIITS’ mission and is excited about our newly-formed partnership.

Yá’át’ééh shik’is (Hello my friend)!  My name is Donnie Begay, Navajo, and I am married to Renee, from Zuni, New Mexico.  We have three beautiful daughters and currently live in Albuquerque.  My wife and I are on staff with Nations, a ministry under the Cru umbrella.

After I graduated college at New Mexico State University in 2005, I made up in my mind that I would never go through that again.  I didn’t graduate top of my class in high school, I failed a couple of college classes, and it took me over five years to finish my bachelor’s degree.  However, when I read about the Intercultural Studies program with NAIITS, I knew I had to endure the trials of education once again.  The program description shared how important it is to be a voice for your people.  That voice gains volume with education and credentials.  I always knew I wanted to be a voice for my people, no matter how small, to let the world know that we are still here with our history, language, culture, and ways of knowing.

I was even more eager to get started with the program because during that time the collective Native American voice suffered a huge loss when uncle Richard Twiss passed away.  I met Richard in 2007, and during our first candid conversation he asked me why I didn’t grow my hair long.  I didn’t have an answer for him so I said I would.  Since then I have grown out my hair and keep it that way.  I had always looked up to Richard as a mentor and elder, and his work inspired me to continue my education.  Through the NAIITS program, I have learned about the Bible, ministry methodologies, theology, and history from a Native perspective.  In turn, this has been beneficial in my work with young Native American college students.

Many younger Native people, especially the ones in college are finding their way back to their people’s original teachings, culture, language, and lifeways.  These young, energetic Native people will need guides to help them navigate in their home culture and the dominant majority culture.  Standing in the middle of two worlds tends to stretch, pull, and even tear a person’s body and soul.  I have spent a vast amount of time in both worlds and in-between the two, and have discovered that in my Navajo world we strive to live in harmony with all created things, animate and inanimate.  Knowing the foundation of my world has helped me find balance and harmony at home and when I live and work in the dominant majority culture world.

This partnership between NAIITS and Sioux Falls Seminary will only add to finding balance between the two worlds where most, if not all, Native American people find themselves.  This partnership is like the weaving of stories, knowledge, and relationships.  More Native voices are needed in the conversation about ministry, theology, and ways of knowing.  I believe every nation has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that are essential to this conversation.  Personally, I am excited to learn from the people at SFS, and their experience of walking in two worlds.  I also hope they make good Indian Tacos.

all stories