What Native American Heritage Month Means to Me

Reflection, storytelling, food & family

Manley A. Begay, Jr.

Professor, Department of Applied Indigenous Studies and Department of Politics and International Affairs

Director, Tribal Leadership Initiative at the Office of Native American Initiatives

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

I am Navajo, Dine’, Nohokaa’ Dine’e Diyinii’ (Holy Earth Surface People).

My clans are the following:

Mother’s Clan is Ma’ii Deesgiizhinii Naadaa Ligai Dine’e (Coyote Pass — White Corn People (Jemez Pueblo);

My Father’s Clan is Taachii’nii (Red Running into the Water People);

My Maternal Grandfather’s Clan is Lok’aa dine’e (Reed People);

My Paternal Grandfather’s Clan is Todichi’ii’nii (Bitter Water)

What does being Native mean to you?

Being Navajo means that I am a child of Mother Earth, Father Sky, and all the Holy Beings.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

While Native American heritage ought to be celebrated every day — it does seem like Indigenous identity awareness is heightened around this time.

During this time, within my circle of influence, I make sure that this month doesn’t deteriorate into stereotypical events which inevitably harms the intent of the celebration.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

It is important to continuously be a part of ceremonies throughout the year. Ceremonies ground you in who you are and who you are to become.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

There are many dishes I love, however, steamed corn stew (neeshjizhii) with meat (deer, elk or lamb), tortillas, and Navajo tea often hits the spot.

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

The following statement by someone (I’m not sure who) provides a good lesson:

“A settler or colonizer society defines itself by how it chooses to treat the Indigenous people who were there before them.”

This statement ought to serve as the impetus for reflection and action by all.

So, first, become educated about the history and culture of the Indigenous peoples who live in the local area.

Then, truly familiarize yourself with the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in the region, country, and then the entire world.

Northern Arizona University sits at the base of the SanFrancisco Peaks, on homelands sacred to Native Americans throughout the region. We honor their past, present, and future generations, who have lived here for millennia and will forever call this place home.

Monika Damron |

Community Manager for social media run by University Marketing aka UM Social

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

Hualapai and Navajo

What does being Native mean to you?

Being Native to me means family and community, and a feeling of connection to the land in Arizona where my ancestors lived.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

I personally celebrate NAHM by taking time to reflect and listen to other Indigenous voices who have something to say.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

This is a hard one. Growing up my family had the view that we should look forward and not back, due to colonization.

It wasn’t until my adulthood when many Native people started to openly reclaim their culture that my family felt empowered to reclaim ours. So I have so much to learn in terms of “tradition.”

That being said, for me, when I think of tradition I think of sitting around my grandmother’s table with my family, eating food that’s been cooking all day, and laughing together.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

Anything that comes from my grandma’s kitchen!

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

Stop, and take a moment to Google who lived on that land you’re currently on. I think just recognizing who came before you is powerful.

Darvin Descheny|

Digital Communications Coordinator, NAU Social

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

Diné (Navajo)

What does being Native mean to you?

To walk, think, and speak in beauty.

Being Diné, I was taught to live harmoniously with all things around me. This teaching is among the most important and ensures a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Being Diné also means to constantly adapt and carry out traditions practiced by my ancestors in a modern world.

Whether that be blessing myself with corn pollen before my 9–5 job or expressing my two-spirited gender identity with clothing and jewelry.

I like to think that I fulfill my ancestors wishes, aspirations and voice by just existing.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

November is a time for reflection, storytelling and family.

Traditionally, my ancestors considered this a slow time of the year, as November came after the harvest and many other summer activities and ceremonies. The cold weather and short days allowed for families to eat and share stories that is how I try and celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

I try to spend nights eating stew and frybread while my parents tell me traditional and contemporary tales.

I also celebrate the month by dawning traditional attire.

Turquoise, moccasins, and velvet are a staple in my wardrobe throughout the month.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

The act of gathering socially is by far my favorite tradition.

As Navajos, we love to gather and celebrate. Whether that be having graduation parties or going to a tribal fair, our culture thrives through social interaction and congregations.

It warms my heart to see families reunite, cousins run around and rez aunties let out a big “NAYYEE!”

Though social gatherings, traditional stories are told, tears are shed and food is consumed.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

By far — Navajo burgers. I once ate three at the Shiprock Fair.

A Navajo burger has the same ingredients as an American burger; however, the bun is replaced with frybread.

I prefer my Navajo burgers with roasted green chili and a Dr. Pepper. Trust me, as soon as you bite into the soft frybread and meaty ground beef with green chili, you will never want to go back to regular American burgers.

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

People can be better allies to Native communities by simply listening and understanding our stories and perspectives.

Stories of humanness, of grief, even hearing how someone was raised can give you a broad understanding of the complexities of our communities.

It is through this type of active listening that change can happen.

By simply listening, you will understand why Indigenous peoples are not costumes, why we push for Land Back, and why we need more representation in all aspects of society.

It is not hard to listen at all these days. It can be as simple as searching for interviews or podcasts on Google.

A podcast I can recommend is Carl and J-Man Save the World. This podcast series discusses everything from Native humor to contemporary issues facing tribal communities. Every episode has cultural knowledge encoded between the laughs and informal conversations.

Listen to our stories, learn who we are, and acknowledge that we are still here.

Shynowah Leigh Bahe |

Sr. Academic Success Coordinator, Office of Indigenous Student Success

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

Diné (Navajo) with a sprinkle of Hopi

What does being Native mean to you?

It means living your true self and being unapologetic.

I don’t like the term living in two worlds, because my identity as an Indigenous woman is who I am, and I shouldn’t have to fit a mold to be accepted in either.

Our ancestors fought and survived attempted genocide, so I will live every day honoring their resiliency.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

In the words of John Trudell, “It’s a good day to be Indigenous.”

It’s who I am every day, so I don’t limit it to just a month.

But I will highlight Indigenous authors, business owners, and those doing great work within our communities on social media.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

Being raised with ceremony, song, and prayers.

Partaking in seasonal ceremonies is something that I miss dearly. The pandemic hit our communities hard — and it hasn’t been the same since.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

Blood sausage with a tortilla. My mom makes it with potatoes, onions, Hatch green chile, and seasonings. So good.

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

  • Educate yourself and own your privilege.
  • Actively engage with events in the area.
  • Learn about the lands you are on.

Kiara Lee Weathersby |

Manager of Student Development, Office of Indigenous Student Success & Co-Chair of Commission for Indigenous Peoples

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

Enrolled citizen of the Diné Nation.

Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle People), born for the Nahiłii (African Americans) Chickasaw & Choctaw of Mississippi.

My maternal grandfather is Diné (Navajo)

My paternal grandfather is Nahiłii Cherokee of Louisiana.

What does being Native mean to you?

I am a creation of the waters of Indigenous peoples of different continents. We are complex and persistent beings who have overcome numerous circumstances to be here.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

It starts with connection. There are many opportunities to connect at events held throughout the month across NAU and the City of Flagstaff (COF).

The County Diversity Committee, County Indigenous Peoples Advisory Council, and the COF Indigenous Commission have events, and I will present as a Commissioner at the end of the month.

Finally, Native Americans for Community Action, Inc. (NACA) also has events around town, including the NAU football game on the 19th, where proceeds will support NACA’s service to the Flagstaff community.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

Songs and teachings during the appropriate times of the year and season bring rejuvenation.

I was in my early thirties when I first learned my language due to the prohibition of Native American languages until 1990. I take as many opportunities as possible to hear elders share and attend ceremonies.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

Tóshchíín (Blue Corn Mush) is a dish that reminds me of my great-grandmother. Bead Clan Kitchen has a YouTube channel with numerous dishes.

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

Relatives can be allies by listening and learning historically accurate truths. When Indigenous relatives share their introductions, take the opportunity to share where you’re from and how you came to be in Arizona.

A recent publication on federal boarding schools by the Department of Interior offers the first volume of insights into the attempted assimilation of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States. They can also learn about the 574 federally recognized tribes and the 22 Tribal Nations in present-day Arizona.

Sarah Chatter|

NAU senior, 2022 NAU Indigenous Co-Ambasador, formerly the Miss Indigenous NAU 1st Attendant, Indige-Peer Mentor for the Office of Indigenous Student Success

What culture(s) and/or tribes(s) do you identify with?

I am a Navajo woman with family from the Tuba City and Dilkon areas. I am Towering House, born for the Manygoats clan.

My maternal and paternal grandfathers are Start of the Red Streak people and Salt clan.

That is who I am as a Dine woman.

What does being Native mean to you?

Being “Native” can take on many different things, however, most importantly for me, I believe that it is showing up to help those around you.

At the foundation of many Indigenous cultures is the concept of family or community, or in Navajo, K’e. Being Native is to help improve the circumstances that the current society has placed upon us and to connect, share, and laugh with those around you.

How do you celebrate Native American Heritage month?

I celebrate Native American Heritage month by engaging in events that allow me to connect with both my culture and community, whether it be ceremonies back home, school events, or organizational events.

It is also an opportunity to share, teach, learn, and help those around you, although that can be done any time.

Can you share a favorite tradition from your culture(s)?

I think one of my favorite traditions would probably be herding sheep, some of my fondest memories were of herding sheep with our pack of sheep dogs and going on all types of adventures in the mesas behind our home.

What’s your favorite cultural dish?

My favorite cultural dish is probably ałch’í be’eestł’óní, or little corn tamales. These are made with either white or blue corn and made sweet with either raisins or dried cranberries.

How can people be better allies to Native communities?

I believe that people can be allies to Native communities by uplifting our voice in issues and ensuring our perspectives are heard.

In order for change to happen, we need to be open-minded and respectful, however, as a minority population with our own set of customs, we are often not extended that formality or respect from the dominant society.

We also need to ensure that allies are not perpetuating any harmful stereotypes and seek to acknowledge that there is 500 years of harm that is affecting our Native populations today which many may not understand but know we need to work to heal from.

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