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'It's Really a Joy to Be Alive,' Says Native American Victim of Hit-and-Run

Isaac Wak Wak, a Native American elder and pow wow dancer, said "it's really a joy to be alive" after a hit-and-run incident nearly ended his life.

On January 25, 2015, powwow dancer Isaac Wak Wak’s life changed forever.

A member of the Colville Tribe of Washington and beloved figure in the Denver, Colorado, Native American community, Wak Wak was hit by a vehicle while leaving the National Western Stock Show.

Isaac Wak Wak and his niece MorningStar at the National Western Stock Show one year after the accident. Photo courtesy Dina Yazzie.

A little over a year later, after 13 surgeries and months in the hospital, Wak Wak says he is “doing fantastic.” The 72-year-old is now walking with the support of a cane, driving, and in excellent spirits.

When the incident first happened, Wak Wak had no idea how serious it was. All he remembers, he says, is walking across the street to unlock his car and then everything went black. When he came to he found himself at Denver Health. He thought he had just broken his arm, but the doctor told him what really happened and that he almost died. “I was flabbergasted, confused, and hurt all wrapped up in one,” Wak Wak said when he found out. It turned out that he broke both arms, both legs and his pelvis.

The months Wak Wak spent in the hospital recovering were trying, to say the least. Doctors would come in as early as 5:30 a.m. in the morning to check on him, and he was placed on bed rest for two months straight. However, Wak Wak had plenty of friends, family, and members of the local Native American community visit him throughout his time there, including the Indian Unity Youth Group. He was very appreciative of all the support.

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The hospital staff were amazed at his rapid recovery. One of Wak Wak’s relatives, Dina Yazzie, noted that “His health was progressing so quickly, it seemed like he went from wheelchair to walker to cane in a flash.” Indeed, to go from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane within one year of a severe hit-and-run accident at the age of 71 is nothing short of amazing. “Your body is in fantastic shape,” Wak Wak remembers the doctor telling him.

The President of the stock show gave Wak Wak VIP tickets to come back, so a year to the day Wak Wak returned to the place that almost killed him. He loves rodeos and the stock show part, and was glad to be back. He saw a lot of people who saw him on TV, and were flabbergasted he got hit.

The Colorado State Patrol, which investigated the incident, never developed any leads to identify a suspect so the perpetrator was never found. When asked how he feels about this, Wak Wak says “At first I was mad at the person, but now I’m not. Karma will get them. It was just so frightening I just wanted to forgive.” Similarly, Yazzie acknowledges that though the person wasn’t found, “there’s much bigger things we’re grateful for. It happened, we’re not dwelling on it. You just have to move on and look forward to a better year.”

One of the first big events that Wak Wak is excited for is the Denver March Powwow. He loves the powwow trail, and is determined to dance in it this year. He says that he has six gentlemen to dance with him and bring him back into the circle, and it is the main thing he is living for now.

Wak Wak with his Denver family at the Denver March Powwow in 2014, a year before the hit-and-run incident. His relative Dina Yazzie, second from left, helped care for him throughout the ordeal. Photo courtesy Dina Yazzie.

If there is anything that this experience has taught him, Wak Wak says, it’s that “I just respect life even more, I love it even more. I just keep thanking the Creator every day, and the Elders that were looking down on me.”

According to, 1.3 people a day in Denver, Aurora, and Lakewood, Colorado, were injured by hit-and-run drivers in 2014, an increase from 1.2 a day between 2011 and 2013. In that same year bracket, 28-percent of all accidents in Denver involved someone leaving the scene. The national average is closer to 10-percent. Denver has averaged 17 hit-and-runs a day since 2011 (most were minor fender benders.) Many cases of hit-and-runs go unsolved.