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Notah Begay Field of Dreams: A Student’s Perspective

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Driving on to San Felipe Pueblo, one can't help but notice the huge green soccer field. That field is part of what brought me to New Mexico recently for what turned out to be an amazing visit.

On April 29th, the beautiful green turf was filled with many San Felipe tribal citizens waiting to greet us, a delegation of students from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who are part of a Notah Begay Foundation (NB3) effort to prevent obesity and diabetes among Native youth.

It was mind-boggling how many San Felipe people came out to thank my tribe for its generous contribution--a gift that helped realize their dreams for a soccer field and safe walking area in their community. Upon arrival, we were honored to be greeted by past and present San Felipe Tribal Governors that had all worked toward making this dream become a reality. Knowing that my tribe has been a vital part of helping the community of San Felipe Pueblo is great.

The day we went to visit we all joined in a swift walk for health on the field. The walking paths are a new addition to the reservation, finally giving families a safe place to exercise. The soccer field does more than just look pretty – the soccer program has shown significant health impacts for the San Felipe community, serving more than 500 youth. The soccer program is the community's only after-school program.

The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health helped the Notah Begay Foundation design and implement a study that showed that the children participating in the soccer program improved their health over just one season. We see how tribes helping tribes can make a difference.

The day before San Felipe's Feast we were invited to the family home of Simone Duran. We were there to hear the elders speak about the importance of the Feast Day. I learned that Feast Day is about opening your home to anybody who ventures in. One elder explained that he was taught by his elders that a whoever may venture in your home on Feast Day may be a part of your family from long ago, thus it is important to welcome everyone.

The elder went on to describe the importance of the tribe’s language. He said that youth now learn English first and he worried that the youth are resistant to learning their Native language. This scares him and he expressed his concern for lost traditions. Many songs have been forgotten in his life time, he said, and he combats this by only speaking his Native language to the children.

San Felipe Feast Day was by far the most culturally enriching experience I have ever participated in. Every home is filled with laughter, food, and deeply embedded culture. The first home that I was invited into was the home of a Navajo friend. We were immediately welcomed by the family and were asked to eat. I was amazed by the great hospitality--the family had only met us a few seconds before and now we were sitting in their dining room eating their food.

This home was where I first discovered red chile. I was told by many that their favorite Feast Day food was the chile, and they were so right. I was taken aback by every family's red chili dishes; each home had red chili and it was so good. Another family staple that took my breath away was the delicious oven bread--I just could not get enough of it. I was told to pace myself but that proved to be rather impossible.

The second home I ate at was the family home of my friend Simone. Her house had the most delicious oven bread and desserts. It felt like Thanksgiving and by the end I just wanted to roll over and sleep. But it wasn’t over… the last home I visited was Notah Begay’s family home. There I had the best bowl of red chili I have ever had in my life. You have never experienced hospitality until you have experienced Feast Day at San Felipe.

Before my visit, I had fears of an awkward experience in the homes of these generous families. My fears were completely unfounded. During my trip I learned how welcoming San Felipe families truly are. Not one time did I feel unwelcome, and I was amazed by how every family made room for each guest that entered. They make you feel like a part of the family, ensuring every need of each guest is met. They especially catered to the dancers; the women made sure they were full and ready for the most important undertaking on Feast Day.

The dances were exceptionally stunning and we watched as elders and children danced around the plaza in their best regalia. I was in awe of the dances and the traditions of Feast Day amazed me. It was freezing and snowing but the dancers continued to dance for hours with the proudest faces I have ever seen. I got the chills many times while watching them dance around the plaza. I will never forget the image of them dancing around the drummers, snowflakes falling over them as they were praying for rain and the health of their community. I felt hypnotized as the drums made my mind wander.

Though San Felipe is far away from my tribe, as indigenous peoples we share the same values, concerns and issues. Before this trip I felt as though my tribe had little in common with tribes in New Mexico, but I was greatly mistaken.

The experiences I gained from NB3’s leadership trip to New Mexico made me more motivated than ever to be a great youth leader in my community. This trip made me appreciate the culture and traditions that are still alive in my tribe and I feel obligated to learn and preserve.