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When Utah resident Mariah Plummer left her home on the Navajo Reservation to attend Utah Valley University she didn’t anticipate how homesick she would feel for her community. She turned her feelings into action, and was chosen to be a 2022 Running Strong Dreamstarter.

Plummer’s project, Utah K’é, was selected on a national level from hundreds of applicants. Her project includes teaching and sharing indigenous culture with Native people in Utah, as well as participating in sports and other activities, which has always been important to Plummer, on and off the Navajo Nation. The word k’é means kinship or family in Navajo. Plummer said she hopes to build a sense of family and community in Utah for people who, like her, want to feel connected to their community.

“The Utah K’é Project was not a dream I developed overnight. I was inspired by my homesickness for cultural interaction, and for my personal attraction towards physical activity and community involvement,” she said.

Plummer is a health educator and a photographer, and that work took her to many Indigenous communities outside the Navajo Nation. It was in these roles that she said she developed an understanding of the social injustices and health disparities of other Indigenous communities, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and the Crow Reservation in Montana. 

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“Without visiting these places and developing lifelong relations with its community members, I would not have understood the true meaning of K’é. I hold these experiences close to my heart, and it is something I want everyone to feel. I want everyone to feel loved by each other, to have a strong support system, and most importantly, I want everyone to embrace their cultural identities!” Plummer said.

As part of the application process, Plummer needed to find a fiscal sponsor and mentor that could help with Utah K’é. She said she reached out to the Utah-based nonprofit organization, NavajoStrong, and its founder, Bud Frazier. NavajoStrong was founded in 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic when Frazier organized efforts to assist his family and community in the Navajo Nation. 

“Immediately, I felt a sense of ‘home’ in NavajoStrong and was very impressed by their passion for serving indigenous communities, cultural preservation, meaningful impact and societal equity,” she said.

Plummer and Frazier attended a workshop sponsored by the Dreamstarter program in Alexandria, Virginia in April. Plummer’s Utah K’é project will begin in the Salt Lake City area in June 2022.

The Dreamstarter program is one of many programs offered by the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization. The Dreamstarter program was developed to empower the next generation of American Indian Youth. Running Strong for American Indian Youth® believes in the dreams of young Native Americans: creating stronger communities and building a better tomorrow for themselves and their families. Since 2015, Running Strong has provided ten $10,000 grants each year to a young Dreamstarter® and their community non-profit partner and works with them to implement a project inspired by their dream for their community.

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