“…vulgar term.”


Some things are better left unsaid, and somethings need to be said. I remember hanging out with my sister one day back home. I was playing street hockey barefoot in the front yard with some of the neighborhood kids with a broom and a tennis ball. Mighty Ducks had just come out, and we were all trying to act like we could play hockey. Except, I never ice skated a day in my life or owned a hockey stick. Years later my Dad bought me a wood hockey stick for left-handers that was only 2.99 at Play it Again Sports. But I remember that day running around barefoot, and some of the older neighborhood kids came around and started talking. There was a pretty vulgar term I overheard them say, and it stuck in my mind for most of that Spring of my childhood into my Summer.

We were on our trip back from Montana in our blue Astro van with my parents, some minister friends, and Camie. I remember sitting in the back seat, contemplating my life as a 7-year-old. This was the early 90s, and we didn’t have portable TVs, and we couldn’t quite afford a Gameboy just yet. And so I was looking out the window looking at the picturesque scenery of the Glacier Mountain Park when I decided to ask my Mom something. I said to my Mom, “Mom.” She said, “Yes son.” I said, “What does “vulgar term,” mean?” My Mom didn’t say anything, but I’ll say, I got it good. Later on, during that same trip, I choked and eventually swallowed a big Lego… I didn’t tell anyone.

That Lego is probably still stuck in my body somewhere, and I probably should have told someone about the swallowed Lego at the moment, given it was a huge piece of red plastic. But that was my first experience realizing that I didn’t need to speak everything that’s on my mind and also to speak up if something was about to hurt me. A reminder to not fear speaking hurt and to hold peace.

“You shouldn’t play with your food.”

Since I was a kid, I spent time all over the rez during the summers. Some summers I spent with my Nana, some summers I spent with my Uncles and Aunts. And then some summers I spent with my parents traveling to reservations across Turtle Island. We always ate traditional foods and such, and as a child, I would sometimes refuse. I would occasionally push the food around with my fork to make it look like I ate, but I remember my Mom telling me, “Don’t play with your food.” It was a lesson that followed me in my adult years.

One of my college summers I spent in Nebraska for an internship. Quite honestly, I wasn’t doing much with the internship but it gave me a chance to chill with one of my bros. He was like a big brother and I think just about anybody who spent any amount of time with him has a story about his shenanigans. He always liked to be on the move, drive his war pony around and keep busy.

One day we were out and about and we met an older woman. She was super kind and inevitably invited us to her grandson’s 18th birthday. Keep in mind, we just met her that day. My bro said, “Sure, we’ll go.” And before I knew it, evening struck and we were talking with strangers outside a trailer house along the Missouri River. We ate, talked, played guitar and fished. It was a beautiful evening with some awesome Native people. We were swapping stories and toward the latter part of the night around the fire, a little German Shepherd puppy arrived. It was the cutest little dog. My bro saw the little puppy and started to pet him and wrestled the little dog with his hand. He was smiling and while keeping his eyes down fixated on the dog below he asked, “is this puppy for the birthday boy?” The rummage of party noise waned and the sound of night and moonlight replaced the talking. No one answered my buddy. He was still smiling but simultaneously looking around confused. Then his smiled turned into sole confusion.

I was also confused, did we do something? Both of our eyes wandered through the party, and eventually, the lady who extended the invitation walked in our direction. She motioned, and we learned in. She covered her mouth and in a slightly loud whisper said, “it’s for the sacrifice.” My bro who still was petting the puppy until the moment of her whisper immediately stopped and said, “oh.” We were a little taken back, or at least I was. I never heard of that, just because we don’t practice that in our tribe. When we left, I was still confused, but my buddy explained to me they were  Sioux and it was part of their traditions. I told my bro, “You shouldn’t play with your food.”

“…shave your eyebrows.”

I was mischievous most of my childhood but it also meant I was entertaining for my parents. I was conducting my nightly routine a 6-year-old goes through. Mostly messing around, asking for water, using the bathroom a lot. All that to try to stay up for a few extra minutes. We were living at the 6th drive house. I was wearing an old oversized t-shirt going on my fourth or fifth trip to the bathroom. This time, not that is wasn’t there all the other times, I saw an orange and white Bic disposable safety razor sitting next to the sink. The same one I watched my Dad use in the morning. My Dad could grow a full beard, something I still can’t do at age 32.

But I saw the razor and thought I would try it on the only facial hair I had in those moments. My eyebrow. I took the safety razor and guided it along the left side of my left eyebrow. I looked in the mirror afterward and thought to myself, “It didn’t work.” I put it back on the counter and walked out of the restroom. I nonchalantly walked back into the living room to wait until my parents told me to go to bed for the fourth or fifth time. But instead I was greeted with my Mom’s puzzled look and question, “Did you shave your eyebrow?” To which I replied, “I don’t know.” My Mom insisted, “Did you use that razor?” I said, “sure.” She continued, “Well I think you shaved it.” Her and my Dad both laughed and told me to go back to bed. It’s the reason my left eyebrow still grows a little differently than my right. And then I witnessed it at a camp I was working at on the Nez Pearce rez about 14 years ago.

I was in Lupwai Idaho working at a Native youth camp. As with all kids, there was one Native kid that was particularly rowdy. He was continually sneaking away, disrupting the instructors and just being generally mischievous. He was assigned to my team and shadowed me most of the week. And as rowdy, as this kid was, he was equally hilarious. As we were gathering for the morning activities I saw him stroll by and I said, “Hey, did you shave your eyebrows.” He started laughing and said, “yeah.” I mean it was obvious, people look funny with no eyebrows. And I just laughed. The rest of the week he used a sharpie to draw in his eyebrows. When he was angry, he would draw his eyebrows with a gradual slope and quick drop at the end. When he was happy, he made them little hills.

My point is if you don’t think you’re funny or you want to be funnier or if you want to be more entertaining, shave your eyebrows.

“you could watch the rush of water combing through the green grass”

The other day I had a news interview and talked about what lead me to my area of research, Native higher education. There are plenty of reasons why I research what I do. One reason is my Mom’s story, another is because I want to contribute to tribal nation building, but another big reason is the interaction I had with Native college students since birth.

My Dad was dean of students for some years, and my Mom was a faculty member. Every year we took short and extended visits to reservations in the White Mountains, Pacific Northwest, woodlands, plains, etc. Watching my parents recruit, subsequently enroll and work with Native college students to earn a degree was always captivating. I liked hanging out with the Native students.

After visiting and recruiting Native college students, many times in their living rooms. My parents would host student gatherings at our house. They would play games like mingle mingle, the orange relay (hold an orange in your neck and pass it to the next person’s neck), musical chairs, and break my few toys in the meantime. But I remember those gatherings and what it meant to have students at the house to their support. And I remember the events at the college. There is an area on American Indian College’s campus named after my Dad. It’s called, “Lake Lopez.” The college students gave it that name, and  a previous administrator felt that naming that particular area was disrespectful to my father because of how it got the name; but my Dad loves it.

In the beginning of the semester during the early 90s, the campus had a large hill of green grass and immaculate trees on the west side of campus, where Ramsey cafeteria is now. During each fall the end of monsoon rains would plummet, and you could watch the rush of water combing through the green grass to a drainage area downhill east of the trees. The vast quantities of rain would cause 3 to 4 feet of stagnant water to form. My Dad was famous for jumping into the water and convincing the Native students to join (not that they needed much convincing). They would be floating in rafts, playing volleyball and wrestling. I guess when your college is severely underfunded, you get creative with campus-wide activities. But those events often took my Dad away, but I understood.

I remember my Dad would sit with me and say, “JD, I hope you don’t mind these students coming over, a lot of them never had role models, and it’s important for your Mom and me to be there for them.” I had this understanding from a young age that I would have to share my parents. Out of necessity, not out of abandonment. My Dad always took time to talk with students. He never hesitated and would let me tag along as he walked with students to the circle k near the 6th drive house for drinks or an Icee. When I was little, my Dad explained why he helped students using a circle concept. He said, “Some peoples’ circles encompass just themselves, others encompass their families, and then others have bigger circles that encompass a people. No circles are better than others, but they come with different responsibilities.” I remembered that each time my Dad was taken away for work, and I remember that when I’m called away. I hope my kids will understand why I chose this career and the responsibility that comes with the circle I was given.

“…melting the sweat beads on my back.”

My family and I affectionately call our childhood home, “the 6thdrive house.” For most of my adolescent years, it was a tan home with dark brown trim shaded by a large ash tree. The backyard had partial grass, dirt and a large swimming pool that felt like bath water in the summer; minus where the palm tree laid shadow in the deep end. The house, at the time, was situated on the edge of an affluent school district relative to where we lived prior in the city. I have fond memories of our home and although we were fortunate to live in that house we occasionally had to leave. Mostly because we didn’t have an air conditioner.

You don’t realize how important an air conditioner is until you don’t have one in the middle of the desert summers. Swamp coolers don’t work when it’s as hot as it gets in our summers. Trying to wet the unit only works when it’s less than a 100 degrees and we consistently maintained temperatures well above that. It could be worse though, my Mom grew up in a one bedroom mud house, so it’s difficult to complain. Nonetheless, my Mom always sought to find us cooler refuges during the scorching days.

The library, dollar movie theater, and mall served as our oasis. My Mom would take us to the library on 19thavenue and let us read for hours. In my case, look and trace pictures. One summer she enrolled us in the Suns reading program where we received bookmarks of Suns players such as Charles Barkley, Dan Marjele and Kevin Johnson for every few books we read. Honestly, sometimes I would sit there with a book for a few minutes staring at pictures, run up to my Mom and say, “I finished reading.” She would sign my paper and I would go get another bookmark. To this day I have a collection of Suns bookmarks that I hustled from the Phoenix public library.

The mall was another place my Mom took us. Usually, we just sat around or went to the arcade to pretend we were playing video games. It was strange but as kids, we somehow always knew better than to ask for anything. I knew we didn’t have quarters to burn at an arcade, so I just grabbed the joysticks and watched the computer characters until I grew bored of the blinking “insert coin,” banner. I knew if I was going into a toy store that I would never walk out with anything at that moment. It just didn’t happen. One of the few times I remember walking out of the store with a toy was with my Aunt. When I was around 9 years old I spent a few weeks with my cousin, Uncle, and Auntie out near Laguna Dam. My cousin and I had mowed the lawn and cleaned up the yard a bit, an often unrewarded job around the 6thdrive house, so it was a special moment when my Aunt bought me that GI Joe. The mall was a great place to escape our house for a few hours but it still wasn’t as great as the dollar theater.

The dollar theater on Bell road was amazing. It was literally $1 to watch a movie. My Mom would load my sisters and me in our van. If we were going to the movies, we always stopped by Walgreens for one snack each. Peanut M&Ms was and still is my Mom’s favorite and became a crowd pleaser among us kids. Inside the theater was a lobby area selling overpriced food and drinks. We would wait for the movie attendant to call out the sitting of our movie. As you moved through the hall to the respective theater, there was a stream of lights that made you feel like you were about to jump to light speed. Once I got to the theater I always felt a rush of cold air slowly melting the sweat beads on my back. The cool air felt so good that you could barely hear and feel your feet sticking to the cement floors. Those were awesome summer days.

Eventually, we did get an air conditioner when I was 12 years old. But I can recall our childhood without the a/c and I appreciate it. You can also see some of our family social mobility. As kids, my Mom and Dad didn’t have a swamp cooler, my sisters and I had a swamp cooler, and my kids have an air conditioner. But I often wonder if that a/c will make my kids spoiled. I fear they will be unable to take the heat if they lack exposure because of my desire to give them more.

“it’s still dressed in that same 70s green”

My Dad had a relatively usual routine every morning. He was an extremely light sleeper and almost always woke up early than the house. He would sit, pray and read in an old chair my parents bought from a yard sale before he started putting on his work clothes. By the time he was getting ready, I would start to roam and rummage through the house. I would occasionally wander into his room while he was sitting in that old chair putting on his shoes. My parents always claimed they would reupholster that chair, but to this day, it’s still dressed in that same 70s green it displayed the day they bought it. Sitting in that green chair, he would put on his dress socks and then his black shined wingtips using a shoe horn. I remember watching him stand up, put on his belt, neatly place a handkerchief in his back pocket and pull out a dress shirt and tie for the day. He delayed putting on his dress shirt for most of the morning for fear of getting it dirty. First, he would walk around in a white tank top doing his morning chores and inevitably eat a bowl of cereal. But I remember him following this routine most mornings of my entire childhood.

This past Monday morning I woke up. Not any earlier than the rest of the house, but also not any later. I woke up when we all woke up. I wandered out of my room and could hear the grinding the coffee beans, followed immediately by the wafting smell of Costco coffee brewing. I walked out of the room and could see the kids still sitting out the couch in their PJs like little zombies waking up. I rented a bounce house for $140 for Easter the day before for the kids and all their friends and it appeared they were recovering from a candy and dehydration hangover. Nothing says, Jesus has risen like a bounce house. Minus the 15 minutes of lethargic kids, that Monday morning it didn’t even look like we had 30 people over the night before. After the kids woke up a little, they went outside to play in the bounce house. Normally I would bounce before getting the day started, but I didn’t bounce on that Monday morning. I just watched the kids for a few minutes, because I needed to get my mind focused.

I started to get ready. I laid out my most excellent new dark blue jeans, my blue shirt to wear silver cufflinks from my undergraduate, a Patrick James vest a family friend bought me when she found out I got a job as a tenure-track professor, a reversible black and tan belt, new underwear with sharks my Mom bought me, my striped dress socks and my tan wingtip boots. I put on each piece of clothing and then sat down to put on my tan wingtip boots. I love those boots. Easily the most delightful pair of dress shoes I have ever owned. I sat down, and as I began to tie the dark brown lace on my tan boots, I realized that I was getting ready on the same green chair that I used to watch my Dad get ready on. I smiled and then almost immediately my son, G.W. walked in. I said, “Hi Gordie, you all bounced out?” He said, “Hi.” He watched me as I laced up my other boot. I finished putting on the vest and ultimately decided not to wear my cufflinks and rolled up my sleeves. I told Gordie, “Come on, let’s brush our teeth and comb our hair.” I took out my brush and started combing Gordie’s hair for a bit. I told him, “Sometimes an Indian man has to brush his hair.” Something that I heard a San Carlos Apache kid tell me in my mid-20s. I finished combing our hair and brushing our teeth. I sprayed a little cologne on both of us and said, “ready.” Gordie replied, “ready.” I walked out of the room and Gordie bolted back outside to play in the bounce house. Before I walked outside to tell everyone bye… I could see Luna through the opened glass sliding door enjoying books and breakfast on the grass in the cool breezed morning. I walked toward the kids and told them I was leaving, and gave them each a kiss goodbye and told them, “I love you.”

As I walked out of the house to my truck for my 30 minute I-10 drive to ASU, I reflected back on watching my Dad get ready for work and realized that my kids would one day remember me getting ready. And it makes me wonder, “will they remember this day,” the morning of the day I successfully defended my dissertation. I hope they remember me well despite my faults as a Father… as I remember my Dad.

“there is a side to each of us that we don’t always talk about.”

I think there is a side to each of us that we don’t always talk about. Maybe not purposely, or maybe purposely. For me, I don’t often talk about our Hispanic heritage. It’s not purposely. But the reality of most Natives in the US, is that we are multiethnic. And identity to me, is more of a reflection of one’s experience than their citizenship or lack of tribal citizenship, and I didn’t have as much experience as a hispanic person compared to my cousins; partly because our parents raised us as Natives. But there are a few other reasons I don’t always write or share from these perspectives. One because, my Mom told us that our Native heritage needs to be counted for tests and if we mark multiracial we would be left out of statistics (which I understand more now, as a researcher). Two, my Mom told me that her classmates used to tease her about being the milk man’s daughter. Those classmates would later become councilmembers and challenged her membership in our tribe. Of course they were unable to prove anything because her birth certificate indicates she is 4/4 Quechan, but she wanted us to be cognizant of rumors. And finally, the Hispanic heritage from my Dad’s side is a mix of Indigenous people from Mexico, descendants of Yaqui and Cocopah, German, and Spanish. For simplicity sake, because I consider our Hispanic heritage Indigenous, I just say I’m Native. It is obviously a little more complicated than that, nonetheless, it is an important side of who I am.

I used to sit with my Tata when I was in middle school. Mostly because I was fascinated with the Army and even more so, with music. My Tata played in a mariachi band for most of his life into his 70s. He never really showed me how to play anything. I’ll put it straight, he wasn’t a teacher. He was a musician. If I played something wrong he let me know. He played, played really well, and if you just had to try to keep up.

But my fascination with music was because all our family played. My sisters somewhat played, my cousins, a few of my uncles, my Tata, my great grandpa. And I love that about our family. But I like the stories just as much as the music they played.

I remember sitting with my Tata one time. He was telling me about how he learned jazz chords. He said, “I was heading to World War II, and was shipping out from the south.” The south at this point still had segregation. Something that my Nana or Tata wasn’t accustomed to coming from a Mexican border town, but soon found the realities. The restaurants in the south wouldn’t serve my Nana or my Tata despite him heading to fight in America’s war.

At the same time, the Black speakeasies weren’t always accepting of my Tata either because he wasn’t Black. But occasionally his army buddies would sneak him into the club. He told me, “that’s where I learned jazz chords.” And listening to the mariachi music, you can seem glimpses into those notes.

Later on during the war he was shot, got a Purple Heart, and was allowed to recover and travel with the Army band in Europe. But every time I play music, I always remember part of that influence and legacy of what we play. And it’s also a reminder of the other side of me.


“how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?”

I was 12 when my Dad became president of American Indian College. He wouldn’t get any type of raise for a few years. The board at the time knew that he would need supplemental income because the president would have to raise money for the college as opposed to personal finances, since he was under a mission’s appointment. The board failed to act until a few years after he took the position when faculty and staff advocated for us because they saw our family struggling. My Dad, and even myself now, have always taken the position that people will take care of you, and that if people fail to pay your worth, it’s a reflection of their own integrity.

When my Dad got a raise (just enough to get us over the poverty line) my Dad continued to live like we didn’t have the money. I turned 15, and using the equity from my childhood home and the money he saved from his raise, we moved to Anthem, AZ. I stepped in the house and looked at the 20ft vaulted ceilings and thought, “we can afford this?” First my dad was frugal, we stayed out of debt, and lived below our means. We moved into that $225,000 in the middle of July. My Dad was still working as president, so he was traveling frequently. It was the first time I was in charge of moving. My Dad borrowed Big Red, an old maintenance truck from AIC, and said, “there it is, thanks.”

I love moving. And I’ve moved more people than I can remember. There is something about moving in 110 degree weather with a sweat dripping shirt that makes me feel good inside. It would get so hot, to the point your body would start to get chills, and I could feel the heat radiating off the top of my head. It took me two days to load and unload most of our stuff. But it was the craziest thing, because for the first time in my life, we could afford a few nicer things.

Before the raise, we hardly ate at restaurants unless it was Taco Bell. We would each get a hardshell taco and bean burrito. If we ever did go to Denny’s, we shared plates and only drank water. After the raise, coincidently when my oldest sister Joy was still in college, we could go to the Sizzler buffet and even order soft drinks. Eventually we ditched the foil antennas, and vice grip tv, and got a new 32 inch tube tv and cable.  It was an exciting time in my life.

After we moved our stuff into the house, we started looking at the landscaping. I had worked a summer job and laid flagstone for a few years, but my Dad wanted to get professional landscapers. As he was out front looking at the yard, a lady approached him and said, “how much do you charge to landscape the front yard?” My Dad smiled and said,  “I live here.” She apologized and went on. A seemingly innocent mistake, but this happened all the time. We could now afford a few nicer things since the raise, but the family was still treated like we were incapable of living in a nice house, having good jobs, or eating at a few nicer restaurants. This certainly wasn’t the first or last time someone would mistake our family for not belonging, and it happens even in places meant for Native people.

The landscaping interaction wasn’t the worst thing in the world. As a kid I remember walking with my Dad up the hill at AIC. I was about 15. A well respected White minister was at the top. As we got closer my Dad called out his name and asked, “It’s good to see you, how’s it going?” The minister just glared at us and walked away in disgust. I asked my Dad, the most reputable man I know, why that minister did that, he shook his head and said, “some people are just like that.”

I asked why my Dad put up with so many people like that, especially being underpaid for the job he had at the college and often being treated poorly. He told me, “It was never about any glory or recognition, we will do anything and put up with anybody to help Native students. Secondly, if I leave, nothing will change.” It was the first real lesson I had in commitment. It was good reminder the work isn’t about myself, the institution, but about the people and especially Native students.

“It was also the last time the photographer took our picture”

Luna, my daughter, has cut her hair five times now. Every time we take a picture, it makes me laugh because the more she cuts her hair, the more she looks like a chia pet. I feel like Luna does it to wreak havoc. Just a little. Because it’s something she has control over and a way to express herself. It also makes parenting a challenge, because Luna is such a wild spirit. I still think it’s funny and cool to have these types of pictures of both my kids (Gordie just got a trim and looks like Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber). Having these pictures is awesome because there isn’t nearly as many funny pictures of me or my siblings at that age. However, we do have a few memorable ones.

Each year, my family and I would take a family photo. There was a professional photographer who would come to my parent’s work at American Indian College, and volunteer to take the faculty, staff, and administrator photos. If it wasn’t free, we probably wouldn’t have decent family photos because we couldn’t afford those types of luxuries. I know there is some people who don’t understand that we grew up below the poverty line because both my parents have graduate degrees. So, I’ll explain it a bit.

The college was, and still is very small. Less than a 100 Native students from different nations across the US, on a small 10-acre campus with more than enough facilities. The college was originally created to train Native pastors, because in 50s it was difficult to train Natives in the mainstream seminaries. So, they created this place. As the institute evolved, it went from offering a certified minister credential to becoming fully accredited and issuing bachelors’ degrees in elementary education, Christian ministry, and business. The college can’t survive on tuition from Native students alone. So, about half of the faculty, staff, and administrators were paid through raising their own support as US missionaries. You must be a licensed minister, and have the proper academic credentials to take this route. And it’s the route my Dad took. My Dad raised his support to work at American Indian College, and my Mom took a very modest salary to work as an elementary education faculty. Problem with the model is that the supporters don’t always pay. The actual salary is based off of pledges and it’s up to the donors to send in the payments monthly. Not all of the donors send in money on time, and resulted in my family being poor, as far as money goes. As far as knowledge, friendships, family, experience, traveling, wisdom, and living life, we were as wealthy as could be. My Dad was an administrator and taught a few courses each semester. He started off as the dean of students, moved to vice president, and eventually president. My Mom taught 5-6 courses a semester, and was the department chair for a while. And despite their heavy work load, we couldn’t afford to take family pictures unless they were free.

That photographer would set up his lights and backdrop in the lounge of the girls’ dormitory. My Mom and Dad would dress me up in my best hand me downs, and would put in three flowers or hairspray and tell me, “don’t touch your hair.” We would wait in line for the other families to take their picture, and eventually it would be ours. We would sit and take a few photos and be done… But every year, I would cross my eyes. For no particular reason. I would just cross my eyes because I thought it was funny. I guess it was because I liked to wreak havoc occasionally. My Dad would get mad and say, “JD, QUIT IT.” He always did it calmly but loud and firm, because I knew he was trying to protect his reputation with his colleagues. Meaning I knew I could get away with it, so I would cross my eyes again and again. Eventually that photographer would get a photo of me without crossed eyes. One year though, the frustration of my Dad, Mom, and sisters set in, and they weren’t having it. I was determined to cross my eyes in every picture, and I did, and the photographer kept insisting on taking another photo. Eventually my Dad said, “Forget it.” He was done, and I finally captured one of my favorite childhood family photos. It was also the last time the photographer took our picture, but certainly not our last family photo.

I know I frustrated my parents. However, my parents were always there to redirect my focus and intentions. My Mom explained to me that some kids are born with cross eyes, and it shouldn’t be something I do intentionally. And I remember my Dad sitting with me, and saying, “I hope I’m a good Dad, because I didn’t have a Dad around to teach me to be a Father.” And now, I look at Luna and I say, “I hope I’m being a good Dad, because I had a great Dad who taught me a lot.”  I constantly work on being a good parent to Gordie and Luna. Especially when it comes to their mischievousness (Last night they found the candy basket and were eating candy secretly under the dining room table). I also know we tend to focus a little more intently with Luna, because she has a hard time with her speech delay. I know for me, it breaks my heart to watch other kids constantly making her the monster because she can’t talk well. I’m also reminded of my Mom’s advice. I constantly remind myself, if we can direct her focus and intentions we can build her compassion, resilience, and help her wreak havoc in the right environments. As we all should occasionally wreak havoc.

“Look at that bear sleeping out front.”

During my childhood, we spent most of our Christmases and New Years on the rez. After the New Year, I always had my own thoughts, especially being an urban raised Native kid. The first thing I remember was all the broken Christmas toys left out in some of the yards. I never got much as a kid, so I always wondered why it was like that. But it wasn’t just the toys out in the yard, it was some of our tribal members passed out in the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feed into any stereotypes. And I would encourage anyone who thinks that Natives have a drinking problem to read Cunningham’s (2016) article on drinking that found White people often drank the same or more than Native Americans. Not to mention the propaganda that was used to brand Natives as alcoholics during the 1800s. But it doesn’t negate that today, alcohol in select families seems to be a bit of a negative concentrated effect in our communities.

Our family was no different. Like some of my cousins’ toys that I saw left in their yard, I would see our relatives left in the yard. Most notably was my Uncle. It was the day after the New Year, and I was probably around 8 years old. We started to walk out of my Nana’s house to our blue astro van, when we thought we saw a bear. My Mom went out first, because at first glance we didn’t know what it was. Me and Camie said, “look at that bear sleeping out front.” But that couldn’t be right, our rez is in the desert. My Mom got closer. As she drew closer she saw it was my Uncle Lorenzo.

My Uncle Lorenzo (like my Mom, Uncles, and Aunties) had a rough childhood. They grew up in a mud house wracked with alcohol and abuse. My Uncle turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with those issues. Whereas my Mom turned to education. My Uncle wasn’t fully lost through his entire life though. He was a part of the decade of dominance at San Pasqual Valley High School, and a documentary is currently under development by Dan Golding that highlighted our reservations state football championships over a span of 10 years. He was a beast of a tackle, and the family stories of his athletic ability are spoken almost in reverence. He later became a hot shot in the White Mountains, hanging out with my parents, and putting out fires with the Apaches. But during the fire off season he would return to our rez to the same destructive friends, to the same detrimental environment, and would end up turning to the same drugs and alcohol. But he made that decision, as my Mom made her decision to get her education.

But in the New Year, and especially as everyone is making their annual resolutions that will be broken by month’s end, I am reminded that our decisions matter. Whether it’s a daily decision or life decision, our decisions are important. Sometimes our decisions are made for us through our circumstances, but like in my Mom’s situation (and my Dad’s also) they were strong enough to make life changing decisions with what they were given at a young age. If we’re lucky and strong enough, we will be fortunate to make decisions that can change the legacy and outcomes of our families. So I pray that I have my Uncle’s talent without distraction, my Mother’s passion, and my Dad’s wisdom so that I can face those decisions fearlessly, without hesitation, and have a chance to change the course of my own life. Here’s to a New Year and to the blessing of having choices with our only crazy beautiful complicated life!