I was a senior in high school when I met some incredible people that I never would imagine I would ever meet. I met some people who are very different than me; people who live out in the middle of a canyon; people who look completely different than me. I met a group of kids that live in Arizona. They live most of the time at their houses in the reservation but the other part of the time they live at Native American Christian Academy.
When we were first talking about going on our Senior trip with my high school a lot of people wanted to go to Florida or even California. When deciding on what we were going to do, we had to put into consideration that we had to do some sort of mission project on our senior trip. This trip was not just a trip for fun. It was also a trip where we needed to serve others. Coming from a Christian school our senior trip was not just a time to hang out at the beach or be a tourist. That was a small part of it. It was a time to go and serve others. When deciding on a place to go no one really wanted to go to Arizona but that is where we ended up. We wanted to go to Florida so that we could go to the beach, but we went to one of our teacher’s former schools that she taught at. We ended up going to Arizona at Native American Christian Academy or NACA. We were told that we would clean up the yards as well as be able to hang out with the children when they were not in school. No one was really prepared for all the work that we were going to do when we were there and everything we were going to learn about while we were there.
We got to Arizona and had to drive a long ways to get to Sun Valley from the airport we flew into. When we drove onto the school property I did not really know what to expect. I was not really sure what it was going to look like. There were a lot of different buildings. There were some labeled girls and some labeled boys. The red brick buildings were the same colors as the red dust that was under our feet. You walked down one small road and saw a school building with the doors all opened showing classes taken place. There was a building that was obviously a church as well as a building that looked like a house. That is where my whole class would be staying. There was also a big square building that was the gym and another bigger building that was the cafeteria. It did not take us very long to realize that we were most definitely not in Indiana anymore.
The first day was very awkward. The kids would not talk to us and we just did not feel like we were in the right place. We did lots of weeding and cleaning off old paint that first day. It took a day for the kids to even want to talk to us at all. We came from Indiana where we all went to a private school and have been able to live at our own house with our own families. Yes some people in my class went through rough times in their families, but nothing like these kids had gone through. We met some very amazing kids that had gone way more in their short lives than all of us had done in our seventeen-eighteen years.
One girl that I met was only fourteen years old. My friend Emily gained her trust with talking about sports. We all passed around a volleyball and she was telling us her story. She was only fourteen and her dad had died. He had died during a fight at the casino, her older brother was in prison and she had not seen him in over five years. Her mom is just at home working at the casino because their family needed money. When I first met this girl, I would have never guessed that this was her story. She was at NACA for learning more about how she could be a better person, how she can make money so that her mom would not have to work at the casino where her dad had died. She was at NACA to learn more about being a better person so that she could help the reservation. Even though there was a lot of hurt from the reservation she still wanted to go back and help the reservation survive.
Halfway through the week we went to Canyon de Chelly, this is a national park that is in the reservation. When we drove onto the reservation and I was not exactly sure what I was expecting to see but I saw homes that I never really thought would be there. I saw homes that were very run down and almost falling to the ground. I saw barns falling down. I also saw horses and cows running around freely. I watched someone just walk up to a horse and jumped right on its back and ride away. I saw huge open spaces with not very many houses. I saw a jail with fencing all around. I saw a casino up on a hill closer to the opening of the casino with many cars at it. Then we got to Canyon de Chelly. It was a beautiful places with red rocks. We climbed down into the canyon and when we got to the bottom there were many different people set up with booths selling things that they had made. Everything there was homemade. There were dream catchers, bracelets, paintings of horses and the canyons. The people that were selling these things had made them all. We met a man who was almost seventy years old. Every day his daughter drives him to the bottom of the canyon and helps him set up his booth. Then every night she comes back to pick him up. He sits at his booth almost every day to earn money for his family. He also brings his little sidekick, his dog, that runs around all day and follows the truck home at night. Some of us bought a couple of souvenirs from him as he told us about the history of the canyon. He taught us about the people that were here before him. They came and drew these pictures on the canyon to show what they went through before having this land as their own. He told us that these pictures are not very much understood by the natives anymore. The stories have been told down to each generation so that they will remember the stories. Pretty soon his daughter pulled up in the truck and started to help him pack up his booth to go home for the day. We watched them pack everything up and get in the truck. He waved goodbye to us as we went to walk back up the canyon. We saw the truck pull away and his little sidekick dog following closely after the truck.
The second to last night was the night we really got to meet more of the kids and hang out with them. It was the teacher and house parents’ day off so we were in charge of the kids. We were so excited to be able to play games with them in the gym and to be able to meet and learn more about them. It started out slowly because no one really wanted to play with us. The more games that we came up with the more the kids came out of their shells. There was a group of girls that stayed over in the corner that did not want to play any games. They just wanted to do other girls’ hair. So that is what we let them do. We talked and laughed and learned more about their lives. There was this one girl named Kanaileigh. She was in third grade and nine years old. She was the middle child. Her two older brothers were both in jail on the reservation and she had not seen them since she was five years old. She also had two younger sisters. Their family did not have very much money and it was very hard for them to be able to send her to NACA to get an education. Her dad was a trade welder and that is how the family would make money. Kanaileigh loved coming to NACA. Her favorite part was learning all sorts of new things about “making a way for herself” when she got older. She also loved knowing that she was going to get food three times a day while she was at school. She said that if her family only had enough money to send two people in their family to school she would pick her little sisters to go just so she knew that they would be eating food every day and learning new ways to make money for the family. At only nine years old she had to think about things like that; to think about sending her little sisters in her place at school just to know that they would be taken care of. I cannot imagine having to think about that at nine years old.
Another little boy that I met was named Junior. He was the funniest little kid. At just about six years old he was the youngest one that lived at NACA. His favorite thing to do was play four square. We played this game nonstop. There was always a group of kids playing four square and sometimes it would turn into nine square because so many people were playing.
When I asked him about his family he pointed at his older sister who goes to school with him. He told us that his mom had died when he was very young, and it was just him and his older sister. He told us about his dad and how he has had many new wives, but they never stayed around. Junior was such a funny kid that was always ready to show how good he was at four square and was not afraid to get you out. Junior showed us all the cool tricks he knew when playing any game. We were told by other students that Junior always had a hole in his pants because he was never careful when he was playing games. Even though Junior had a rough time growing up he never made that show, he kept on living his life to the fullest.
I met many different people on my trip to Sun Valley Arizona. I learned a lot about Native Americans. I had never been out of Indiana before going to NACA. I had known that there are people all around that were not like me, I just had never met any. Going to Native American Christian Academy helped me to see that there are others that are not like me. It helped me to realize that I do not have to go out of the United States to see others that are not like me. Going to Arizona I learned way more than I thought I would, I am very glad I was able to go on this trip.