Native American students share experiences of their childhood

Written by: 
Leslie Owusu

With November as Native American Heritage month and the recent news of the Dakota Access Pipeline, three BYU-Hawaii students shared how growing up in a Native American culture and childhood memories influence their lives today.

Sam Chapitan, a freshmen marketing major from Utah, is of the Navajo tribe from T’áábich’įįdi or Aneth. Fresh from serving as a missionary in the Mexico City Chalco Mission, Capitan is in his second semester at BYUH. “I love it! Everything feels right,” he said.

Chapitan said he loves the diversity at BYUH. He said he makes an extra effort to meet new people and say hello to them in their native language the next time he sees them around campus.

Capitan comes from a family of six and said he loves the outdoors and nature. “On a reservation it’s of course really rural, so there’s not a lot to do as far as commercial stores and things like that. You’ve got a lot of open fields, hills, mazes, creeks, and rivers. As a kid, I spent time exploring, climbing rocks, playing in the water, and sheep herding.

“There’s a lot of livestock on the reservation. Most of my time on weekends as a little kid, we were always herding. I really enjoy sheep herding a lot. As kids, we would always ride on top of the sheep or the goats because we were small enough. Of course, when we got older…we still did it,” he added.

Chapitan’s grandfather has some land and his family cultivated it and built a fence around it. “It’s really, really calm on the [reservation]. I think that’s why I like it there. It’s like a little retreat, a safe place. Nighttime is so beautiful. You see all the stars, so bright and twinkling. I’d spend nights on my trampoline just staring up at the stars,” he said.

Growing up in a Navajo culture involved participation in a lot of ceremonies and traditions that they still practice today, said Chapitan. “We have a huge respect towards our culture. My dad has his sacred belongings, like a feather that they use in ceremonies to bless individuals. Before he was a member of the church, he’d always do a special prayer blessing for our home, and then he would bless us individually.”

Capitan speaks fluent Navajo, Spanish, and English. He is currently learning Portuguese as well. He said, “By the time I die, I want to have learned 12 languages.”

In his future, Capitan said, “I want to get my master’s degree, and work my way up to starting my own company. Depending on the circumstances, I will most likely look into the reservation and help them with the business market down there…it’s kind of my way of giving back to the community.”

He said his spirit animal is the coyote, and his favorite Native food is Ách’íí, Roast Mutton and Chix Chin. He said he has the power to turn anyone’s day around.

Ashkiiyah Harvey, a sophomore arts and sciences major from Utah, said she enjoyed growing up on a reservation. “It’s a lonely life, but you have to try hard to stay connected,” she stated.

Harvey said she was the only Native American in her class to graduate with honors. “I had to fight to be educated. The bus stop was 15 miles away and then the school was another 36 miles away. I’d leave at 5:45 in the morning and wouldn’t get back until 8:00 at night,” she said.

Dancing is one of Harvey’s favorite hobbies. She said, “When I first started dancing, [other people] made fun of me because I couldn’t move my hips. It’s Native American culture that you stay straight. Shifting your hips was seen as provocative.”

Harvey also loves art, photography, poetry, drawing, and wants to learn how to swing dance and play the guitar.

While growing up, Harvey’s grandmother made a big impact on her. “I was raised by my grandmother through middle school. She passed away right before I went into high school. That was a big adjustment,” she said. “She taught me not to waste a second. There’s always something to do.” She said her grandmother set an example of charity because growing up they were always serving and helping those around them.

Harvey’s testimony of the church came in a unique way, she said. “I was baptized when I was eight, but I wasn’t a member until my junior year where I decided I had to do something,” she said. “Before that, I was in the NAC, which is the Native American Church. It was a lot of spiritual things but it was a spotty, not a full-blown experience.”

Harvey said her favorite family traditions include cooking with her family during Christmas and Thanksgiving. In regards to her future, she said, “I want to get my bachelor’s degree in science and nursing and minor in dance.” She said she wants to train and become an EMT.

Harvey is a member of the Diné tribe. She is from the Montezuma Creek reservation, and her spirit animal is the hummingbird. Her favorite Native food is steam corned stew with mutton, and she said she is allergic to everything.

CJ White, a sophomore accounting major from Arizona, said his motto in life is “work hard, play hard.” He explained, “From my time here I feel I’ve been able to create a vision for myself. I have goals and I want to make them happen. And I’m always down to have fun. But also, I focus on self-improvement.”

White was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona, a town he called “open, hippie and suburban with…a lot of outdoor stuff to do.” His parents both partly grew up on a reservation.

While growing up, White’s family used to go to pow wows and participate in ceremonies with the Navajo culture. “The main tradition we would do was whenever we had a meal during Christmas or Thanksgiving, we would always have a cup of water and we’d all drink from the same cup and pass it around the dinner table in a clockwise circle. You would get a little bit in your hand and drip it onto your head, kind of like a blessing. Water represents life.”

Reading the Book of Mormon with his family made a big impact on him, Harvey said, and it was how he felt the spirit for the first time.

White said he got involved with the Four Corners Scholar Native American Scholarship through a mentor from back home.

White said he wants to be a voice for Native Americans within the LDS Church and throughout the world. “I think Native American people are underrepresented in culture but also in the church. I could be a leader. I could even be the president of the Navajo nation.”

White’s spirit animal is the otter, and he is of the Navajo and Ute tribes. His favorite Native food is Inish Bizzhii, a mutton dumpling stew. He said he loves hip-hop and rap music.

Date Published: 
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Last Edited: 
Saturday, November 26, 2016