By 509J Communications

As Dasan Begay packed his bags to fly for the first time in his life, he was excited about what he was about to experience. He was about to attend the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) Conference in Oklahoma City, OK. The theme for this year’s conference was Education Sovereignty. Our Choice.

Begay is a junior attending Madras High School in Jefferson County School District. He was one of three students the District sponsored to attend the conference this school year. He joined fellow junior Kahmussa Green and MHS senior Allison Medina on the trip. All three grew up in Warm Springs and have attended school in the JCSD 509J School District since they were in Kindergarten. 

The three students were accompanied by Tony Summers, MHS Principal, and Mariah Stacona, MHS Native American Liaison.  

The NIEA Conference brought together middle, high school, and college students to learn from inspirational, accomplished, and indigenous speakers. Some speakers for the student sessions included: Chance Rush, Mike & Bone Pawnwee, Hud Oberly, Raven Morgan, Dr. Daryl Tonemah, and the Lady Force Football team from Oklahoma City. 

“The speakers, they all made a life for themselves,” Medina said. “It’s showing that Native Americans aren’t just the stereotype that everyone thinks they are.”

Medina’s career aspirations include going into law enforcement. She wants to be a police officer and then work her way up to becoming a detective. Her inspiration for her interest in law enforcement is because of family. She had several family members who were cops and has a family member currently in the FBI. She thought about her career goals when listening to the speaker’s message. 

“They spoke a lot about you know, sticking to it and doing the things I want to do like college and having a good career,” she said.  “I need to remember to stick to my guns and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Green picked up a similar message from the speakers. She wanted to attend the conference because of the experience it would provide her. In addition, she was hoping to get great advice on how to become successful and start a business. 

“It was honestly really something else,” Green said. “To hear everybody else’s stories and what they’ve been through and how they got this solution to start this or that and that it is okay to leave the reservation and become successful.”

Each of the students came away from the conference inspired. Inspired to be better every day by listening to the speakers share their stories with them. Something that stuck with the students was that the message was coming from people who said they were in similar situations when they were younger. Another encouraging sign for the three students was seeing students from all over the country descend on Oklahoma City for the conference. 

“It was good to know there are people in the same boat as us you know, even way down south or way up north,” Begay said. “They still have the same problems as us and they’re trying to do the same things or better.”

Everybody has a dream was another key takeaway for Begay. He learned that while everyone has that dream, not everyone achieves it. His message now is to not stop until he accomplishes his dream. For Begay, his dream is to earn an education degree and become a teacher and eventually a principal.

“You should keep trying to achieve your dream even if somebody thinks it’s not good for you or whatever. You should just follow it and achieve it,” he said.

All three students recommend future students take advantage of this opportunity should it come up again.

“I think they should go just to have the experience,” Green said. “There’s a lot you can learn from over there. I’m really happy I got chosen to go because it’s helped me and this really inspired me a lot.”

Both Stacona and Summers made sure the students made the most of their conference experience. It was the first time for each of the students to attend an event like this. 

“I would say it was fun watching them get outside of their comfort zone. They had to meet other students and go up to the keynote speakers to introduce themselves,” Stacona said. “It was just fun watching them grow within themselves.”

In addition to the conference, the students also got a chance to check out the city with Summers and Stacona. These experiences outside of the classroom gave the group time to develop and grow their relationships with one another. 

“The best part of it was actually talking with the kids, to be honest,” Summers said. “At one point, we went to dinner and we had some pretty in-depth conversations about stuff like culture, how they feel they’re being taught in classes, how they perceive things, and how they take certain things they’re taught.” 

Some of the highlights of the trip were checking out The University of Oklahoma and the First Americans Museum. 

“They have a lot of preserved things like dresses, belts, moccasins, and weapons, and they speak a lot about our history and their history,” Medina said. “It correlates with those as well down here in Warm Springs. I think that’s really cool they got to make a huge museum dedicated to Native American people.” 

After reflecting on his time in Oklahoma City, Begay wants to use this experience to benefit not only himself but serve as an inspiration for those around him. 

“My hope is to just come back and be a good example for my fellow peers,” he said. “Help them maybe realize and maybe try to do more stuff in the community. For other students, teachers, parents, and families. If you have a dream, go achieve it.”

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