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Celeste Bonito-Nash

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Q) What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you?

I love that Indigenous People are acknowledged as being here, living and thriving. Giving us a month for awareness means that we are being recognized. We, as a people, need acknowledgement for our healing and progress. Native American month helps us bring awareness of our culture and our world to the rest of society. November is an ideal month because the 1st Thanksgiving has been glorified when it should not be. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of Native American history. 

Q) How would you like to impact the Native American Community with the field you are going into?

My work as a future civil engineer will allow me to help bring clean and/or running water to my people. Half of people living on reservations do not have access to this vital resource, whether it be clean water or access to water in their homes. As a student, I can bring awareness to this tragic way of life that is lived here in the United States and Canada today. As a student, I have learned more about our history and solutions for our future. I can share this with people and encourage them to share it with their own. I have power in my voice as do all of you. You have the power as a student to bring about changes just by learning and sharing what you have learned.

Q) How has your Native American heritage or culture shaped your life and who you are?

My Native American heritage gives me purpose and an awareness of my life being vital to this world. I have learned that I am a walking-talking miracle. After all the trauma my ancestors have been through, after many years of attempted genocide on my people, we continue to live, thrive, heal, progress, and learn. 

Q) What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome? 

One of the biggest challenges I have had is overcoming a negative perception of myself. The statistics show that a person like me, who is half raised by Caucasians and half by a single mother who had substance abuse problems and was abusive, is not likely to succeed. I had my first child at the age of 16, I am Indigenous, and I am a woman. The statistics do not hold high hopes for me. I have had to constantly overcome what people and statistics would tell me: that I am not enough, I will not be enough, and nothing I can do will ever be enough. These things are not true. I have had to fight an internal battle to find myself, my strengths and to find a healing path from trauma in my life and that of my ancestors’ lives in order to overcome these negative things in my mind that were believed by the naysayers. The negative things people have said to and about me have given me strength to overcome them. I know now that I am not those negative things people have said that I am. I am a proud and strong mother. I am an indigenous woman and student who has purpose. I have been told that my word is not of value. After overcoming great negativity from others, I have learned that my word is valid. What I have to say is important. 

Q) What is something you feel people should be more aware of? 

I hope that people will be aware that we are here. We need acknowledgment and validation of the issues we have always faced since the first European contact and colonialism up to today. I want people to be aware that being educated about the world around them is crucial to understanding our hardships and why the triumphs we have gained are crucial. It is important to me that people are aware that we still fight many of the same issues we fought long ago: land rights, water rights, fishing and hunting rights, even voting rights here in the state of Arizona for the 2020 election. Be aware that there are suppressed people all around you that need an advocate. You have the power to be an advocate just by learning more about the issues that affect these people. Your word matters. Your education matters. 

Q) What advice would you give to Native American students currently enrolled in the same program that you were in? 

I would encourage Native American students to join the world of STEM. This field is challenging, and we have it in our blood to do challenging things. Our ancestors’ strength has been passed to us through our bloodline and we can accomplish anything our hearts desire. We need to be a part of the solution. We need to do hard things to create progress. STEM is so vital to our success as a people. We need Indigenous People whose hearts are invested in change to be able to bring about the change we need and deserve.

Q) Anything else you would like to share with us? 

I would like everyone to be aware of their own histories and where they come from. If you ever feel lost in life, go to your roots. There is so much to learn about yourself there. Indigenous People of the America’s have been fighting battles since European contact and colonialism. We fight other battles such as cultural appropriation and racism. We are not your Halloween costume, we are not your mascot, we are not political jokes, and we are not gone. We will continue to fight for our wellbeing. Our lives matter. Our education matters. Our resiliency and healing matters. Our happiness matters.