by Maryalice Yakutchik
GIANT HEARTS, GIANT SOULS
Sunday, June 2 / Day 1
Suddenly, several thousand pounds of ice seems insufficient; 14,532 water bottles, a drop in the desert.
It’s nearing noon on the first Sunday in June: kick-off time for the 17th annual NativeVision Camp. Already, the contingent of coaches has broken a collective sweat that’s likely to last for the next three days, through Tuesday’s farewell ceremony. Rap music thrums as hundreds of flushed kids pour into “the Pit,” a polished basketball arena that’s the heart of Shiprock High. More stream out of buses encircling the front football field where a lone sprinkler struggles to keep the New Mexico desert at bay.
Here in the Navajo Nation, water flows only occasionally in the arroyos, and not at all in many of the run-down trailers and farms tucked into this landscape’s volcanic folds. Homes in this community, like those on other reservations across the country, often lack plumbing as well as electricity. Poverty gnaws at American Indians, especially the young. Compared with other children and teens nationwide, they have the highest rates of mortality, suicide, drug and alcohol use and dropping out of school.
As principal of Shiprock High, NativeVision volunteer Rick Edwards bears witness to the broken homes, domestic violence and self-destructive behaviors that plague his students. He holds out hope because he knows them; and because he knows them, he loves them. He tells them so every day, including today, as he waves them into the Pit.
“These kids have giant hearts and giant souls and just the kind of grit and fortitude it takes to overcome obstacles most of us never saw,” he says.
NativeVision’s capital is a real-world positive focus embodied by Edwards, one of 100 volunteers making sure that meals get served three times a day, and that the first-aid kits are stocked with sunscreen and the Porta Potties with TP. Volunteers, staff and professional athletes—all are in on the not-so-secret secret: NativeVision is a life-skills camp camouflaged in balls and lacrosse sticks, conducted on fields instead of in classrooms, led by big-time coaches instead of teachers. Their universal take-away message is simple: Stay in school. But nobody lets that get in the way of the fun. As a result, the camp appeals to kids spanning grades 3 through 12, and representing a diverse collection of tribal communities, including Navajo, Zuni Pueblo, Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Sioux, Jicarilla Apache, Dine, Santo Domingo Pueblo, White Mountain Apache, Laguna Pueblo, Cheyenne-Arapaho and Cochiti Pueblo.
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