HIS Impact

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By Chevon Petgrave & Jerena Hunter

Growing up, I went to school on the Navajo Reservation. It was going OK for me until I started getting into fights. It got so bad that students would come to my house just to start trouble. Because of this, my mom and I decided I needed to go to school off the reservation at Holbrook Indian School (HIS).

I started going to HIS in 2007 for junior high. This was before they had any special art classes. I was physically absent from the reservation, so I was away from the fights, but things were still rough for me emotionally. I thought suicide was the way out. I would blow up at the staff, and I was always getting sent to the principal’s office. I remember a staff member handing me a pen and paper and telling me to write down whatever I wanted to lash out about. I took the pen, but I actually started drawing instead of writing. The staff noticed that what calmed me down was arts and crafts.

When I came to register for classes the following year, I noticed there were new classes, like drawing and other art classes. I wondered why they were adding these. When I started taking the classes, I noticed some supplies that had not been there before. I saw drawing stands and drawing pencils, which I was told were donated. If it wasn’t for those donations, which helped to start the art classes, I think I would have gone crazy.

I graduated from HIS in 2012. Eight years after graduating, I returned to help by assisting a teacher with physical tasks that he could not perform because of injuries from a recent accident. I have been helping Mr. Bruce with his Welding and Mechanics classes and by taking care of the horses on campus.

I was working for the Navajo Government Census while staying with my mom when I found out about Mr. Bruce’s accident. My family thought I was risking my health and safety by working with the Census on the reservation during this pandemic. I had cases involving households with COVID-19, but as a Census worker, I was notified about this, so I knew when to keep social distance. All I could think of was helping my family financially. My dad’s recent passing has put a financial and emotional strain on them. I needed some sort of income.

I found out about the accident through Mr. and Mrs. Bruce’s posted update on social media. Mr. Bruce was OK, but he would be unable to perform most of his tasks as a teacher. What came to my mind was, “Who is taking care of Skipper? Who’s going to feed him? Mrs. Bruce can’t do that all by herself.” Mr. and Mrs. Bruce were my sponsors during my senior year, so I had grown very close to them. Horsemanship, one of the classes Mr. Bruce had taught, was my favorite class, and Skipper was the horse I rode. When I heard about the accident, I bought a get-well card and wrote a message that I was here if they needed help.

Meanwhile, back on the reservation, I had vehicle problems, and I didn’t know how I would continue doing my work. A few days later, Mr. Bruce called me and asked if I was serious about helping. I told him I was, especially now that I couldn’t continue working with the Census.

When I talked on the phone with the principal, Mr. Ojeda, he told me he would arrange for me to get paid for my assistance. I had been thinking of coming to volunteer. I didn’t know there was going to be any pay involved. My dad would always say, “Some things happen for a reason.” After my car broke down and I got this opportunity to help, his saying came to my mind.