Ex-governor, partners deliver Nikes: ‘Sometimes when you have to rebuild, you have to build from the ground up, and that starts with the shoes’
Unopened boxes of brand-new Nike shoes were handed to students at the Dream Diné Charter School by former Gov. Bill Richardson in Shiprock last Thursday.
The school was closed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outside under a big white tent beside the school and playground, Taletha Valenski, the school’s governing council president/secretary, welcomed Richardson.
“It is always nice to have guests bring gifts, so we hope we can give you gifts, because your presence really means a lot,” said Valenski.
“Because in the past year we have not had our campus open,” she said, “but today it is open.”
“Thank you, Bill Richardson,” she said, “for believing in our vision, the Diné culture, language, and history, that is what we are revitalizing.”
The shoe project was organized by Valerie Taliman, project consultant for the Governor Richardson-Peterson Zah COVID-19 Navajo Families Relief Fund.
Starting in April 2020, the fund provided $500 in funeral expenses for Navajo families and medical and essential items, down to dog food for ranchers.
“I remember asking Valerie, the Navajo Nation is 27,000 square miles and the terrible COVID hit, and we formed with Peterson Zah a fund to help the Navajo people in New Mexico,” said Richardson.
“I said to Valerie, ‘The CARES Act is coming up, what else can we do?” he said. “And she said shoes.”
Taliman looked at the needs of struggling families by asking law enforcement, school officials, and health care professionals. Shoes were the common request made for the youth.
In the Navajo Nation, there are no department or shoe stores, so families have to travel one to four hours one way to the nearest border town to shop.
“They need a way to get around and get out,” Richardson said. “They were in lockdown away from athletics.”
The Richardson- Zah relief fund partnered with professional golfer Notah Begay III’s foundation (NB3), Nike N7 Fund, donors, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to purchase about 300 shoes for six communities on the Navajo Nation.
Duane “Chili” Yazzie, a long-time friend of Richardson and former Shiprock Chapter president, served as master of ceremonies.
“I really appreciate this gentleman,” Yazzie said. “As Native people and Indian people, we have non-Natives come into our lives at some point that are really special, and I do not have too many friends like that, but I can say Bill Richardson has been a true friend of our people and true public servant, and I am proud to call him my brother.”
Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton and donor April Hale, owner of AHale PR, a Diné-owned small business, presented Richardson with an Eighth Generation wool robe created by Acoma Pueblo designer Michelle Lowden.
Charles-Newton draped the robe over Richardson and spoke about the importance of how to wear it, indicating the lines should go up because that’s the way you always want to grow.
“You do not want the lines to go the other way,” joked Charles-Newton.
Hale shared her success by donating money to support the youth.
“It is one that more tribes, organizations and individuals, and small business owners can get on board with,” she said. “The more donors we have, the more shoes we can buy.”
Begay’s NB3 Foundation provided administrative support and a 50% discount on shoes from Nike N7 that doubled the effort for another round in September.
Begay, speaking on a video as he loaded boxes of shoes for delivery the day before the event, said, “It is an honor to be a part of this initiative, to continue to encourage and uplift Native youth to be healthy and active for their lifetime.”
“At our core, we strive to serve and uplift Native youth and communities, so it was without hesitation we stepped in to help bring something positive,” he said, “in this case, shoes to Native youth who were most affected by the COVID-19 health crisis.”
“Sometimes when you have to rebuild,” Begay said, “you have to build from the ground up, and that starts with the shoes.”
Also announced at the event was a $10,000 donation from Good Sports that will go to purchasing more shoes for other communities and equipment for the Dream Diné Charter School.
The Cherokee Nation also lent a helping hand and made a generous donation.
“In Indian Country, when one of us suffers, we all suffer,” said Joe Byrd, speaker of the Cherokee Nation Council, in a statement. “That’s why it’s so important for tribes to support each other.”
In the audience, Lacey Trujillo, Diné, a designer for Nike, picked out the shoes for the kids.
“As a kid, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan,” said Trujillo, “I thought his Micheal Jordan shoes were the reason why he flies.
“So, from then on, I was really obsessed with shoes, specifically Nikes, and that’s what helped me wanting to pursue a career in shoe design,” she said.
“It is a super cool opportunity just to be able to give back to my community and to see something as great as Nike be involved in such a project,” said Trujillo “because I do focus a lot on the Navajo youth.”