‘We’re resilient and we’re still here’: NACA celebrates 50 years
BÉÉSH HÁÁT’I’, Ariz.
A health and human services provider was created for Kinłání Natives when other social service agencies treated them unfairly 50 years ago.
Native Americans for Community Action, the health and human services provider created for Native Americans in 1971, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.
NACA has grown significantly, caring for, advocating and empowering Natives in northern Arizona, over the past five decades.
Today, it continues to offer comprehensive services to its clients while preserving Native traditions, practices, and other cultural mores.
“We were being discriminated against by other social service organizations,” explained Steve Darden, former NACA executive director, in a video presentation. “So, they said, ‘Let’s start our own organization run by Native people to provide services to Native people.’ That’s how NACA began.”
Discussions about NACA began in the thick of the 1960s seismic social upheavals, around the time when Native activists founded the American Indian Movement to combat police overreach and discrimination in cities where Natives moved under federal relocation programs; and when Natives were struggling with injustice in border towns.
This was a time when Natives living in urban areas like Kinłání faced many social problems as Diné living on Diné Bikéyah but didn’t have the assistance of Nation-based services.
“Most of what we’ve seen in journey of life is that Western way,” Darden said. “That doesn’t work. The recidivism rate is (high).”
“We got to do what needed to be done, so we formed partnerships,” said Ben Nuvamsa, former NACA board president. “It was quite a bit of work.”
Thriving into NACA
NACA was established before the passing of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in 1976. Over time, it grew to incorporate a variety of health and human services from adult basic education, job training and economic development to primary medical care and related health programs.
This includes diabetes case management, health promotion and disease prevention and behavioral health services.
Most of the programs are either free or they are offered at a low cost to clients.
“We did many things together for the Native people,” said Barbara Poley, a former NACA staff member and the first female executive director for the organization. “We were able to attract people because we understood them.
“We understood their background, we understood their needs when they talked to us about something,” she said. “That’s very important to keep in mind.”
In a speech before the celebration, Darden acknowledged those who had the vision of an organization like NACA and those who took the initiative to turn plans into reality.
“There are a lot of beautiful and rich memories because of those elders,” Darden said. “Those that had a vision, those who had that thought, belief that our people can help themselves.
“Our people are strong,” he said. “We’re resilient and we’re still here because this is sacred territory.”
The sacred territory, Darden says, is home to 14 Native tribes in northern Arizona.
“This area is sacred, and we stand today on the lap of Dook’o’oosłííd,” Darden explained. “Her form is feminine, female, loving, compassion, understanding. We call her ‘K’é Dziil’ – she’s our strength.
“All of you who’ve, in one matter or fashion, participated in the development and the growth of NACA,” he said. “When I say NACA, I’m not talking about just the vision, I’m talking about the people.”