One east coast family's way to raise their kids 'the Navajo way'

Ani Begay Auld and her husband Kiros Auld are raising their three sons on the east coast but want them to have a strong Navajo identity

The inside of Ani Begay Auld’s home in Columbia, Maryland, is decorated like any other home on the rez. There are Navajo rugs and artwork on the wall. She even has her children’s old cradleboards hanging near the front windows of her home. She has a sign next to her door that reads “Hogan Sweet Hogan.”

When her two oldest children, Naataani, 7, and Ashkii, 5, greet visitors they say “Ya’at’eeh!” and give hugs before going back to play. Her youngest, Nabahii, is just 10 months.

Begay Auld and her husband Kiros Auld, are raising their three sons on the east coast but want them to have a strong Navajo identity. “I want them to feel comfortable knowing that they’re Navajo,” Begay Auld, who is from Two Grey Hill, New Mexico, said. “I don’t want them to ever go home and like they don’t belong.

So far Begay Auld has done a great job of family raising, and people have been asking her to start about blog about how she raises her kids with a strong sense of Native identity. It took her a while to make a decision but she finally decided to launch her blog on March 27. In one post she talked about a trip she took home to bury her son’s placenta on her homelands.

Begay Auld is To’aheedliinii born for Bit’ahnii

She works for the federal government and does beadwork and moccasin-making on the side. She sells her work through her website/blog, www.navabedine.com.

A teddy bear she beaded sits on a shelf in U.S. Representative Deb Haaland’s office. Kiros Auld works for Native Lifelines that helps connect Native Americans to health services in Baltimore, Maryland.

Even though the family doesn’t live within the Navajo Nation, Begay Auld does everything she can to promote the Navajo language and culture with her children.

“Our culture, we have a language,” Begay Auld said. “We have ceremonies. We have all this stuff that’s here. And why would you not take hold on that and preserve it as much as you could?”

So, she teaches her children how to introduce themselves in Navajo. Naataani loves to sing Navajo nursery rhymes like the “Navajo Puppy” song.

“I don’t want our traditions to be lost,” she said.

One of Begay Auld’s highlights as a mother was when her son Ashkii was looking out the window of their vehicle and saw turkeys alongside the road. He said to his mother, “Aww, mom I want to see the tazhii!” Her other son Naataani also uses the Navajo words for animals.

“Naataani will be like ‘Hey mom, look at that beegashii, the all-black one,” Begay Auld said.

She says moments like these are all the validation she needs to know that all the extra work she does to implement Navajo culture and language into her family was paying off.

Because it’s not easy to bring Nemo Hádéést'į́į́ to the east coast for a weekend movie showing at a major theater — Begay Auld worked with a Disney executive to bring the Navajo-language version of Finding Nemo to a theater in downtown Silver Springs, Maryland.

“It was a long process but it was actually kind of cool,” she said with a smile.

Begay Auld also does cultural presentations to her sons’ schools every November for Native American Heritage Month. This will be her fifth year of doing this. She brings with her a cradleboard, a rug, and a Navajo basket.

Begay Auld always starts her presentations by saying “Ya’at’eeh!” Then she has the students say it back to her. Then, she tells the class about how there are over 573 different Native American tribes.

“That means there are 573 ways to say ‘hello,’” Begay Auld tells the students.

Only once did she have a negative experience with setting up her cultural presentations. Last year, her son’s teacher declined and stated, “We already have a curriculum in place for Native American Heritage Month.”

This teacher said the students were going to read four books, all written by non-Natives, and do art projects. These art projects were a “buffalo storytelling skin,” and a “Native American talking sticks.”

This was upsetting for Begay Auld. She says she was confused as to why the school wouldn’t want an actual Native person to share their culture with the students of Howard County Public Schools.

“You have someone here who is willing to talk about their culture for free,” she said.

Begay Auld also reached out to four other Native people she works with who are all from different tribes to ask if they would talk about their heritage as well and they all agreed.

“And they said ‘no, thank you. We have our own curriculum,” she said. “This fake curriculum!”

Begay Auld eventually reached out to the diversity chair for the board of education. This year her son’s school is having the students pick a Native nation and do research on them. This was a win for Begay Auld. Since this incident, she was also asked by other teachers to come and do presentations.

She has also organized beading, Navajo weaving and moccasin making workshops for her family and the D.C. Native community overall.

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Ashkii and Naataani Auld after the Indigenous Peoples March on January 18. 

Her biggest motivation to keep doing events and workshops like these are her sons.

While it’s difficult to be away from home, she knows there are a lot of opportunities for her children on the east coast. So, Begay Auld doesn’t want her children to live out there for “nothing.” So, she’s been trying to take her children out to as many events as possible.

“I want my kids to be able to say ‘I was there,’” she said. “If I have to be away from my home, from something I love, I want it to be for something.”

Her children have met members of Congress. They include Rep. Deb Haaland, Rep. Sharice Davids, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They’ve also attended the Indigenous People’s March where they met author Gyasi Ross, hip hop artist Nataanii Means, and former Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull.

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The Auld Family got to meet US Rep. Sharice Davids, D-KS, who became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. (Courtesy Navajo Times)

They’ve also met President Jonathan Nez and Vice-President Myron Lizer during the welcome event at the Navajo Washington Office.

Not only have they met the most notable Native Americans but the boys have also done a bit of modeling. Naataani has modeled for H&M and the GAP has been interested in Ashkii. Naataani was even signed to a modeling agency. The money they make modeling is going to savings for their college education.

Even though Begay Auld really wants to move home, she knows opportunities like this are worth staying on the east and she’s going to continue bringing Navajo language and culture to her home away from home. 

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Pauly Denetclaw, Diné, served as a fellow with Indian Country Today. She is a staff reporter for the Navajo Times. Her work was supported by a grant from the Bay and Paul Foundations.

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