Continuing the Tradition of Creator’s Goodness

The Importance of Remembering the Stories and Practices of our Ancestors

Renee Begay

Renee Kylestewa Begay is from the Pueblo of Zuni, located in the southwestern part of New Mexico. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Donnie Begay, and they have three daughters. She is the national director for Nations, a conference speaker, and manages a resource website called The Talking Circle. She co-founded the Nations movement—a national ministry that seeks to build good relationships with Indigenous communities.


Hello, my name is Renee Begay. Keshhi ho’ Renee Begay le’shina. Ho K’o:lotda:kwe deyan K’yak’yali:kwe a:wan cha’le. 

I’m gonna start off with some questions. How have you been holding these last couple of years? And how do you remember what was reflective of the good? Or how do you reimagine a way of life or living that represents the goodness from the beginning? These questions I asked for myself over the past couple of years, and it’s been hard for me to sit in, especially when we may have been conditioned to live in an either/or thinking. Either it’s all good, or either it’s all bad, and when the two exist at the same time, it can be confusing to figure out how to hold both. Or, when we’ve been conditioned to live in a time perspective that caters only to the future and only toward moving on instead of acknowledging the pain of the present and the past, we feel—well, I felt bad about not moving on like everyone else. 

But something in me has reminded me that our histories are just as valuable as the future. So I’ve been digging deeper and growing in my awareness of trauma for the past… I would say eight years as a ministry worker. And at first I was observing how trauma was affecting other people in their decision-making. At the time, I didn’t have words or even just know how to bring understanding to what I was seeing, but as I was learning more, I started seeing how trauma had played a part in my story and I just wasn’t aware of it. Or there were times that if I think back to my memory of living minute by minute through traumatic experiences, but at the time I was maybe surviving that moment, but I hadn’t fully named what was happening to my body when it came back up. So there’s probably moments these past couple of years where we’ve all felt that we could relate to it, where our bodies are still recovering over what was experienced two years ago, yet it’s two years later. 

So the first question that I have been wondering if it was even okay to ask was, can we go back? Can we go back and talk about the things that shook us? Can we go back and talk about the things that devastated us? Can we go back and talk about the things that froze us in time? And maybe in my head, I was thinking once we acknowledge what has happened to us, then there could be an opportunity to make room for the memories and the practices that continue the tradition of goodness that Creator instilled in us. After learning more about the parts of trauma, I began to ask a second question: can we go back and look for the practices of resilience? Can we go back and look for the practices of health and well-being? For me, that kept our indigenous people living in a good way. You can change the question to personalize it however you want for yourself. 

So this is what I have been thinking about, because there have been things that my people have done, not just to survive, but to laugh and to enjoy life, even after 100 years of attempted genocide and erasure to our indigenous identity. It got me thinking of practices and traditions and things that have kept our people living in a good way.

And I acknowledge that traditions can be a very complex conversation for many of us, especially if we have experiences where our traditions, our traditional ways have been dismissed or misunderstood. For example, many tribes were banned within—here, the tribes in the United States have been banned from practicing their traditions of dancing, their traditions of speaking our language, traditions of wearing our cultural attire, our regalia, and even banned from participating in ceremonies. This was banned and illegal up until 1951. And so in light of this, I looked into the scriptures with these two questions that I had been having: can we go back? And I started asking, how did God call the Israelites to remember and acknowledge their past? What traditions and practices did God ask of the Israelites? And you don’t have to go too far into the scriptures to know that there were times where God asked the Israelites to proclaim. God asked the Israelites to sing about His greatness, so a physical practice of singing. God asked them to remember their roots and their history. He wanted them to remember who called them and led them. He wanted them to remember how He set up boundaries for them. And the only way that they could remember these roots was by asking their elders and generations before them for the stories. And so these practices and traditions were encouraged to help the Israelites to look back and to see God’s faithfulness. 

So tying in the scripture to my experience, I began to look for evidence of God’s faithfulness within my community. And as I started to ask my indigenous elders these same questions—what were these practices and traditions that our people have done over the centuries? And I think the Holy Spirit sensed my desire and began bringing example after example of how indigenous peoples have practiced resilience as remembrance, how indigenous peoples have practiced self-determination for the future. So many examples were things like continuing the cultural practices of speaking my language; helping my daughters take part in their cultural dancing; farming and caring for the seeds in the Zuni traditional way; and the big one for me that has a very intimate memory was prayer. As a little girl, my grandpa would wake me up every morning and we would go outside, we would greet the sun, and we would pray. And once I acknowledged that this tradition was a practice of the goodness that Creator set in me, I began to continue it in gratefulness. You know, not all the things that I’ve been experiencing these past couple of years—it wasn’t erased, the memory is still there, the hardship is still there, but there was gratefulness that was also created within that—remembered during that time, and even up until now. It’s a gift that I can pass on to my daughters like my grandpa did for me. 

And I wanna be sensitive to those who may not know their story beyond their generation or for those who are making sense of multiple stories. I wanna acknowledge that, and I hope that you forgive me if there was any sad feelings that came up from that or any aches that you weren’t necessarily expecting. But I’m praying that, as you take the courageous step of learning more about your own story of identity, that the Holy Spirit will gladly take part in weaving those things together with you. If you do feel stuck, exhausted like I am, traumatized, and this feeling of knowing that things aren’t quite the same, I hope you know that you have something that was already set in place by Creator that attests to the dignity, the humanity, and the goodness of your heritage. Your heritage has practices of resilience that can be unearthed and continued. They were hidden from you, and it was probably done on purpose, but now, with gentle curiosity, you can ask for help to reimagine. Creator God gifted our identities to us. With support around you, you get to choose who to tell your story to, and for those of us who are blessed to hear it, we get to affirm and celebrate the values that were set in place by Creator’s delight.

Even when the world fails to appreciate you or fails to see your identity, you can be proud that Creator sees you in all your nuances and intricacies. He made you and delighted in you. And in the places where your humanity is ignored or misused or erased, look back to the stories and the practices that made you human. Call out to Creator to help you remember the goodness of His creation. Thank you.

Want To Dig A Little Deeper?

Check out Ep. 28 of the podcast: Carrying Traditions of God’s Goodness: An Indigenous View with Renee Begay

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