From 'Outsiders' to Part of a Community, Native American Brothers Find Second Home, New Path at College
Twin brothers Joseph and Joey Du Shane-Navanick stand on land above Bottle Hollow reservoir, a place on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation that brings back many great childhood memories, pointing on a hot August day toward distant hazy horizons that show just how far their ancestral homeland stretches.
These days, their education has taken them a long way from home and all that was familiar and comfortable to them. But it’s worth it to them. After all, you could get lost or forgotten out here – in reality and metaphorically. Joey and Joseph don’t want either scenario to play out for themselves, their tribe or for any Native Americans.
So, the brothers had several goals when they enrolled separately in recent years at Salt Lake Community College. To be seen. To be heard. To be understood. To connect with others who look like them. To discover who they want to become.
Members of the Ute Indian Tribe, finding others like them was hard. They set out to revive the American Indian Student Leadership club at SLCC by becoming its president and vice president and, for a while, its only two active members. It would be one of the first moves of many while at SLCC meant to immerse themselves in college culture, to belong as a means toward seeking clarification of their academic journey and ultimately their place in the world. That search for clarity was slow going – until they met a professor who became the inspiration both brothers needed.
Born three months premature, ten minutes apart and each about the size of an adult human forearm, Joey and Joseph grew up in northeastern Utah on the far-flung Uintah and Ouray Reservation. At more than 4.5 million acres, the area is the country’s second largest Indian Reservation – and a long way from any SLCC campus. Before there was a reservation or even non-Natives, their Northern Ute Tribe occupied vast swaths of Utah, Colorado and the area known as the Great Basin region for over 10,000 years. To stand on part of that land now and try to take it all in is almost overwhelming and hard to imagine.
The modern Northern Ute Tribe is actually made up of the once separate Uncompahgre, Uintah and White River Ute tribes. Joey and Joseph’s ancestral tribe, the White River Utes, made their homes in the mountains in western Colorado and Eastern Utah along the Colorado River. The brothers, now 24, put great value on their historical sense of place, areas that were fought over throughout the 1800s by white people with competing interests in their tribe’s homelands. The acreage apportioned by the government in the 1860s spanning three counties today has about half of the tribe’s nearly 3,000 members living there. It’s a three-plus hour drive from their current home in the Salt Lake Valley – a journey the brothers have made many times, especially for their sought-after leadership during the current pandemic.
At Uintah High School in Vernal, they considered themselves “outsiders” as two of only a handful of Native Americans in a class of more than 200. Their mother, Nicole Du Shane, raising the boys on her own after their father died of liver failure when they were only three, wanted a better education than what she thought the reservation could provide. “Our family values education,” Joey says. “Our mother cared for and carried us in the most difficult time of her life, alone. I see now that it was hard to sacrifice so much for two children. She made us to become the men who we are today and the ones we aspire to be tomorrow.” Every morning, the boys got up at 5 a.m., and their grandma, Alice Du Shane – a huge influence in their lives – would make a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast and bacon before the 45-minute bus ride from the reservation to school.
Joseph and Joey stand on the porch of their late grandmother's house.
High school was difficult. Fitting in was hard. The two became co-presidents of a Native American heritage club. With some success, they helped spread the word among the whites in school about the Northern Ute Tribe. Teachers, the brothers say, didn’t take much interest in them beyond making sure they passed their classes. “No one told us about the importance of grades,” Joey says. “No one taught us about things beyond high school.” After being denied access to a university, Joey was told to enroll at SLCC. “Our mom told us, ‘You either work or you go to school,’” he says. Joseph, the older twin by 10 minutes, received nurturing from a high school auto shop teacher, and that led to some training and a job after graduation, but it wasn’t the right fit – he didn’t like being “bossed” around. “I want to be a boss,” he says. “I want to go to school to become a boss.”
The boys, now adults, finally ended up together at SLCC, living in an apartment near the college’s Taylorsville Redwood Campus, “…away from everything I knew,” Joey points out. “It was scary,” he says about starting out. Dividends they receive from the tribe’s oil and gas interests on the reservation help pay for school – for that, the brothers say, they are fortunate and grateful. Joey arrived first. But he was soon lonely and depressed. The “shotgun” approach to choosing classes wasn’t hitting anything that stood out. He thought about dropping out. Joseph quit his job working as a mechanic and enrolled at SLCC. “No one taught me how to go to school,” he says. “I didn’t have the skills I needed to pass my classes.” Grades began to slip. “I thought, ‘This is like high school all over again. No one is helping me,’ Joseph recalls. “And I didn’t know where to get help.”
Then their beloved grandma passed away. She was a major link to their heritage. She helped instruct the boys in the tribe’s traditional ways. She told them about her late husband, Elwin Du Shane, the grandfather they never met but who was a great leader and well respected in the tribe. Grandfather had graduated from college. She told the boys they would be like him someday. “It was hard,” Joseph says about her passing. But when things get difficult, when they reach within for courage to stand up and speak and lead, their grandparents’ influence and memory has been a constant thread woven into their college experience.
The brothers needed something more. They needed to connect with someone. To be heard. To be connected with a path that worked for them. They finally found that critical link in Ed Engh’s Foundations of Business course. “He was the first person to take me seriously,” Joey says. “He’s the first person who actually asked me, ‘What does it mean to be a Native American and what does that look like?’ He really got my mind thinking critically, engaged me, asking myself ‘How am I going to develop myself, my tribe and my community?’ It can change your life to be taken seriously.” Joseph noticed that Joey had been reading philosophy as part of the class, and that compelled him to take the class.
“I went in there, and he rolled up in his wheelchair and asked, ‘What do you think this class is about?’” Joseph recalls Ed asking. “’You probably think it’s about statistics and how to make money.’ He said, ‘It’s not.’ He was the first guy to get me to think critically. He was the first guy to get me to think for myself in a way that I could make my own connections. Ed cared that I thought deeper. Ed actually cared that I took his class seriously. I cared that he cared. I wanted to get a good grade because he cared. That was a turning point for me – a professor who cared about what I was invested in.”
From the beginning of class, Ed says, he saw expressions of wonder, resistance and even hesitation in both Joey and Joseph’s eyes. “Wonder, because so much of the information surprised them – resistance and hesitation because it challenged many cherished areas of their heritage,” Ed says. “And, so, I saw this wonderful opportunity to reveal a side of myself that I probably kept hidden from most students. By revealing my own struggles with critical thinking and the challenge it presented to everything I assumed absolutely true and unquestionable, they had a friend, not just a teacher. And now we are friends for life.”
In Ed’s class, his students explored the ethics and moral philosophy of commerce, and he encouraged the brothers to share their views on the “disastrous consequences” of imperialist/capitalist exploitation of Native populations. That class was a catalyst for the brothers. In Ed’s class and elsewhere at SLCC, the brothers began making noise – good noise. Through involvement in multiple clubs and committees, they were raising awareness at SLCC about inequities while standing and raising their voices as Native Americans in whatever context that allowed them opportunities to speak.
As the SLCC Student Association (SLCCSA) Special Assistant to the President for Inclusivity and Equity, Joey worked closely with Dr. Lea Lani Kinikini, who holds the same title at the college. She describes Joey as a “transformational leader” who encountered a lot of opposition. “He showed such strength and focus under pressure,” Lea Lani says. “He came up against a lot of resistance in a dominant culture where things weren’t easy. I remember sharing with Joey that Native and indigenous worldviews are vital to helping this broken society heal itself, and Joey was really well in touch with that but had not really had that idea supported at SLCC – that there are multiple worldviews and multiple cultural worlds that we each bring and that ultimately SLCC is on a journey through students to change the system and the status quo to be a true reflection of our diverse worldviews.”
The brothers were among the first students Maria Martinez met in her new role at SLCC as director of the college’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. “From the first time I met them, I knew they were special,” Maria says. “They both have such a deep commitment to equity. Both have been instrumental in the resurrection of the American Indian Student Leadership Club and ensuring SLCC has a robust Native American Heritage Month each November.” She describes Joey’s hard work and dedication as “truly unmatched.”
The list of staff and faculty at SLCC who have aided and influenced the brothers along their journey kept getting longer. Glory Stanton-Johnson, manager of Multicultural Initiatives. Dr. Kathryn Coquemont, associate vice president over student success. Charlotte Smith, advisor to the American Indian Student Leadership club. Like Ed, they have all stopped to listen, understand and help.
Soon more and more students began to see the brothers. To hear them. To understand them. To connect with them. One of those students was Wyatt Bringhurst, who met Joey as a fellow member of the SLCCSA Executive Council. “Unlike others, he wanted to learn and see what I had to teach him,” Joey says. “I shared all that I could. And we found that both of us were interested in diversity and equity work. He became a friend and an ally. His work ethic and dedication inspired me to work harder and push myself to be the best I could be. My devotion to valuing diversity and promoting equability for everyone comes from this friendship – to make my friend proud.”
They are making their tribe proud. “People view us as leaders,” Joseph says. “They know how involved we are at college.” He thinks nothing of hopping in his Chevy and driving the three hours to a place he says where the sky is always beautiful. The brothers have repeatedly gone back to the reservation this year to talk about taking the current pandemic seriously, to boost morale, to talk about having a plan and staying active in order to avoid vices, to bless and counsel other members using traditional ways taught to them by their relatives. It’s no surprise that each wants a career that would allow them to help Native Americans, both back at home and in the Salt Lake Valley. They both plan on graduating from SLCC within the next year or so and then pursuing advanced degrees in business – thanks, in part, to that first class with Ed Engh.
Both brothers are employed at the college, Joseph in the Orientation and Student Success office, Joey in the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. They stay active. And their efforts have helped shed new light on historical Native American connections to land beneath SLCC campuses, with special and permanent recognition being paid this fall through traditional ceremony and celebration.
These days, Joseph and Joey are seen – prominently – in two worlds, both on the reservation and at SLCC. They are heard in two worlds. They are understood. They are discovering who they want to become.
On an August afternoon after they have given a tour of their childhood home and haunts, Joey is grateful and eager to take it way back with a telling of his tribe’s creation story. The story happens to unfold in a teepee set up in nearby Neola on the property of the brothers’ uncle Larry Cesspooch. Larry is a Native storyteller and a spiritual advisor who has taught Joey and Joseph plenty over the years. The story begins with an introduction of “the creator,” a single being who wants something more for what has been created and who has the power to change things. Joey’s words paint pictures you can see in your mind. You can hear the enthusiasm and pride in his voice as he tells the story. You can begin to understand who Joey and Joseph are as you listen.