November is Native American Heritage Month. The Mesa Public Schools NAEP celebrated a fabulous Heritage Night at Westwood High School. The evening was filled with Native royalty, sizzling dance performances, and a heart-felt community spirit. The evening started with an invocation by Freddie Johnson, Diné, and the Land Acknowledgment read by Vice Principal Paul Davis. Keynote speaker was Steven P. Toya Sr. from New Mexico, a much loved counselor and educator. NAEP Program Director Esther Nystrom was visibly proud of her District team that night. Senior NAEP Liaison Debra Toya from Mountain View High School had brought the Royalty and top performers to the stage.

Amazing performances by the internationally acclaimed Indigenous Enterprise group (top row) and Renae Blackwater/Maswade (above).

The fancy Rooster Dance

Multi-talented performers

The Drum Group (above) fired up the spirit of dance. Then the Traditional Akimél O’odham Singers (below; Salt River Pima) invited everybody to join hands for a social dance.

Everybody dance, and . . .

. . . they all did.

Finally, Thunder and his brother Tyler read us a story called “Thunder’s Hair.”
Here Tyler and Thunder are with team leader Tiffany (middle) and their mom (right).

Debra Toya (left) and Esther Nystrom (right) provided gifts for Royalty and honorees.

Great job, everybody!


Arizona is home to 22 Tribal Nations that comprise approximately 28 percent of Arizona’s land base. Two important legislative bills impacted the Native American communities in 2021:

  1. In April, Governor Ducey signed a historic tribal-state gaming compact agreement that modernized gaming in Arizona.
  2. The Governor also signed legislation allowing Native American students in communities across Arizona to wear traditional tribal regalia at their graduation.
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