© 2021
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Native American Stories of Resilience

Marian DeClay

All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©

Marian DeClay:  Hello! My name is Marian DeClay. I am a White Mountain Apache from the Fort Apache tribe in Arizona. I am currently living in Bismarck, North Dakota. I've been here for about approximately four years. I have two children. One is a six-year old and my baby is two years old. I have a husband who is Gene DeClay.

                        I am in the Business Administration Program here at United Tribes. I'll be graduating in May with my Bachelors of Science. I've been on the president's list for the last four years. I'm on the American Indian Business Leaders. I am the vice president for the AIBL Program of Public Outreach and Marketing. I am also a student, I guess you would say student advisor for the, what you call, Campus Safety Program. Then, I also helped out with the tribal, what do you call it, the Tribal Leaders Summit. I did that also, helped out with that.

Lorraine Davis:  Okay. You told us basically your profile, just for us to get familiar with you a little bit, your background and things. It's all very positive. You have a family, you're very family-orientated. How about some of the career potential? What are some of the aspirations that you have?

DeClay:            I will be taking the LSAT test in June, on 8th of June. That's what I'm currently studying for right now. I was advised by one of my friends who's a lawyer that I should take it in October since I will be graduating in May. She was telling me that I only have a month to study it, for the test, but I know that I can do it. I know that if I put my mind to it, I'll be able to pass it or actually get higher grades.

                        I just went ahead and enrolled for the June 8th test. That's what I'm doing right now and I'll be able to go to law school. I'm thinking more of environmental law. Also, I want to get into public law.

Davis:              Great. That's great. We always need lawyers in any country. Do you plan on using ... Are you particular about where you locate after you finish law school? Is it specific to taking that back home or does it really matter?

DeClay:            Right now, it doesn't really matter. I wouldn't mind staying around here in North Dakota because I'm looking at the law school here in Grand Forks. They have the Native Americans in law. I guess, after law school, they place you at any of the five reservations. You can be a travel court judge, or lawyer, or any of that, that would pertain to law. I think I would rather have some experience before going home and taking over.

Davis:              You're right. There's such a shortage. My husband is North Dakota Indian Affair's commissioner so I know a little bit about tribes. Generally speaking, I know that we have a shortage of judges. That's maybe something you might pursue.

DeClay:            Yeah. That's what they were saying, is that they, "Well, if you graduate from there, they can have you be a judge, any of the five reservations or you can also work in the Bismarck." I guess the section where your husband works, somewhere in that area.

Davis:              Sure. Yeah.

DeClay:            I wouldn't mind working at any of the tribes. I'm trying to have a feel of what goes on really. I'm excited and nervous at the same time in taking my test.

Davis:              Yeah. I bet. It's surely a transition. That brings us back to a little bit about going backwards now. We know where you are today. We know where you're going. We know a little bit about you. Tell me about some of your history. Growing up, where did you grow up?

DeClay:            I grew up on the reservation. It's a small tiny town. It's called Cedar Creek, Arizona. Population is about 150. Growing up, we didn't have any stores or anything where we could shop. We always had to go up the reservation which is about an hour drive both ways to get all of our groceries and everything like that.

Davis:              You say, that was a ... Was it a small town or was it an urban area that you get to drive to an hour away?

DeClay:            It was like an urban area like a border town. It was right off the reservation. It was mostly playing outside and doing all the things as little kid and going hunting with my oldest brother. I call him my brother but he's really my cousin. We had a TV but it was really limited. It was probably like three channels on there. I didn't have cable or anything of that sorts. We did a lot. It was fun.

Davis:              Now, today, it's hard to imagine our children being limited with TVs and computers and all of those things. It's so different today.

DeClay:            It is, especially because my son, he has an iPad and he has his Xbox. He wants to play his game and everything and then I tell him, I was like, "You know, we only had three channels." He's like, "Mom, you're not that old, because I'm 17." I'm like, "Okay."

Davis:              That's so nice. They're usually making us feel older. My kids do anyway. That's nice. Growing up as child, you grew up in a very small town, 150 people. How would you say that ... What did you take from that? I know you mentioned about playing outside but there must have been things that you learned with the things like your culture. Did you learn more about your culture in the Indian Reservation?

DeClay:            Yeah. My grandma used to go out and pick medicinal plants. She's used to show us which plants were used for aches and pains, sore throats, and stuff like that. She used to teach us that. That's my grandma from my dad's side. My grandparents from my mother side, they were really traditional.

                        My family right now, they're the main ones who do the traditional dances back home. The main medicine man for our tribe which is my cousin is my mom's older brother's son. My mom's older brother was the main medicine man. There's 11 bands of Apaches and he goes out to all the other bands and he does there traditional dances. There are ceremonies.

                        I learned a lot, tradition-wise on both sides. My grandma on my dad's side, she was Christian, grew up in the Assemblies of God with her. Then, when I go visit my mom's side of the family, I would go to the traditional ceremonies with them.

                        My mom and dad, they were married for a while and then, they divorced and I grew up with my dad's side of the family. I was adopted by my dad's older sister.

Davis:              How old were you at that time?

DeClay:            She said she got me when she was a baby but when I talked with my mom, she said that I was probably when I was four or five years old. That’s when they divorced and everything. That's when I started living with my aunt. She's the main one who raised me. I would see my mom but then, at that time, she went back to school. She went to Texas to attend a Bible school and she graduated ... Well, she transferred back to Arizona. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in Arizona. After she got her bachelor's degree, that's when I moved back in with her.

Davis:              What age were you at that time?

DeClay:            I was probably 16. About 15, 16, in that area, but I always went to go visit her and stuff like that. I visit my grandparents. I still was active in both ways. I don't know. When people say, living in both worlds, I would say, "I understand what you're talking about but this is like four." For me, there was four ways. There was the white way, the Indian way, the traditional, and the church way.

                        You know what I mean? I'm like, I understand that when people say that but I don't like that term also. When they say, when they're walking two roads, it's just like, okay.

Davis:              That's very interesting. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? I think that's really interesting to break it down. Just your perspective. There's no right or wrong here. It's just a learning time right now. If you want to share that a little bit.

DeClay:            Like I said, for me, the way I visualize it, it's four ways. The white way would be non-traditional, education first and just staying away from culture, really. Then, there is the traditional and where we maintain our culture, maintain our language, and keeping up with the ceremonies. Then, there's the church way where like I used to go with my grandma when I was a young girl and we attended church services- Sunday mornings, Sunday night and Wednesday night. That was straight Bible rules. God said this, God said that, you can't look at certain things on TV and you can't say swear words, stuff like that.

                        Then, it was just like ... I think that's that part that was really confusing is that well ... I could understand that when you go to church, you can't maintain your tradition but for me, it was really hard because I went to both places. I could not understand when we went to church, all the ladies wore the traditional dresses, the camp dresses to church. You would see that also at the traditional dance, they have all the traditional camp dresses at our ceremonies.

                        That was the part I was like, "Okay. Well, if you're saying that to forget about tradition. Tradition is bad." Back then, the Assemblies of God, they were just say that, all traditional and ceremony were devil worship. I actually did hear that in church. "You shouldn't go to your ceremonies. You shouldn't participate in them. That's the devil working." That was the part that was like, "So, does that mean that the other side of my family are devil-worship person ..." You know, that was really weird, but from my point of view, I knew that both tradition, they both serve God. It was our own way of expressing our thanks to him.

Davis:              Interesting. The Assemblies of God's church, they said that it was evil basically to practice your traditional ways of any type. For example, wearing the traditional dresses to church. The women, the Indian women wore them anyhow?

DeClay:            Yeah. They still wear them.

Davis:              Okay.

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              What was the church ... Were they accepted, all that, or they accept it?

DeClay:            They just accepted. To this day, they still wear the dresses. It's a camp dress. They still wear it. I think, that's just of the things that was confusing to me. I was like, "Well, why are you still wearing this dress when you're saying it's the devil." It was conflicting. I've noticed that over the years. They started to get more lenient.

                        Back home, there's a huge following to the high school basketball teams. When there was a church, the preacher would be up there and say, "You cannot go to basketball games. You know, that's evil."

Davis:              Going to basketball games? That's evil?

DeClay:            Yeah. Going to basketball games was evil. Going to football games was evil. They were so strict. My grandma was so religious. She just wouldn't let us go on our own. She was the main that was like, made the choices for us as little girls. What to do, what not to do.

                        I think I really liked it when I was with my mom's side of the family because we went to the traditional dances and we did a lot more. I knew, I started to question a lot of things. There was just so many things that really helped me out especially going to the traditional dances. I was able to speak my language. I was able to ask more questions and get answers.

Davis:              How did you deal with the conflict that must has still been going on? The church is telling all these strict rules. For example, the traditional dresses, the basketball games. You did not stop going to basketball, did you?

DeClay:            No.

Davis:              You have to make a choice at some point, right?

DeClay:            Yeah. I think, after becoming a teen and still going to both places. I guess, you would say that during the week, I would follow my grandma's rules because she was the main in our family that was making rules like we couldn't do this, we couldn't do that. When I go see my mom's side of the family and we'd go to traditional dances, that's when I would participate in traditional dances and whatnot. That was like, I did both and I made sure to not mix them up together.

Davis:              That's how you navigated through life then with both-

DeClay:            Yeah, with both sides. One of my closest friends, growing with her, she was my neighbor, she was so against tradition. She knew what the church wanted and now, up until recently, she started going to traditional dances. She did four dances already and that's all she's into. She just says, "Yaho awas.  I grew up in this." When I know that, "No, you didn't."

                        I think that since my grandma past away, now my whole family, they go to wherever they want. I think she was the main one, she was the prayer warrior. Basically, she was in church and always praying and all of that.

Davis:              When we say, you mentioned white way, traditional church and then now we have, the native way or the Indian way. What would that be or how is that different from traditional?

DeClay:            I think the native way, when I think about when people say, there's two roads that they walk on which is the native way and the white way. The native way to me would just basically be speaking your language and just understanding where you're coming from, understanding your history. I think that there's just so many people, so many natives that they don't know their history or they don't want to learn about the history because they feel they're embarrassed by it. They feel they were conquered or something.

                        For me, I want to know all about my history, all about the Apache history. I'm interested in learning about other people's history, what they went through and then understanding that they're still here today when we're not supposed to be here basically. That would be when people talk about two roads, that's what I think of. It's like there's the native way and then the white way. For me, I would say, I had four ways. It was the native way, and the white way, and the traditional way, and then there's church way. I dealt with all four, really.

Davis:              That could be very confusing growing up. We're talking about, I think, knowledge versus the spirituality case.

DeClay:            Yeah, basically. Like I said, I did everything my grandma told me to do. Some things that I didn't listen to was going to the dances and stuff like that, which I'm glad I did honestly because I think for me, I know that I learned a lot. I learned about my culture, my language and everything, like why certain plants are used and why certain trees are used in our tradition. That type of thing.

Davis:              Let me just back up a little bit. When you say, grandma, grandma, it's on dad's side or mom's side?

DeClay:            The traditional or the ...

Davis:              You have two grandmas. One's traditional, one is ...

DeClay:            The traditional is my mom's side and the one that was strictly church was my dad's side of the family.

Davis:              Okay, okay. You had to balance in satisfying the two.

DeClay:            Yeah. The two forces.

Davis:              You developed a lot of skill sets, right?

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              We learned how to negotiate at a very young age, right?

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              That's interesting. I guess, getting back to maybe a little bit of some of the challenges. Were there any other challenges? I know you mentioned you grew up on the reservation. Would that have been all the way up until you went to college or at what point did you ever moved to the city or the urban areas?

DeClay:            I think in high school, I went to the boarding school out in California. The Riverside Indian School. That was my first time moving away from home and I really liked it. I enjoyed it. I think mostly because I was always maneuvering between both sides of my family. For me to be as a whole state away and not under anybody's protective eyes or whatever, it was just a really-

Davis:              Freedom.

DeClay:            Yeah. Freedom.

Davis:              I bet there was the opportunity then to be inquisitive and kind of without worried about you being slapped so to say?

DeClay:            Yeah. Basically. I was there for about couple of years. I went to school there. That's when I started to understand that there was a lot more natives than Apaches. I knew that there was some Navajos in Arizona. I mean, that's how tiny the city or the town that I grew up in. There was just Navajos and Hopis and Apaches and some Pima. Then, going to boarding and there was thousands of other natives there. I really loved it. I was like, "Oh okay. We're not the only ones." I think it was empowering to know that there was a lot more.

Davis:              It came from different tribes.

DeClay:            Exactly. From different tribes.

Davis:              That brings to light, that growing up, there was a sense of feeling as, "There's not many of us." How did that feel growing up? You grow up in the reservation before high school. As a child, growing up in that little town, you're still interactive with non-natives?

DeClay:            I think, just basically teachers. There was probably when little white girl that grew up on RS. We used to play with her every once in a while, but that's basically it. Just basically teachers.

Davis:              Then, maybe their children?

DeClay:            Yeah. Teachers and their children, but their children were older so you hardly to see them.

Davis:              Okay. That was really an experience and you were exposed, then when you went to Riverside, probably more so to the non-natives as well?

DeClay:            Yeah. More to Hispanics because they were all over. Like in LA, we used to go out of campus and we used to see them everywhere. It was exciting just to be able to experience ... I guess, you could say, it was a culture shock at first.

Davis:              I guess.

DeClay:            But, I grew accustomed to it. I'm glad that I got a chance to go off to the boarding school. It was different. We had to get up early and scrub the floors. I enjoyed it. I think it was just the fact that I was out there by myself. That's the one part that I liked. Wanting that I did started to experiment with alcohol because it was never available for me. It was always available at traditional dances. When people help, they would give it to them or all of that, but I just never did because I was so scared of ... It was so strict of what I was supposed to do, what I was not supposed to do.

Davis:              You mean, on both sides, traditional and church.

DeClay:            Yeah. On both sides. Traditional and the church side. I never got all into it like go out every weekend or whatever, up until after I graduated. That's when going to college. Well, I went to Riverside and then I transferred back home because my grandma and my grandpa, they were both dying of alcoholism. I wanted to be there to actually say goodbye or whatever and just be there close to the home.

                        I came home and my grandma past away and then I graduated from high school. It was really hard because just seeing somebody who's strong and to see her just crumble like that, that was so hard. Even though that you knew that she died from alcohol, it was still available. You still know it's there and I would go with my friends and stuff. To me, I was like, "Oh, that's never gonna be me," type of deal.

                        I still can't get it today, that there's so many people dying on our reservation and they know, it's because of the alcohol. It's like their own kids, their own mom, their own dad, they're still doing the same thing. That's the addiction. I just wonder sometimes like, "Do they really know that that same thing that they're doing is what killing off everybody else?" That's the part that's ... Then again, they just can't get away from it, from addiction, really.

Davis:              It's hard to watch.

DeClay:            Yeah, it is.

Davis:              Doing the same thing over and over when you can clearly see that it's killing them. The question if they understand or not doesn't makes sense.

DeClay:            Yeah. Exactly.

Davis:              I think, they probably want to but like you said, the addiction, it's baffling. You don't understand why, I think, themselves, why they do it.

DeClay:            Yeah. Exactly.

Davis:              I just speak to that a little bit with my past experience with alcoholism. It's really a nightmare. You just can't wake up. You're just trying to ... You wish you had to get out. It can just take you deeper and deeper. Sometimes, people just don't come back. Some make it. Those are the stories that we want to capture is to how did they get beyond that. How did they make it? What was the "a-ha" moment for them or what brought them through it?

DeClay:            For me, like I said, I graduated and I went to U of A. That was a lot more, a little bit more of a culture shock than when going to Riverside, because Riverside, it was all natives. Outside the fence was the different whites, blacks, or whatnot, but going to U of A, it was just one classroom, you had 500 people in there. It was just all general persons. It was so many people and just everything.

                        That's when I started hanging out with a lot more people. We started going out and we started going to Mexico because it was just an hour drive. It was so easy to go over there, all the clubs and whatever. I think that's when I started ... To me, it was social drinking, going out and whatever. Then, it got so bad. My grades were so bad. I was like, "Well, I better go home." I couldn't do my work and go to class because I was out doing everything else that I was not supposed to be doing.

                        I went home and I got a job, but it continued. When I went home, my friends were like, "Let's go out. Let's do this." I'll be like, "Okay." It started to get every weekend. We started going and getting drunk and all of that. I dropped off everybody and I went back home. I woke up and I was in a ditch.

                        I had totaled my car. I guess, I fell asleep driving back home. I live 22 miles from my friend's house to my place. I don't know how long I was there but I was ejected out of my car. I was the only one there. Some people that were going home early in the morning, they found me. They just saw my car and they couldn't find me. They were wondering like, "What happened to this people? Where did they go?" They were thinking that maybe, "After the accident, maybe they ran off."

                        That was their assumption but they didn't see me there until the ambulance and everybody came. They all rushed to the scene and they were searching around all over the place and they saw me. I don't remember any ... They took me into the hospital. They had me checked all over. They said I was fine. That's when I was like, "Holy crap. What's going on?"

Davis:              That was an eye-opener for you?

DeClay:            Yeah. I just thought that it was something that I could control. I thought that, "Oh. It's nothing type of deal." That's when I realized, I think that I should stop this. The next morning, my mom and everybody came. They were just crying and hugging me. I was like, "Why are you guys crying?" I was mad because they were just crying and hugging me. At that time, I was just like, "I'm not dead." It just felt, to me, they were pretending or they were just thinking that I was gone or something.

                        After this, after I got out of the hospital, we went back to the car. They drove me to the wreckage place. My car was like a can that was just crumbled up. It just looked like there was just no way anybody could get out of there. It was just in a ball. They're like, "Look at that."

Davis:              It's a miracle. My goodness. We're so thankful that you're here. You have a story to tell people.

DeClay:            Just when I think about it right now, it was just like ... I just think about it now, it was like, "Oh my God," and I walked out of there. The same morning, I guess you could say it. I was like, "Oh my God."

Davis:              I think, that's the spiritual part of it. Would you say?

DeClay:            Yeah. I would definitely say that. I guess, the doctors were like, "You're so lucky to be alive." I didn't really get it at the hospital because I was like, "Oh. I'm still alive. Why are you guys ... Why are you guys crying?" I guess, seeing the car and seeing all of that, I think that's the part that I just couldn't believe it.

                        I had no broken bones. I had nothing. The only thing that I got from my wreck was this little tiny scar. That's the only thing that I could actually say that happened. You can't even tell.

Davis:              It's barely there.

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              Compared to a totaled car.

DeClay:            Yeah. The car is just completely gone. I think that was an eye-opener right there. It was like, "Oh my God." To me, it wasn't ... I guess, before my wreck or whatever, I didn't think it was that bad. I was just like, "Oh. It's nothing." I could do it and whatever.

                        I just couldn't believe it. I was like, "Oh my God." I just cannot believe that happened. I just stayed away from my friends. It probably lasted about a month. Then, all of a sudden, it was like, "Okay. Let's go out and do something." Probably, for a couple of weeks, we went out and went to bars and stuff like that, but that always stuck in my head. People would say that too like, "Wow! I cannot believe that you survived. I saw the car. I saw your car. We prayed for you. We just couldn't believe that you got out of there."

                        I think that whenever I saw people, they would say that to me. It would just bring me back to the reality that I survived something that bad. That's when I started wanting to change. That's when I realized that there was a purpose for me. I knew that, I could have been gone. That would've been the end of me. That's when I realized that, "Okay. I'm sure God has a plan for me and I have to abide by His rules."

                        I was determined, if this happened on the res, I'm going to have to get off the res or something. I mean, I prayed about it. I was like, "God, I don't wanna be here. Just let me go somewhere." I had the friends there that were so persuasive and I had to get away from them. I knew that, when they ask me, I'll be, "Okay. Let's go." That type of thing.

                        Then, He opened up a way for me to get back into University of Arizona. I got a letter one day and it said, "Congratulations." I was so happy. I was like, "Oh, thank you." I had to leave. I had to leave the reservation. I left. I went back to University of Arizona. Gene was in the same boat. He was drinking and whatnot. He want to come with me. I told him I couldn't. I said, "I can't take you." I said, "I have to go." I told him, "If I stay here, the same old things gonna happen. It's just gonna be like a continuous cycle." He was mad at me.

Davis:              You guys were dating at this time.

DeClay:            Yeah. We were dating at that time and he was upset saying, "How come you don't let me do it? You don't want me to go with you and whatnot." I was like, "I can't." I left him there, back home. I left and I was and then ...

Davis:              Can I ask, what age were you by this point?

DeClay:            This was probably 19, 20. About in that area.

Davis:              Nineteen, 20, you say?

DeClay:            Yeah. Nineteen, 20.

Davis:              You were still really young.

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              You're given a second shot and you went back to college?

DeClay:            Yeah. I went back, but this time around, I had to pay on my own. There was no scholarships available for me. There was no program, because I messed up the first time with my financial aid and everything. I was working full time at the Desert Diamond Casino down in Tucson. I would work from 11:00 at night to 7:00 in the morning. During the day, my classes will start at 9:00 AM and wouldn't be done until about 3:00. I think that was the part that was just so hard. I was just going full time on both work and school.

Davis:              Did you succeed? Were you able to graduate?

DeClay:            No. I wasn't able to graduate. That's the part that really got to me. I was a semester away from getting my bachelors for psychology. My last semester there, I just ... For me, I felt I was burned out just continuously going to work at 11:00, getting off at 7:00, getting ready for school, 9:00, all the way until 3:00. I just started work, just full time. I was like, "I can't do this. I need to ..." You know, just bills and everything. That's one thing that I said was really bothering me.

                        I didn't go to school for a long time after that. In between that time, Gene and I, we got married. We didn't have any kids for a long time. His mom got Alzheimer's. To me, I feel as though that the reason why we didn't have any kids early on was because we were taking care of his mom. We were going to take care of his mom.

                        She was a nurse. She was the first Native American nurse for our tribe. The Apache nurse. She just broke so many grounds on a lot of things. The programs or whatnot down there. She started to get forgetful. She couldn't remember where she put her keys. She wouldn't remember where she put her money. Everything on that sort.

                        People were like, "You guys are married. You guys don't have any kids. You can take care of her." She moved in with us and it was really hard because she just couldn't remember anything. Sometimes, she would be up for 72 hours. Continuously, she wouldn't go to sleep and she would cry and cry for hours. I would go to sleep and Gene would be with her. Then, when I wake up, I would be with here and he would go to sleep. It was a cycle like that also.

                        We never got any help from her brothers, her sisters. Nobody. It was just the two of us working basically 24 hours. At that time, we were working for FedEx. We were customer service there. It was a really good job. I like working there but we had to quit and take care of her full time. We started looking into homes for her. I think that was one of the main things that was frustrating. It was that, there was no help for natives like in Alzheimer's department. There were just so many papers to sign, so many ...

                        The whole health system about the whole thing just really opened our eyes. Since she was a nurse, she made too much for her to be put on public assistance and she made too little to be put into a private home. She was somewhere in the middle to where you could ... She was making too little and then she was making too much. That was like, "Well, she was a nurse. Isn't there any way ... Anybody can help her but it was just so hard."

Davis:              I just have to ask. She was a nurse. Was she a nurse for IHS?

DeClay:            Yeah. She was a nurse for IHS.

Davis:              Okay. There wasn't financial assistance?

DeClay:            No. There was no financial assistance. We went to conferences for Alzheimer's. They had so many conflicts about all whites, blacks, Hispanics. Then, when it came to Native Americans, all it said was, little Native Americans research currently being done. That was it. Just one tiny

Davis:              They didn’t have anything?

DeClay:            Nothing. They had absolutely nothing. We couldn't call anybody to say, "Well, what are we gonna do?"

Davis:              I know, these are all challenges that keep you from being able to focus on your life and moving forward. At what point did you say, "Okay. It's time to do something with my life." At what point, what age and what got you there?

DeClay:            I think, after his mom passed away from Alzheimer's and everything, we started working again and we started our own company, native organization. We didn't know how to run a business, didn't know how to do inventory, didn't know how to do accounting but we just did it. We went all over the U.S., selling all over the West Coast up to Washington, every pow wows, everything we hit. We sold t-shirts and CDs, just everything. We sold at Crow Fair.

                        Four years, five years ago, that's when ... We wanted to go to Gallup International. It's a whole gathering of people down in Gallup, New Mexico. We packed up our clothes for the weekend, locked our doors, locked our windows. We got Preston, our son, he was probably 1 1/2 at that time. We got him two weeks of clothes. Gene and I, we got a week's worth of clothes, traveling clothes to go out to Gallup ceremonials and come back.

                        We packed up our trailer, we packed up our truck and we went to Gallup ceremonials. When we're there, Gene kept getting a text, "Come to Crow Fair. Come to Crow Fair. I got a booth. Come share with me." It was one of our friends. He was like, "You wanna go?" I was like, "Yeah. Sure."

                        We got everything in the trailer at home. I was walking at the door and all our files and everything. I just happened to look and there was a file, a folder. Everything was in there. Our birth certificates, our social, marriage license. I mean, anything you can think of, and just that split second, I grabbed it. I walked out the door, I locked and we went to Gallup ceremonials. Then, he's like, "Okay, let's go. Let's go to Crow Fair." I was like, "Okay." So we went to Crow Fair.

                        We started traveling to Crow Fair. I'd say about an hour out of Crow Fair, somewhere in Buffalo, our transmission went out. We crawled into Crow Fair, saw our weekend and we're like, "All right. We'll get our transmission with the money we make and we'll go." We never made it. We had everything lined up. We got the mechanic to do it. The transmission was ready but come to find out, it was a different transmission and they couldn't do anything about it.

                        From Crow Fair, we got a ... What do you call it? I want to say an RV. It's an RV. A U-Haul truck. We threw everything in there and we met some people. They said, "Come to Rosebud. You guys will make a lot of money if you go to Rosebud." We're like, "Okay. We'll leave the truck and Crow." We left it at one of our friends' place in Montana. We traveled to Rosebud.

                        After Rosebud Fair, we did it okay. Then, the guy was like, "You know what? There's two more pow wows. There is the Cheyenne River Fair and Pow Wow. There's the United Tribes Technical College Pow Wow. You guys should come." I was like, "What is that?" Because, we've never heard of the United Tribes. They're like, "Just come. It's a college. It's native college. It's called the International Pow Wow. There's a lot of people." Then, we're like, "Okay."

                        Well, we tried Cheyenne. We won't plan for United Tribes. We went to Cheyenne. We did okay but not enough to get our transmission back and running. All this time, we're in our U-Haul. They're charging us with mileage and the gas is outrageous. At that time, it was $5 a gallon. We went to Cheyenne. Same story. We got enough to get to the next spot which was United Tribes.

Davis:              In the U-Haul?

DeClay:            In the U-Haul. Everything. It was just me, Gene, and Preston. The guy that we were following, "Go to United Tribes. Go to United Tribes. You'll do good. It's a lot of young people. They'll buy a lot of stuff. You guys will do good." We're like, "Okay. We'll try it." We were laughing and joking, "Haha. It's a college. We're gonna enroll." We're like, "We're just gonna stay." We were teasing each other. We're going to enroll. We're going to do it.

                        We got to Bismarck on a Wednesday. The funny thing was they set us up right in front of the admission's building. We're there, our tent. Everything was there. I was like, "I'm gonna go in there. I'm gonna go check it out." Because we were done setting up and I went in. Vivian was working and she's like, "How you're doing?" She was really nice, talking to me and whatever.

                        I was like, "Yeah. We're just here. I'm just checking it out." She's like, "Oh, okay. Well, applications are due on Friday at 4:30." I was like, "Okay. I'll get two of them." She's like, "Oh, okay." She gave me two and I walked out and I showed it to Gene. I was like, "Look what I've got." He was like, "What's that for?"

Davis:              Something just pulled you in there?

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              It was just not intentional. It was just spur of the moment?

DeClay:            Yeah. Spur of the moment and just the fact that it was just right there. I went in there, they got it. Thursday, I filled out all my information for the application. I gave Gene, I gave him his application but he never filled it out or nothing. Friday, I hang on to it all day. I was just like, "Wow. It's so weird." Four o'clock came and I was like, "Let's do it in half an hour." I was like, "I can't believe this." I told Gene, I said, "I'm gonna go turn this in." He's like, "Why?" He's like, "What are you doing?"

                        I walked in there probably 4:15 and she was still working. I was like, "I brought back my application." I took my folder that I just grabbed off when we left. She's like, "I need this, this, this and this and this." I looked in that folder and everything was there in order the way she wanted it. I took it out and I was like, "There, there, there."

Davis:              There it is.

DeClay:            Yeah. She was like, "Okay. You're good."

Davis:              It was just like, it was meant to be. It was the plan.

DeClay:            It was so crazy. All weekend, I just couldn't believe it. Julie came ... Because we knew here from a while back and she was like, "Are you guys really wanna go to college?" We're like, "We've been talking about it." She's like, "Let me know. Come by on Monday." Gene was like, "I don't know."

                        We just barely got two weeks of clothes. All our house are ... Just everything. Just imagine watching out of your house, thinking you're going to leave for the weekend. Just locking it up and not going back. That was us.

                        I went in to see her on Monday. We walked around campus. That Wednesday, I was in class.

Davis:              Wow. Just like that. Did you get housing? Everything fell into place?

DeClay:            Yeah. They gave us room at the hotel, the Expressway Inn and whatever. Then, they gave us a place out on Washington Court. It was just like, when we got into Washington Court, we didn't have anything. We just had trash bags full of clothes. When I looked at the pictures, I was just talking about this morning, I was so amazed. We were looking at the pictures form four years ago.

                        All we had was the bed that tribes gave us and an old ugly big TV that our friend gave us because she was going to throw it away. It's really huge. One of those really big ones and it was sitting right in front of the bed. Preston was sitting there in front of it. I was like, "Oh my God. I can't believe that."

                        We were like, four years just came in and went. We didn't even go home for a whole. We stayed that whole time. People were like, "Bismarck. You guys are in Bismarck." We're like, "Yes. We're in Bismarck." They just couldn't believe it that we left only for the weekend and we were gone this whole time and we're still gone.

Davis:              It was time to make a move. I guess, it was a plan.

DeClay:            Yeah. That's my belief, is that ... It was all in God's plan for me. Just for us to be here. I've always paid about my education. I hated it that I never finished that UV. I was a semester away. It just bothered me that, "Oh. I cannot believe I didn't finish. I can't believe I didn't get my degree." Then, when we were at home, I just ... One night, I remember just crying out. I was like, "I don't like it here. I don't like living on the res. I don't like living on this house. I don't like having to go run around for filling out applications and not getting no calls back."

                        The only way you can get a job on the reservation is if you know somebody or if you're related to them. Education doesn't play a role when you're on the reservation. I remember my specific prayer was that, "I just need to get an education. I need to get out of the reservation." I feel as though, this last four years was God's way of making me know that He knew He was listening ... He wanted me to know that He was listening. That's how we ended up here and that's how I ended up grabbing the folder that had everything in order that Vivian wanted the day I turned in my application. It still blows my mind. I was like, "I'm graduating in May."

Davis:              I'm just in tears because I was just ... It is a miracle. The whole story, it's a miracle from making it through the car accident that you were at to allow you the opportunity to keep trying to get it right.

DeClay:            Yeah.

Davis:              It just shows God's grace. I think that's why I'm crying because I just see how He worked in your guys' life that it's just powerful. If you have something to say to somebody listening who isn't there yet, maybe they're just trying to find their way, whatever that may be, what would you say to them?

DeClay:            I would just say never give up. Just pray because I didn't know that God was listening to me. He just not judge on if it's traditional way or the church way or anything. Just always know that it's a relationship between you and God.

Davis:              Mm-hmm. Well, thank you so much for this, for sharing your story. I know it's not always easy to humble ourselves when we know it's going to be shared on public radio. I really appreciate sharing your story and your family's story with us. It's going to change lives. Thank you.

DeClay:            Thank you.

Related Content