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Front Page » March 19, 2002 » Scene » Family Shares Their Heritage During Olympics
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Family Shares Their Heritage During Olympics

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Staff Writer

The Begay's Aunt Jane Shaw, Arlene Noschissey Williams, composer of 'Go My Son' and Joleen Begay

The Begay family of Castle Dale recently took part in the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games. They also sold their world famous Navajo tacos at the Ethnic Village in Salt Lake.

They spent most of January practicing for the opening ceremonies. Joe, Shirley, Jacob and Joleen were all involved in the opening ceremonies. Joleen said, "It was the first time in history that the five tribes from Utah had come together. It was an awesome feeling. I was so proud to be a Native American that night and so thankful to be there."

The five tribes participated in their ceremonial dances. There were drummers to accompany the many dancers. Joleen said, "The Yei-bi-che dancers are the spiritual dancers from our tribe. The author of the song, "Go My Son," also participated in the ceremonies. It was neat to meet her. My aunt Jane Shaw came from California to participate as well. One of my favorite parts was when each of the leaders from the five tribes prayed in their own language. It was awesome," said Joleen.

Shirley said, "We practiced for three months. The last week before the opening ceremonies we were there from Sunday night through Friday. The dress rehersal on Wednesday night was really nice. They gave us some tickets so our families could come and watch. We met so many wonderful people. It was really nice to be in the stadium with the Shosone, Goshutes, Piutes, Southern Utes, Northern Utes and the Navajos and to be part of the opening ceremonies. It was nice to be with so many Native Americans. They filled the whole stadium and were all dressed in traditional outfits.

"This was the first time so many have met and performed on national television. We were treated with such respect and the audience on the night of the dress rehersal payed tribute to all the Native Americans with a standing ovation. Kenneth Maryboy is the spiritual leader for the Navajos and he led the Navajo nation out. The spiritual dancers, the Yei-bi-che are allowed only to dance in the winter so it worked out for the Winter Olympics.

"It was so wonderful I would do it again in a minute. The people were so kind and loving. They were helpful and polite. They fed us while we were there. The practices would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 10 at night. It was a wonderful experience. When they first approached us about going up to perform I was a little hesitant. Jacob would have to miss school and I thought of all the trips to Salt Lake and the gas money; but my daughter Joleen said, 'Mother, do you know what this means? This is a once in a lifetime experience.' She was shocked that I would even consider not doing it. So she talked us into it and I'm glad she did.

"Jacob was a little hesitant at first. There weren't a lot of kids there. But we met a man with two little boys and Jacob had a good time with them and they were sad to see it all end because they knew they might not see each other again. The school district was great to work with Jacob. He is 13-years-old and it was a neat experience for him. Joe, my husband really had a good time too. He met people he used to go to high school with. My daughter Joleen had a lot of friends there too. A BYU group called Living Legends performed with the Dixie Chicks. Joleen knew many of those performers.

"We also sold Navajo tacos at the Ethnic Village. We met a lot of people there from all over the world. There were so many groups and we made wonderful friends. Everybody loved Jacob and brought him food. There was a Polynesian grandma in the stand next to us that adopted Jacob. I traded Olympic pins and there was a Navajo taco pin that I wanted but they were sold out of them. Then one day a man and his wife came by and wanted to trade pins. The man had a Navajo taco pin which I ended up buying from him. I was happy about that. It also turned out that the man was the father of Randy Johnson's son-in-law.

"The support we had from the county people was really nice. We had people tell us they knew we were up there and just came up to find us and have a taco. We really appreciated that," said Shirley.

Joe said, "It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was kinda fun. I performed for a year with the Lamanite Generation at BYU and preparing for this performance was a lot like that. This brought back many memories of those performances. There is a lot of excitement in performing. It was a lot of hard work.

"It was fun to be with my wife and kids and to do this as a family. It was neat to be with all five nations from Utah. It was neat that most of the skaters were hockey players and that only four or five professional skaters performed. We also spend two weeks in the Ethnic Village. There was great talent there. Food and crafts from different nations it was kind of neat. We stayed in an RV camp right down town. It was kind of interesting and fun. We really enjoyed being and working together. One day at the Ethnic Village we had a lot of excitement because there was a fire and the huge tent had to be evacuated. This was the same day that we had school children there and we had to open the backs of our booths and feed the children out on the sidewalk. We traded food and crafts.

"I think the most memorable experience for me was coming into the stadium and seeing the crowd. The eagle was also awesome. In the rehersal it had never landed where it was supposed to, but that night it came in and flew around and landed exactly where he was supposed to. The electricity in the air as we danced as a nation was indescribable. Our nation did a ribbon dance, song and dance, fancy dance and traditional powwow. The Shoshone tribe in Utah is not that big so they brought in other people to help them. We probably had 500 Native Americans in the circle. It was neat to see.

"We met people from all around the country. We didn't have beer at the Ethnic Village and some people came in looking for beer. It was neat to see that all the faiths supported the no beer garden policy. A lot of the downtown vendors sold a lot of beer and not much food. We didn't figure business was hurt any because they couldn't get beer there. We had a lot of support from the Salt Lake people. Each country had their own hospitality so we didn't feed a lot of athletes are anything like that.

"I was interviewed by people from Japan, Germany and Austria. Jay Leno's camera crew came in one day and took pictures. The Hispanic channel also highlighted each group on their show. It worked out good. It was a good, fun, family experience. We made a lot of good friends we plan on keeping in touch with. Shirley even met some relatives from Idaho that had come down," said Joe.

The Begay family has many memories they will treasure for a lifetime. Joe even mentioned going to Italy for the next Olympics. The Begay family currently has three children serving missions for the LDS church. Shirley mentioned her daughter, Vileena, had been a Living Legends performer prior to her mission and they wanted her to postpone leaving on her mission until after the Olympics so she could perform with them. But, she decided that serving her mission was where she needed to be.

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March 19, 2002
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