Navajo veterans in western sports industry find camaraderie in clinic

Navajo veterans in western sports industry find camaraderie in clinic

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — When Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren heard of the Warriors and Rodeo Navajo Military Roping Clinic 2023, he didn’t hesitate to welcome them to the Navajo Nation.

The clinic, hosted by the Warriors and Rodeo, a nonprofit organization that supports veterans through rodeo events and competitions, was held at the Dean C. Jackson Memorial Arena in Window Rock on Saturday.

The organization provided a platform for veterans to showcase their skills and compete against each other in a friendly and supportive environment. It also offered mentorship and training to those who were new to rodeo, helping them hone their skills and build their confidence.

Professional ropers Derrick Begay, Erich Rogers and Aaron Tsinigine donated their times and provided the mentorship this year, according to organizers Omar Benally and Darryl Boye.

President Nygren thanked Benally and Boye for organizing the event. He also thanked the veterans organization dedicated to helping Navajo warriors through rodeoing.

“Thank you, Warriors and Rodeo. They are more than just a sports organization. It is a community of warriors who understand the struggles of transitioning to civilian life and are there to support each other through the ups and downs,” said President Nygren. “Through their passion for rodeo, the Navajo warriors have found a new purpose in life.”

The Warriors and Rodeo organize events, fundraisers, and social gatherings, bringing veterans together and helping them build lasting connections.

Navajo warriors who’ve fought in wars and sacrificed their own well-being for the greater good, have found it difficult to adjust to civilian life when they return home.

They miss the camaraderie, a sense of purpose, and the adrenaline rush that came with being a warrior. One way they chose to channel that energy and passion was through the sport of rodeo.

“We hold events for veterans,” said Benally. “A big part of it is the veterans outreach part, as well as the camaraderie, which veterans gravitate towards. Through warriors and rodeo, we make lifelong friends — we're there for one another for support.”

Benally added the organization also understands that a veteran’s mental health is of the utmost importance.

“For our mental health, we have somebody we can reach out and call and just talk to. So, that's a big part of the organization,” he said.

Through the organization, Benally told President Nygren, veterans could fill the void of suddenly losing the sense of camaraderie after being discharged from the military.

Benally said warriors and rodeo “saved” 26 Navajo veterans from suicide.

The 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, reported a decrease in veteran suicides in 2020 than in 2019. The report found an average number of veteran suicides for 2020 was almost 17 suicides a day. Despite a slight decrease in veteran suicide in the U.S., the report stated they were still occurring at a higher rate than that of adult non-veterans.

Warriors and Rodeo was founded by Navy veteran, Sheri Smith. Throughout the year,  Benally said the organization holds clinics, as well as provide support for veterans who are active in the western sports industry.

One of the missions of the Nygren administration is to streamline the process for applying for veteran benefits, including housing, medical, and healing services.

“The Nygren-Montoya Administration will collaborate with our veteran warriors who believe their interests are not currently being addressed and heard, and we will do better,” said President Nygren. “We will focus on challenges facing veterans.”