Local Tribal Leader Values Tradition, Education, and Her Roots … and Shares All Three with the Community

By Katie Chatham

Debra Begay Vaughan is a proud tribal leader living in Prescott. Her life is steeped in culture and tradition and she has dedicated her time to keeping her people’s beliefs and way of living alive. Born in Phoenix, Debra is a tribal member of the San Carlos Apache Nation and half Navajo-Keyonnie.

She explained that tracking their lineage and knowing their clans, in order to pass on the tradition, is of significant importance.

Growing up, her Apache and Navajo elders taught her the importance of getting up early. She had to have time to run, pray and meditate before she got ready for school. They also held a language to high value but thought it best for children to learn English first, and their own language later. “At my age, I am still learning the language of my people!” Debra said, laughing.

One of the beliefs her people hold in high regard is the importance of getting an education. “I am learning every day. Education is not preparation for life, but education is life itself.”

Debra has learned to do many things in her life. She has been a security guard, a Certified Nursing Assistant (while she was attending nursing school), a manager and inspector at an aluminum company, a community leader in a boarding school for teenage girls, and a real estate agent.

“I truly enjoy learning!” she said.

In 1999, she went back to school and majored in agriculture. She took as many courses as she could and took her time soaking in her education until she graduated in 2005.

She has continued to keep a strong connection with her roots and traveled back and forth to the reservation frequently to teach and learn.

Today, Debra is highly involved in several non-profit organizations that honor veteran warriors and promote educating Native youth, including the Granite Mountain Gourd Society and the Prescott Pow Wow Committee. These organizations work in conjunction to hold tribal dance events honoring the Native people and Apache warriors, and encourage youth involvement.

Debra also is heavily involved with the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD). She teaches Native values and traditions to children of the school district and their families.

She said of her role: “I get to be a kid just like the rest of the Native kids!”

She said she truly enjoys what she does with PUSD and believes the district stand behind “every Kid. Everyday.”

Debra’s business, Native Transitions, enables her to share her artwork and various items with other businesses like the TIS Gallery in Prescott. She is proud to perpetuate her culture in this way.

“We are always creating through art. Representing the past, present, and future of our cultures and traditions and the meaning of that within the art.”

Her involvement in the Prescott community, as well as her involvement with her tribe and her people, show Debra’s true commitment to keeping her culture alive.

Debra shared this prayer she prays often: “Now walk and pray, thankful for all prayers from all nations. Enjoy walking on Mother Earth and Father Sky, grateful to the Creator for all blessings in all four directions. Blessed with many families, friends, and relatives. Grateful to all Native American Cultures as I walk in beauty in life. As my Navajo relations express, education is life itself. We learn throughout life, even when we are old. Creator Bless. Aho.”