September 28, 2015, Prescott- One of my outwardly less successful endeavours, over the years, was my principalship at Chilchinbeto Community School, between Chinle and Kayenta, on the Navajo Nation, in northeast Arizona. It was, in more ways than one, a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of the silver linings, in that dark academic year, 1998-99, was the presence of Youth Empowerment Services, and Tom Riggenbach, who was my second-in-command. YES, led by Tom, has empowered the youth of the Navajo Nation, for nearly twenty years. Their Chuska Challenge, a bicycle marathon, through some of the Nation’s wildest and most beautiful country, has brought people from the world over into contact with local youth, in a far more up-close manner than is provided by jeep tours through Monument Valley, or the purchase of a rug at Hubbell Trading Post. The Dineh’s traditional love of running has also been rekindled, through efforts such as this.
Tom refers to the enterprise variously as Tour de Rez and Gran Forno (an Italian term for the type of bicycle marathon, typified by Tour de France. The Chuska Range is not for the faint of heart, and Tom has never been in that category. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, in the tumultuous aforementioned year, but I always commanded his respect, and he, mine. He has given a tremendous amount of his energy and drive to the betterment of thousands of Native American youth, and so it continues.
To the extent that I was able to encourage YES, and see the program expand throughout the Four Corners region, my time in Chilchinbeto was not misspent. I look forward to seeing many more years of Gran Forno in the Chuska.