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By Allison Jarrell
Nathan Banda, a member of the Juañeno tribe, represents the 10th generation of the historic Rios family in San Juan Capistrano. Banda is deeply rooted in education and tradition, taught by his mother, Barbara L. Banda, and now he’s teaching his kids those same traditions.
Barbara Banda first started Capistrano Unified School District’s Native American Education Program in the 1970s. Following in her footsteps, Nathan Banda is currently the program’s president, after sitting on the board for the last six years. But when Banda’s mother passed away two years ago, he realized he wanted to do something more to improve the program. With the program being federally funded, he saw educational opportunities dwindling for students.
So in June, Banda joined forces with family, friends and the district to create the Four Directions Education nonprofit. The organization is focused on empowering people, preserving culture and promoting cultural diversity, mainly by sharing Native American culture through educational classes and programs and providing tutoring services and scholarships.
“Four Directions is dedicated to being a positive influence in the Native American community in Orange County—starting with our youth,” Banda said. “We’re committed to providing a path to higher education that prepares Native American students to succeed in their careers and at life.”
Honoring Traditions Gala
In order to help make higher education a reality for Native American students, Four Directions held its first fundraising gala on Jan. 31 at El Adobe de Capistrano to help fund after school programs, cultural exchanges, summer camps and much-needed scholarships.
Four Directions recognized respected Elder Saginaw Grant with the Native American Humanitarian of the Year Award for demonstrating exemplary commitment to promoting excellence in his personal life and throughout the Indian Country community. Grant, a member of the Sac-n-Fox, Iowa and Otoe-Missouria Nations, is an actor, with recent appearances in Disney’s Lone Ranger and the TV series “Breaking Bad.”
Grant spoke at the event, emphasizing the need for Native American youth to slow down, connect with their roots and take pride in their culture and who they are. He also addressed being active in the Indian community, and examples of that took the form of traditional performances by Pala Indian Reservation bird singers and fancy dancers later in the evening.
One performer, Gui Trujillo of Pala, performed traditional “kupa” songs from the early 1900s with two of his cousins. Trujillo said he was honored to perform for Grant and Four Directions.
“It means a lot to me because I’ve seen Saginaw around for years at all of the powwows,” Trujillo said. “It means a lot to honor him because he’s done so much for our people.”
Four Directions will continue to host future events to raise funds for educational opportunities, including the 5K Mother’s Day Memorial Barbara L. Banda Walk on May 9. Banda said the walk was a success last year and he expects it will grow exponentially this spring.
Jacque Nunez, Four Directions ambassador and owner of educational company Journeys to the Past, and Kogee Thomas, Four Directions educator advisor and Native American Education instructor, said the money from the four directions gala is crucial for tutoring students and preparing them for college. Nunez said encouraging students from kindergarten all the way through high school is vital to their success.
“Less than 1 percent of our population graduate from college,” Nunez said. “Those statistics have changed a little, but we have a long way to go.”
Currently, CUSD has about 250 students in the district’s Native American Education program, but Banda said kids sometimes get lost in the cracks. Being able to fund math and English tutoring, as well as cultural events and education, is a way to make sure those kids don’t get left behind, he said.
Now that Four Directions is garnering statewide and national attention, Banda hopes the program can one day reach kids across the country. With the organization’s current grant moneys, Four Directions is able to offer eight $500 scholarships this year, with three going to students at Sherman Indian High School and the rest awarded to students in Orange County. In addition, kids will be able to receive school supplies at the beginning of the school year, as well as historical and cultural reading material geared toward all Native American nations throughout the U.S.
“We have a big job to do,” Banda said. “Every dollar counts for our youth.”
BARBARA L. BANDA SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Four Directions Education will be awarding five $500 scholarships from the Barbara L. Banda Scholarship Program in 2015.
High school seniors who are actively involved in the Native American culture are eligible to apply.
Applicants must write a story or essay of at least 1,500 words on the following theme: How are you keeping your Native American culture alive?
Entries will be judged on creativity, content, originality, clarity, punctuation/grammar and the author’s awareness of Native American culture.
The application deadline is April 30.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.