Featured Changemaker: ADRIAN MANYGOATS on Community Organizing on the Navajo Nation
Philanthropiece team member Alicia Conte recently sat down with Adrian Manygoats, Eagle Energy’s Program Manager for the Navajo Nation, during a visit to Tuba City, AZ. Care to be inspired by an amazing woman addressing some of the most pressing needs of the Navajo Nation? Read on.
What projects are you currently focused on?
I’m focusing my energy on a lot of different projects right now. Eagle Energy is running multiple programs at one time: the Navajo Women’s Energy Project (NWEP), the Navajo Solar Entrepreneurs Program, the Gallup Solar Entrepreneurs Program, and the Northern Navajo Solar Entrepreneurs Project. We are supporting communities in the Western Agency (northern Arizona), the Eastern Agency (eastern Arizona and New Mexico), and in the Monument Valley area, which is on the border of Arizona and Utah. All the programs are designed to stimulate self-determination, economic growth, and cultural integrity. Eagle Energy is a nonprofit organization, so our focus is on social entrepreneurship, meaning that our focus isn’t so much on profit as it is on community development and cultural preservation. I went to a conference at Arizona State University where Bob Miller (Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law) said matter of factly, “Poverty is not a cultural Navajo trait!” He said, “It’s not anti-Indian to own a business. It’s a sell-out of your own culture if you don’t support yourself,” and I agree with him. Our history shows that we have always worked hard and intelligently, and I’m trying to remind people of that.
What events in your life have shaped your values, and how does what you’re doing reflect those values?
My parents passed down a very structured work ethic. From the time I started working, they always stressed the value of doing good work and being humble. They never told me I was better than I really was, or that I deserved more than I earned. In fact, my family constantly reminded me that I have to start from the bottom and work my way up. Those lessons really helped me in my internship with Eagle Energy last year because I knew that I was “paying my dues”.
My dad and my husband have also been really big influences on me, work-wise. My dad taught me to take pride in my work. He would say, “When you do something, you need be knowledgeable about it and do it well.” My husband is a very strategic person by nature. He always says, “Work smarter, not harder.” He’s a Marine so many of the core values applied in the military tend to find their way into our daily lives: honor, courage, commitment, and integrity.
These values resonate hugely in my work with Eagle Energy, and they allow me to have a heart for what I do. I truly do love my work because I’ve been given this opportunity to put all my knowledge and ‘lessons learned’ into the communities I’ve been fortunate enough to operate in. I love helping people and doing things that will elevate their quality of life.
What key relationships have shaped your life path?
The relationships with the women in my family have shaped everything from my outlook on life to my ambitious nature. They’ve taught me to be self-reliant, self-aware, accepting of change, and to have a high tolerance for pain and discomfort. My grandma was the epitome of what a woman is supposed to be like because she had such a big heart. She loved all her children and grandchildren. She never abandoned us or turned us away. Even when we did foolish things, or made big mistakes, she didn’t judge us harshly or treat us bad. I really loved her for that. When she passed on in 2011, I thought the void inside my heart would never go away. I remember being at her funeral and seeing my mom, sisters, aunts, and female cousins all lined up in a row, and I thought to myself, ‘This is our bloodline. We are the ones who will carry this family on.” It was a profound moment that changed me. I knew from that moment that I could no longer live my life so selfishly. I really had to focus on representing my family well, so that when people see me, they know I come from my grandma’s bloodline.
Are there other role models who have shaped who you are?
I have some really amazing friends who have overcome insane obstacles, and they motivate me. They remind me to be thankful for my life, no matter how stressful or painful it can become, because the truth is that it really is a blessing to be alive. So, I try to have compassion, to be fair and to walk with purpose. I do my best to remain knowledgeable when it comes to leadership and management. I read a lot and I ask a lot of questions because I don’t ever want my existence to be stagnant.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned from your work with the Navajo Women’s Energy Project that you’d like to share with us?
Giving people a voice is one the most important things you can do. Providing a platform for people to stand on to talk about the issues that concern them most, and coming up with creative and fun solutions is beautiful and powerful. With NWEP, we encourage women (and men) to be vocal and active. We don’t push our ideas, rather we allow people to come up with their own, and then we explore those ideas and possibilities.
It’s also all about encouragement. Sometimes all it takes to keep going is the support of people who believe in you, encouragement from outside people telling you that you are doing good work. There are so many people that will tell you that what you are doing is not good enough. The whole world can tell you that you’re not good enough, but if a few people tell you that they believe in you, that changes everything.
Another thing I’ve learned is that culture should have an active role in educating our children, because culture teaches them about traditions, values, language, and it forces them to think, “How am I going to live my life every day? Am I going to live as a typical American, or am I going to walk through this world as a Navajo man/woman?” As a Navajo, you have to ask those questions, and you actually have to make that choice.
What is the most exciting part about your work?
For me, the most exciting thing is being given an opportunity to tap into my potential. I work for the most amazing people, and I say that because they trust me and they have allowed me to have such creative freedom to do the work I do. Instead of trying to mold me into somebody I’m not, my supervisors encourage me use my personality and character to build these programs to make them unique and effective.
What are you best known for in your family and your circle of friends?
In my family, I am known as the one that goes against the grain. I don’t follow anyone, and I question everything. I think some of my family members get annoyed, or they’re made uncomfortable by it. For sure, they aren’t impressed. But, I really do put effort into having a strong sense of right and wrong, and being accountable for my actions.
When it comes to my circle of friends, I’m probably known for some pretty rowdy things that I’ve done, especially when I was younger, but they love and support me regardless. My friends are the rebels and the misfits. We’re the ones that no one had any faith in, but we’re growing up surprisingly stable and wise. They’ve always been highly intelligent individuals, so I’m not ashamed of any of my friends and really do love them a lot because they’ve always been there for me when I needed them. They don’t care if I’m successful or a complete failure. Their measure of worth is beyond average comprehension.
What makes you happy? What sustains you?
Art, literature, music, and good conversation make me happy. Clean air, fresh water, and a pollutant-free environment make me happy. Thunderstorms and the sound of fire make me happy. Ceremony and prayer make me happy. My family makes me happy. I think the beauty of the world and humanity is what sustains me. I really do get excited when people discover new things, when they pass some form of knowledge on, when they create art, when children get hugs, and when justice is served. I enjoy the balance of life. I enjoy the blessing of parenthood and companionship.
Before I became a parent, I lived only for myself. Now, I live for my children because I view them as an extension of me, and I want them to grow up knowing their responsibility to nature and to the people who come in and out of their lives. I want them to be happy, but I also want them to be able to weave their way through this world understanding the power of their own voice and actions. It’s that love that I have for my kids and my husband that allows me to be the person I am, because I don’t do it for recognition or money. I do it for them, so they can see the possibility of one’s life, and in connection to that, see the possibility of their own lives.