Angle On: Joan Timeche
by Roxane Ramos, Jacob Chinn photo
If there’s an overarching theme that defines Joan Timeche’s life path, it is investing in community — socially, economically, and culturally. As a Hopi woman, she decided early on to help support and strengthen her tribe.
For years, Joan worked in education, eventually heading the tribe’s department. But her experience as a board member of the Hopi Indian Credit Association unexpectedly re-routed her work life. Impressed with how their innovative lending practices reversed high loan default rates and infused the community with more capital, she decided to pursue an MBA with an eye toward translating mainstream business strategies to Native needs.
These days, as executive director of the UA Native Nations Institute (NNI), Joan works directly with indigenous nations in a job that is equal parts educational outreach, business know-how, and friendly solidarity. Dedicated to fostering Native self-determination, NNI provides a range of resources to support tribal leaders and policy makers in developing sound economic policy and effective governance while preserving cultural values.
At the core of NNI’s success and Joan’s personal philosophy is an understanding that sharing narratives is as important as balancing books.
“Storytelling provides hope,” explains Joan. “We can learn from what other nations have overcome. If they can get there, so can we.”
How do you start each day?
Waking and getting my body out of bed. (laughs) Then I do a reflection — “Thank God I’m awake.”
Was there a pivotal event that set your life path in motion?
I was in seventh grade and just beginning to understand that we — Native Americans — were the minority in school. That year, we had a new classmate from back east, the daughter of the National Park Service superintendent, who had never met Indians before. I was at the top of the class and a competition developed between us that continued through high school. From things she said, I definitely got the feeling she thought all Indians were dumb. I was intent on proving her wrong. When we were seniors, a friend pointed out that we were both in the running for valedictorian. I didn’t know what that was, but in the end, I was valedictorian. Experiences like that have shaped me.
I would think, you don’t know me, you don’t know us. Don’t impose your stereotypes on a race of a people.
Who was the most influential person along the way?
Probably my mother. She’s been gone for twenty-plus years now but our mother really raised all six of us well. Even though she and my dad would often get drunk and pass out at the end of the day, they’d wake up in the morning, feed us, get us to school, do all the necessary things to care for us. In spite of their challenges, they taught me Hopi values, especially during our weekend trips to the rez. Things like being kind, honest, responsible for who you are. They’d stay sober on those visits and could be the parents I needed them to be.
Talk about NNI’s goal of nation-building.
Before the Europeans came, we had strong, self-sufficient, and sometimes very complex societies. After our lands and resources, in many cases, were taken, we had to figure out how to survive. NNI helps nations determine a vision for the next seven generations and how to achieve it. We share stories to learn how other nations overcome challenges and people can pull bits and pieces out and reformulate them to fit their needs.
Did you have a favorite project at this year’s NNI Native American Youth Entrepreneur Camp?
Kaboom Shoes. You can switch into waltz mode, boogie, tango, with the press of a button. The shoes move your feet so you aren’t a wallflower or self-conscious at dances.
What is the biggest challenge to Native self-determination these days?
Often it’s overcoming differences within a community. In the workshops we conduct, we ask opposing factions to identify what they would like most for their children. Often they discover that everyone has the same vision. They can agree on core values and priorities, put aside differences, and make headway.
What’s the last book you read?
The Girl Who Played With Fire. Mostly, I read when I go on trips.
The last movie?
That is such a revealing answer.
What was your favorite game to play as a child?
I loved playing jacks. Everybody had jacks and we’d play at recess. |
What’s your favorite activity with your grandchildren?
Just hanging out with them — watching cartoons, going to the movies, to the pool. And when we travel together to the rez, sometimes we’ll have meaningful discussions, sometimes not. It’s just being there and being with them, feeding off of their good vibes and energy.
Speaking of traveling, is there one thing you bring on every trip?
My homa, the cornmeal we use for prayer. I always carry it with me. I have it with me right now.
Anything at the top of your bucket list?
I would like to visit New Zealand to meet with the Maoris. I don’t know what draws me to them. The mystique, I guess. Just like there’s a mystique about Native Americans. (laughs) Plus the beauty of the land.
Going back to that workshop question, what would you want most for your daughter and grandchildren?
To be proud they’re Hopi. To speak and understand the language. And to have Hopi to return to, maybe not quite the way that I knew it as I was growing up, but to know there’ll always be a place they know is home.
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