This November for Native American Heritage Month, Pace Center for Girls is not only celebrating our girls, but we’re also shining the spotlight on our team. We interviewed Wimberly Raban, Office Manager at Pace Collier at Immokalee, about her Navajo heritage. Here are some highlights from our interview.
Q: How long have you been at Pace, and what do you do?
Wimberly: I’ve been here at Pace for five years. I originally started as a substitute teacher and then I moved into the Spirited Girls role [as the teacher], and then eventually I became the Office Manager, which is my current position. I like to interact with the girls when I get a chance. At the beginning, that’s where I was – in the classroom with the girls and learning from their experience and me telling them of my experiences.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your Native American heritage?
Wimberly: I’m 100% Navajo. I’m from Fruitland, New Mexico. I grew up there on the reservation and both my parents are full Navajo. Growing up we helped our parents and grandparents in the fields, growing corn, watermelon, and vegetables for the family. And we also herded sheep.
We helped raise our brothers and sisters who are all our cousins basically. [Wimberly clarified: They’re not my natural brothers or sisters, but that’s how we [Navajos] relate to each other.]
We helped our parents and grandparents any way we could – because that’s how we were raised to be.
Q: What does being Native American mean to you?
Wimberly: Being Native American gives me pride. My parents instilled in me to go to school to make something of yourself and live a better life than what they grew up with. And to go off the reservation and see what’s out there in the world. And the main thing was to get an education and then one day come back and teach our people what we’ve learned. I’m part of four clans:
- Redgoat – Mother’s side
- Red Streak – Dad’s side
- Salt – People with this clan are considered my grandma
- Running by the Water – People with this clan are considered my grandpa
To me, being Native American is about being a positive role model for our family and our relatives to show our cousins that you can go to school and do something different than what our parents grew up with.
Q: How does that inform your work at Pace?
It’s interesting that the girls look at me and they speak to me in Spanish, and I look at them like, “I don’t speak any Spanish! No habla español.” And they look at me like, “Why were you not taught Spanish?” I’m like, “I’m Native American.” They ask: “What does that mean?” And I say: “I’m Navajo, I’m an Indian.”
Where I’m at, here in Immokalee, I’m fortunate enough that the Seminole tribe is close by. I previously worked for the tribe, so I do know some of the people there and for the girls that are Native American that come to Pace, I do know their parents. So that gives us a connection and a bond, so they feel connected with me.
Q: What are your favorite parts about being Native American?
Wimberly: When you meet other Native Americans, it’s really interesting. When I worked for the Seminole tribe, the first person I met there was asking me where I went to high school. I’m like, “What do you mean, where did I go to high school? I went to high school in New Mexico!” She goes: “Yeah, I know you said that. But where?” I said “Farmington,” because that’s the nearest city. She finally said she was a Chieftain. I stepped back from her and said “Well, I’m a Bronco!” That was our rival school. And we started laughing.
It’s so funny because you can meet Native Americans all over, especially in Navajo. They’re just everywhere. What’s funny about that experience is that she was telling me about her best friend, and she brought me a high school yearbook. I said: “That girl looks familiar!” Her best friend and my best friend are sisters. And her dad worked with my mom. How crazy is that? It’s a small world. And it’s just amazing.
Q: November is Native American Heritage Month! How does your Pace center celebrate this important month? Are there any ways in particular that you celebrate at home during the month of November?
Wimberly: At home, we celebrate our heritage every day! When we celebrate Native American Heritage Month at Pace, we typically dress up in our culture and talk to the girls about what it means to be Native American.
At Pace, our team of dedicated teachers, counselors, therapists, and directors foster safe, supportive, and inclusive environments for our girls to help them reach their goals. Get involved with Pace and check out our current open positions!