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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 16, 2002 - Issue 74


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Caring Award Will Go to Navajo 'Santa'

by Diane Urbani Deseret News staff writer
Kenneth MaryboyAfter helplessly watching a child die 23 years ago, Kenneth Maryboy made a promise to himself — and to the children of his tribe.

"I never want to see an unhappy child on Christmas," he vowed, even though many of his fellow Navajos knew little about how the holiday was celebrated outside the reservation. Maryboy, then an 18-year-old construction worker living in rural southeastern Utah, had hitched a ride with an elderly woman to the town of Bluff. As they drove in, a child ran in front of the car, the woman was unable to steer clear and the child died soon after being struck.

Maryboy, now 41, has since become a Navajo medicine man — and he is also a Navajo Santa Claus, who brings gifts to hundreds of children in remote corners of the reservation's 1.1 million-acre Utah strip. He has spent 14 Christmas Eves decked out in red suit, white beard and shiny black boots.

"Oh, the kids are really surprised, to have Santa Claus visiting them in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere," he said, adding, "They can relate to a Santa who speaks Navajo."

Prior to this year's Christmas travels, Maryboy is taking another trip he hopes will draw attention to the plight of rural Navajo families. On Nov. 18 he'll be in Washington, D.C., to receive the Caring Institute Award, an honor previously given to Mother Teresa, President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, and this year to Paul Newman.

Caring Institute founder Val Halamandaris established the annual award in 1988, soon after he met Mother Teresa. Across the country, thousands of people are nominated by their friends and co-workers; institute volunteers evaluate the nominations and winnow them down to 20 finalists. The institute's board of trustees makes the final selection. Maryboy and Newman came out on top, Halamandaris said, because they are spiritual role models — and sorely needed by American youth.

Halamandaris instituted the award to honor "caring — the one-word summary of the Golden Rule." They have been given to people of almost every faith, he said, adding that the Golden Rule is the ideal that the world's major religions have in common.

"Mother Teresa gave me a challenge. She said the poverty of spirit in the United States is worse than the poverty of body in India and Africa," Halamandaris recalled.

"The original idea was to honor those who focus on the needs of others, not on the self. That's what Ken (Maryboy) has done." Caring award winners are presented with an 18" tall bronze statue created by Presidential Medal of Freedom designer Frank Eliscu — but no monetary prize.

Halamandaris hopes the award will help generate support for Maryboy's cause. The Navajo Santa Claus isn't so much about presents; he's about visiting children who have been forgotten by the rest of the world.

Christmas in Maryboy's childhood had nothing to do with packages or feasts. Growing up outside Bluff, he and his siblings would walk across a footbridge toward St. Christopher's Mission Church, and look out into the distance. On late-December nights, they could see Christmas lights and hear faint music. "That was the only way we could see Christmas," he remembered.

Today on the reservation, too many children have no access to any such footbridge. So Maryboy goes to them. "I've tried to maintain the Christmas spirit. It really hurts me to see a child not being part of the celebration," he said.

Maryboy plans to bring his elderly mother, Clara, to Washington, D.C., for the Caring Institute award ceremony. "It will be her first time out of the state," said Halamandaris, who is himself a native Utahn. Clara Maryboy has long been a promoter of healthful living among the Navajo people. She may find a like mind in her son's fellow honoree, Paul Newman.

The actor will receive the Caring Institute award for pioneering entrepreneurial philanthropy, Halamandaris said. The line of Newman's Own organic food products has funneled $125 million in profits to charitable organizations that range from affordable-housing groups to environmental health.

"I have to give him credit," said Halamandaris, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." For someone of Newman's means to give so much away is impressive, Halamandaris said. "So I have to hand it to him, for showing the rest of us the way."

Maryboy, for his part, is looking past his trip to Washington and toward the enormous Utah Navajo Christmas party he'll host Dec. 7. Then, as he does every year, he'll try to visit as many homes as possible on the night before Christmas. His immediate family waits a few days after Christmas to celebrate their holiday, when Maryboy has had a chance to catch up on his sleep. He has some basic hopes also for the new year: "These are some very unfortunate people out here. Some are living in shacks. I'm hoping there's an organization that will help me out with plywood or something so I can fix some roofs."

How you can help:

Donating to Navajos
Donations of warm clothing and blankets, toys and other necessities for Utah Navajo families may be brought to Rowland Hall St. Mark's upper campus, 843 S. Lincoln (945 East), Salt Lake City, UT.

For information call (801) 355-7494. Please bring items to the school office, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by Tuesday, Nov. 26.

Checks may be made out to Navajo Santa and mailed to P.O. Box 58365, Salt Lake City, UT 84108

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