When Derrick Begay, Erich Rogers, and Aaron Tsinigine devised a plan to host a roping school for Native American youth, 2015 World Champion Header Tsinigine had something to say about how the school would be funded.
"As a kid I never had the money to go to a roping school," Tsinigine admitted. "I know Derrick never went to a school and Erich never went to a school. I said I will not charge a Native American kid to come to my roping school. I never had the money for it."
After a few days brainstorming, the three ropers remembered their connection to the 7G Foundation, a group that supports Native American youth, and they reached out to them for support. The 7G Foundation jumped on board to cover costs, and the planning went into full swing.
Then, Begay's older sister, TRJ photograher Jamie Arviso, had an idea for the golden ticket into the school that fit perfectly in with the 7G Foundation's mission of inspiring young people until they believe their outrageous dreams are within reach.
"We wanted them to write a resume, an essay about what they want to do when they grow up," Begay said. "And we wanted them to think about how their dream would help themselves and their tribe. When people put on schools, they do it all for business, to make money. This was doing something. We were due to do something. When we were growing up, we didn’t have an opportunity like that. We wanted to share what we know and give them a story of how we’ve done it. We wanted to give them a direction, and not just about rodeo."
So armed with 200-word hand-written essays, some 90 girls and boys from across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and beyond, showed up Saturday, November 3, in Round Rock, Arizona, and swarmed the community arena to meet and rope with their heroes.
"They all kind of came at once," Begay laughed. "With a paper in one hand and a rope in the other."
To start the day, Begay, Rogers, and Tsinigine welcomed the students with an introduction and prayer, followed by a short story about how the three Navajo team roping icons grew up and became successful.
"I want to give back to the kids and my community there in Round Rock," reigning world champ Rogers said. "I wanted to give them an opportunity, a path to be successful in life. A lot of them are kids who don’t have it all that great, and this was an opportunity to show them it can be done. Dream as big as you want, never give up, follow them dreams and believe in yourself."
Ropers broke into groups by age and roped the nine dummies set out across the arena, and rotated between Begay, Rogers, and Tsinigine. All 90 ropers got to work with each NFR header individually on the ground dummy.
The Begay family provided sack lunches of ham sandwiches, fruit snacks, chips, and bottled water for each of the kids, and then each roper got on their horse for the second half of the day.
"We played on the Heel-O-Matic, showing drills at a standstill, and we explained how to do it and why, and Rogers and Tsinigine explained how they work on things," Begay said. "Then we watched them do it, and each kid got to go through the drill four times. We turned on the four-wheelers and they each got to rope the Heel-O-Matics four times, too. Then we brought in the steers (Begay's personal steers he hauled there that morning) and they got to watch us go at it, and then they roped live steers at least four times each, too."
For parents like Lyle Phillips, who brought his son 12-year-old son Lyric some 80 miles to rope with his idols that morning, the day was about a lot more than roping technique.
"My son got out of it the words that were spoken," Phillips said. "Hearing that they were one of him, that they were one of these kids, that they had the same struggles, the same challenges, and they overcame them."
For the three NFR headers, the goal was to help inspire multi-generational change, using their success in the arena to create positive change within their tribe.
"I told them as Native Americans we’re given a gift," Tsinigine said. "For me it was roping, and a lot of that goes back to livestock in our culture. Our grandparents have sheep, horses and cows. We’re all given a gift and it doesn’t matter what it is. We can be anything we want. It was up to them, and I wanted them to believe in themselves, and to work toward that gift. People never said that to me, to tell me I could do anything I wanted. I wanted the kids there Saturday to believe they could be anything they wanted to be at a young age. I tried to really dig that into their brains deep, so hopefully I did that."
Begay, Rogers and Tsinigine had 30 days to organize the school, which also required Begay bringing his own cattle from Fort McDowell, some five hours away, for the kids to rope.
"It speaks volume of what they’re trying to do and paying it forward and giving back," Phillips said. "I’ve always wanted people to understand the difficulties Navajo kids and families have to go through. We don’t have all the opportunities—but for these guys, icons in the Navajo Nation, to do a free clinic for kids, it was just great for these kids who don’t have $300-$600 for a clinic...The talk, them bringing themselves to the kids’ levels, hearing about the schools, relating to them—the boarding schools, the small communities, it really resonated. They even said, 'We didn’t have all the steers, the expensive tools, four-wheelers, the best horses—we had try.' That really made an impact with my son.”
Begay, Rogers, and Tsinigine are preparing for the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas next month, but Begay said they were due to give back to their community.
"We wanted to teach them that they can do what they want to do," Begay said. "That’s the main thing we preached. There’s a lot of kids who grow up thinking they can’t do much because they’re from the reservation, but we wanted to be positive and tell them that whatever they want to do, they can do. It’s all up to them."
They plan to do another school next year, and all three hope it can grow with more involvement from the roping community at large. The school also coincided with a jackpot Rogers hosted the next day, an annual event he also hopes to continue.
"At my roping, we wanted to give prizes and awards and stuff people don’t see every day. We didn't want people just worrying about winning money. We gave headstalls, saddle pads, rope bags, knives, Soft Ride Boots and Cinch jackets and certificates—it felt like a good jackpot to have and give back to the community there and show we can help out," Rogers said.