March 6, 2022, marked a high day for current and former students of Holbrook Indian School (HIS), in Holbrook, Arizona, United States. On that day, alumni, former staff, and representatives from the Pacific Union Conference and the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists gathered to celebrate God’s hand in the school’s 75 years of service. Together, they recounted stories of hope, overcoming, and God’s provision throughout various eras.
At the celebration ceremony, alumni shared stories about HIS’ impact on their lives. Brad Newton, Pacific Union Conference president, spoke of the importance of the school’s ministry to Native Americans and the greater relationship with the Adventist Church.
A Brief History
Holbrook Indian School, like many ministries, grew from very humble beginnings. Marvin Walter was a missionary working for the Arizona Conference in the United States, and he set out to learn about the needs of the Navajo. As Walter talked with the people, he discovered their desire for their children to receive an education.
Using funding received from the Pacific Union Conference, Walter and his wife Gwendolyn set out to build a school. In 1945 the missionary couple moved to Holbrook, Arizona where a new school was built.
With 320 acres (130 hectares) of land in Holbrook, the first mission school term started in 1946. That fall, 30 children sat on sheepskin rugs reciting their first lessons in a foreign language — English. This became the first class of students of the Seventh-day Adventist Mission School, now known as Holbrook Indian School.
Through the years, many people have come to work at HIS. The school has grown to serve more than 100 children and youth who annually enroll at HIS and Chinle Adventist Elementary, a day school on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Arizona.
Throughout the past 75 years, students from many federally recognized Indian nations have come to Holbrook. Students from HIS have become nurses, teachers, pastors, accountants, dentists, welders, private business owners, and have served in the U.S. military.
One student, Charlotte Beyal, became the first woman and Navajo judge magistrate in Flagstaff, Arizona. “My father had a dream for his children to receive an education,” Beyal said. “That is why he brought us to the Seventh-day Adventist mission school.”
Today we are happy and humbled as we see a number of our students fulfilling their potential. Thanks to God’s faithfulness through the support of “HIS” friends, students have chosen to break the cycle and have also gone on to help others learn how to do so.
“Much of what our school does today continues from our past, celebrating and uplifting Native American heritage, as well as practical whole-person learning,” school leaders said. “Classes such as welding, auto mechanics, indigenous arts, and woodworking have been conducted throughout the years. More recently, we have also included supplementary programs like outdoor school, equestrian facilitated learning, college transition, summer experience, and licensed clinical counseling,” leaders said.
The holistic approach to learning that HIS has traditionally adopted recently became a more formal and systematic program with a name — MAPS, school leaders explained. “The program has four pillars — Mental, Academic/Artistic, Physical, and Spiritual,” they said. “It is through this framework that we formulate the objectives for all of our general and advanced classes, educational opportunities, and programs.”