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First Native American To Attend Flagstaff Public Schools On What It Means To Be A Resilient Woman

KNAU's Steve Shadley

Over the past few months, we’ve been airing profiles of some of Flagstaff’s most notable women. They are part of an ongoing cultural exhibit called Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present. Today, we hear from 84 year old Eunice Nicks, a school bus aide for children with disabilities. Eunice was born in Moenkopi on the Hopi Nation, but went on to become one of the first Native Americans to attend public school in Flagstaff in the 1940’s. She spoke with KNAU’s Steve Shadley about what the experience was like for her at a time when many schools were still segregated.

Shadley: “Hello, and thanks for joining us today…”

Nicks: “Thank you for having me…”

Shadley: “Tell us a little about why your story is featured in the resilience exhibit. It has something to do with your attendance at public school…”

Nicks: “Yes, I was the first Native American to start first grade in Flagstaff and to graduate from Flagstaff High School.”

Shadley: “Now, this was a time in history when many schools across the country were segregated. Flagstaff schools were not but maybe you could talk about that climate a little bit. Did you experience racism as a child when you moved from Hopi to the city?”

Nicks: “You know, growing up here in Flagstaff I knew all minorities. The Caucasians, white people, and Latinos, black people, and I never knew there was any prejudice. At one time, somebody asked me if they could have me do a survey and they were asking me questions were you ever prejudiced at restaurants? Were you ever not waited on or had to wait a long time and when you were at the grocery store did you have to stand in line? And, I told them, you know, I’m the wrong person to be asked those questions because I never knew prejudice. I knew everybody and everybody was my friend so I didn’t feel like I was being chosen to be put aside or anything. But there are other people who have said they have had challenges like that from…towards minorities but I never had that experience at all…”

Shadley: “Part of your resilience was going through two divorces and raising five children by yourself and working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. How did you get through those tough times?”

Nicks: “To me family is very, very important. And, you must stick with your family. Our culture believes in family unity. And maybe I can say is that I believe in God and I do a lot of praying. I do…you know if you’ve ever seen “Fiddler on the Roof” he talks to God all the time. That’s the way I am, I talk to God a half a dozen times a day and I think a lot of it is if you help people and you think of other people instead of yourself…that keeps you going a lot.”

Shadley: “Eunice Nicks, thank you very much for joining us…”

Nicks: “Thank you.”

That was KNAU’s Steve Shadley speaking with Hopi tribal member Eunice Nicks. She’s among 20 women profiled in the exhibit Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present. It’s showing at the Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff through the fall.