CCC grad set to finish studies at NAU


Former CCC2NAU student Belinda Ayze will graduate from Northern Arizona University in May 2016.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Her path to success took a while, and she ventured down dark places before she arrived.

But she has arrived.

Former CCC2NAU student Belinda Ayze will graduate in May from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Indigenous Studies and a minor in Visual Communications.

“That’s been my focus ever since I started, and it’s going to happen,” Ayze said with a smile.

Ayze currently serves as an intern for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at NAU. She has been working on the Navajo Nation studying uranium sites that need to be cleaned up. She also has been visiting reservation schools to educate students on the dangers of old uranium sites, mines, tailings and contaminated ponds. She also has been conducting indoor radon testing in homes on the Navajo Nation in response to high rates of respiratory illnesses reported.


Ayze’s story includes an education at a boarding school, where she was removed from her home and became disconnected with her family and her culture.

“I lost a lot of connection to my traditional ways,” she said.

She graduated from Tuba City High School as a young mother. She had children at an early age, was divorced and had difficulties with alcohol addiction. She underwent several rehabs, made several attempts to return to school, and eventually ended up living on the street with “a long rap sheet” because of her addiction to alcohol.

Then, she met an Oglala-Lakota woman named Wauneta Lonewolf, whose Lakota name was Red Thunder Woman, during Ayze’s last rehab more than a decade ago. Lonewolf explained to Ayze why she was trying to pacify herself with alcohol and drugs. Lonewolf died in 2003, but not before helping many Native American women recover from addiction and passing on her legacy to her daughter, Yonasda.

“She taught me to reconnect with my traditional ways,” Ayze said. “That’s what brought me back to sobriety and my Navajo way of life.”

Before she returned to Flagstaff, she spent some time in Utah and went to community college there. She worked on recovery and made every effort to get her youngest daughter back and be a mother again. She ended up completing the requirements to be an office administrator and worked in medical billing.

Ayze returned to Flagstaff during the recession, and she found it hard to find work. She did odd jobs while in vocational rehab, and a colleague suggested she return to school to strive for a university degree.

“She told me, ‘it’s not too late for you to go back to school,’” Ayze said.


She visited the Coconino Community College campus. Her focus was on life and keeping her family together.

“I was kind of afraid to come back to school,” Ayze said. “I had no idea on what to take or how to succeed.”

She said she received wonderful advice on how to proceed, and when she began taking classes, she found herself drawn to studies of American Indians. Although tough for her, she learned to confront her past and to link her experiences with intergenerational trauma experienced by Native Americans, and government policy decisions that contributed to that trauma.

“I was able to be honest about where I came from, how things affected me and what I wanted to do,” Ayze said.

She credits the faculty and staff at CCC for her focus in life. She learned how to write, to grow, and she appreciated the structure, the patience and the caring among the faculty and staff to allow her to find her way. She treated her education like a job, and she showed up every day at 7 a.m. to study before class. As a first-generation student, she availed herself of tutors and classes to help her use her time wisely. She received scholarships to go to school, and her grade-point average allowed her a tuition waiver when she transitioned to NAU.

“I think everybody working here helped me one way or another,” Ayze said.

Her future includes a deep involvement with Native American communities and causes. She identifies as an activist and wants to have an impact on indigenous and homeless issues.

“What happened to our ancestors affects us today, and that understanding helps me to see a wider picture,” Ayze said.

Her journey has taken her far.

“I feel comfortable,” Ayze said. “I feel like I’m in my own skin, and I don’t have to be afraid of my future anymore.”

Her advice to others: “You have the power to change your path if you want to.”


Thursday, 7th April 2016

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  • Thursday, 7th April 2016