75 Years of Stories Like These


It says a lot for a deeply broken teenage girl to grow up in a cycle of povery and abuse and still be able to build a stable family of her own. To be able to love again—to have hope and a future—when everything around you seems to suggest the opposite, this is the dream of storybook tales. As Jovannah Poor Bear-Adams would tell you: “Breaking the cycle isn’t a clean cut. It is a process.”

Jovannah’s process involved the help of others. Teachers and staff, who became like family, helped her find her healing and thus her potential. Now she is doing the helping—sharing her story of dark to light with students so they too can rewrite their story. Thanks to divine intervention through the faithful support of one little school in the Arizona desert, Jovannah can celebrate a life healed with the school that helped in her healing.

Jovannah’s story is one of many. For 75 years, Holbrook Indian School (HIS) has had stories like this. On March 6, 2022, Jovannah joined other alumni and past staff in celebration of the school’s 75 years of service.

Holbrook Indian School, like many ministries, started with humble beginnings. Marvin Walter was a missionary working for the Arizona Conference when he set out to learn about the needs of the Diné (Navajo people). As Marvin talked with the people, he discovered their desire for their children to receive an education. With funding from the Pacific Union Conference, he and his wife, Gwendolyn, set out to start a school. In 1945, the missionary couple moved to Holbrook, Arizona, where a new school was built.

The first mission school term started in 1946, with 320 acres of land in Holbrook. 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. Much of what our school does today continues from our past, celebrating and uplifting Native American heritage as well as practical whole-person learning.

Navigating spiritual beliefs at HIS is both a fragile and fertile area. With the history of forced exposure to “less than Christian” Christianity, we are very aware of the historical wounds that preceded our school’s existence. Today, our student's spiritual heritage is respected—and in areas of common beliefs, this has been a bridge. To get a good representation of this, we can look back to our 1982 original poetry and prose publication “Hieroglyphs.” In one piece from this original compilation, past student Sandra Flye created a poem based on Psalm 23 in the expression of her own Native imagery. (You can read the poem at HolbrookIndianSchool.org/hisnation/75-years.)

Like the apostle Paul’s method in his sermon about the Greeks’ “unknown god,” appealing to common beliefs is a way to connect with the students’ spiritual journeys. Most Native traditions center on a belief in a Creator. By pointing students to object lessons in nature, they can more easily understand who their Creator is and that He loves them. It has proven beneficial to meet our students where they are.

Throughout the past 75 years, students from many Nations have come to Holbrook. One student, Charlotte Beyal, became the first woman and Navajo judge magistrate in Flagstaff, Arizona. Charlotte says, “My father had a dream for his children to receive an education. That is why he brought us to the SDA Mission School.”

Holbrook Indian School (HIS) is a first- through twelfth- grade boarding academy operated by the Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. HIS also manages a first- through eighth-grade day school on the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona. Eighty-seven percent of funding comes from individuals who have a desire to support Native American ministries and Christian education. Your generosity makes a difference in the lives of our students, their families, and the communities they serve.

Thank you for your support..

Today we are happy and humbled as we see a number of our students fulfilling their potential. Not only are they choosing to break the cycle, but they have also gone on to help others learn how to do so.

By Chevon Petgrave