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New Farmington American Indian Ambassador selected
Christopher Taylor Benally is first male to hold the position
FARMINGTON — This year's Farmington American Indian ambassador is the first male to win the title since the contest revised its eligibility for applicants.
Farmington resident Christopher Taylor Benally, 18, won the title on June 9.
"For me to win the title, it's an honor and a blessing because you hardly see male titleholders. Knowing the previous titleholders for the ambassador, it seems like fun to represent my community," Benally said in an interview on Thursday.
In 2015, the contest transitioned from a competition for young women to an event in which both genders compete for the title and the chance to represent the city and its Native American residents.
Benally said he wants his win to be an "eye opener" for young Native men to seek similar roles because it incorporates responsibility and the opportunity to represent the community.
He was the only male to run for the title this year alongside three young women when the competition took place at the Farmington Indian Center.
Benally is 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan), born for Kinlichíí'nii (Red House Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Naakai dine'é (Mexican Clan), and his paternal grandfather clan is Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan).
He graduated from Piedra Vista High School in May and plans to attend San Juan College in the fall, where he will start classes for a veterinarian technician certification before transferring to a four-year university.
His goal is to earn a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
"I'm from a long line of ranchers. …I also grew up with the ranch life. Knowing certain animals, I always wanted to know how certain things are within an animal," Benally said.
Although he was raised in Farmington, Benally spent weekends with his maternal grandparents, Edison and Mary Sandoval, learning about livestock on the family's ranch in the Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle area.
He is also learning the Navajo language from his grandparents and his mother, Edwina Sandoval, and describes himself as an intermediate speaker.
"I love my cheii (grandfather) and amá sání (grandmother). I always say they're my dictionary. I'll go up to my cheii, and I'll ask him about certain stories," he said.
During the competition, Benally sang a horse song in the Navajo language that he learned from his grandfather.
This is the second title Benally has won. He also served as Diné king at Piedra Vista for the 2016-2017 school year.
As for his status as ambassador, Benally said he wants to be a role model, as well, as encouraging young people to learn their culture and language, no matter their ethnicity.
"From my experience living in Farmington, we are a mixed culture," he said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.