(Ethete, WY) – The mission, spirit and memory of beloved Wyoming Indian Schools educator Donnie Chavez will now live on in a new way, following the dedication of the Donnie Chavez Memorial Library at Wyoming Indian High School (WIHS) on Friday, November 3rd.
Formerly known as the the WIHS Library and Media Center, the library has been completely renovated over the last year with help from the school’s culture department and board of trustees, and is now a “dedicated space for learning, reading and gathering together.”
The official unveiling began with an assembly in the gymnasium led by Leo “Chico” Her Many Horses, and a performance of the Arapaho Flag Song by Michael Ridge Bear from the WIHS Drum Group.
Her Many Horses commented that he is an adopted member of the Chavez family, and knew Donnie all the way back to his time with the Blue Sky Singers, before either of them had become educators.
Her Many Horses went on to share stories about Chavez’s renaissance man-like nature and generosity, adding that he was deeply committed to prayer, learning/education, respect of the culture, fostering positive interactions with the youth, and being the biggest Wyoming Indian Chiefs fan around.
Her Many Horses stated that “knowledge is power” was a sentiment Chavez lived by, adding that he would often say, “The more you know about what’s going on around the world and the more you know about your culture, the more you know about everything; they can’t take that power away from you.”
“He was always there for our students,” Her Many Horses later added. “When he got called home, that put a big dent in our school and our community.”
Those sentiments were later echoed by Gloria Goggles, who was asked to speak on behalf of the Chavez family. “On behalf of the Chavez family, I would like to thank the board of trustees for honoring, acknowledging the memory of Donnie Chavez.”
Goggles went on to share that Donnie was the son of Vivian and James Chavez, and began his career at Wyoming Indian Schools in 1974 as teacher’s assistant and bus driver.
From there, Chavez eventually started teaching in 1990 following completion of his bachelor’s degree in secondary education, Goggles informed.
“Donnie was truly a common man. He was humble, and he never sought recognition. He never sought praise for his actions, he simply took care of business.”
Goggles also shared stories of Chavez’s sense of humor and ability to jump in and fix any problem at hand.
“We are rudderless in the sea of education,” was an email message Donnie once jokingly sent to his coworkers, Goggles said, before fixing the machine himself and following up with a message of, “We are no longer rudderless in the sea of education.”
Chavez’s niece Nicole Wagon, and Owen “OE” St. Clair Jr. also spoke, honoring Donnie and sharing memories as well.
As for the inception of the library, Her Many Horses explained that in January of 2021 the school board unanimously voted to rename the library in Chavez’s honor.
“The school board recognized Donnie as a teacher, a very strong Arapaho man, a scholar and a gentleman.”
“The school board went on to recommend that the library offer access to Indigenous books, media, video and music, as Donnie was a strong proponent of singing,” Her Many Horses stated, adding that the library would be “a reflection of the positive impact that Donnie brought to Wyoming Indian High School.”
The assembly portion of the dedication then concluded with the Arapaho Honor Song performed again by Ridge Bear, and students then got the chance to pay their respects to the family members in attendance.
Following the assembly, it was then time to unveil the new library, which, in addition to including Indigenous literature, is equipped with multiple lounge areas with brand new furniture and charging stations, miniature zen gardens, games, artwork by students and local artists, a record player stocked with Chavez’s favorite music ranging from Indigenous standards to Creedence Clearwater Revival, and much more.