Spotlight: Sydney Honyouti
*as published in the Rocky Mountain Christian
Yesterday was the official start to Spring, and yet Spring Break ended nearly two weeks ago for the students attending Harding University (Searcy, AR). One of those students is Sydney Honyouti, a sophomore computer engineering major from Phoenix, AZ. She is in many ways a very traditional college student. She’s active in the clubs on campus, she attends chapel, she’s meeting lots of new people, and losing lots of sleep in the pursuit of knowledge (or homework anyway).
College is an interesting time in a person’s life; a time of self-discovery, and of growth. For many people college is the season of life where they find themselves and forge their identity and their place in the world. It’s there, with her place in the world, where Sydney’s story starts to look a little less typical.
Sydney is Hopi. As far as she knows, she is the first Hopi student to attend, not just, Harding University, but any brotherhood university. College is strangely out of reach for many Native American would be students, not because they’re denied access, but because it isn’t the societal norm amongst Hopi people that it is in America at large.
There are some common threads that seem to connect any number of Native American tribes no matter how different they are culturally. One of those commonalities is “Rez life”. There are things that seem to be, at least vaguely, characteristic of life on the Reservation (any Reservation); the closeness and importance of family, the prevalence of alcoholism, a great pride for culture, pervasive poverty, engagement in the arts, etc. Some of these things are good, and others not so much.
One of those earmarks of Reservation life is a bleak outlook for students considering secondary education. Of course, college is not a given within any segment of our society, but on the Reservation it can go beyond that and even be a rarity. Where nearly 30% of the U.S. population, at large, graduates with some sort of a college degree, amongst Native American people that number is less than 10%, amongst the Hopi it is less than 4%.
Sydney wasn’t raised on the Hopi Reservation, but she was raised in a typical Hopi traditional home. She is the oldest of four children, born to a single teenage mother (another mark that is characteristic of Reservation life). Like many people, Sydney and her family were driven to the church in a time of difficulty and found more than they were looking for. As a teenager, Sydney found a place to belong in the Salt River church of Christ after being invited by a family friend. The Salt River congregation is a relatively new church plant near the Salt River Pima Reservation and with a heart to reach Native American people.
As a teenager, Sydney was baptized (in 2013) and began searching out options for college. Pursuing her longtime goal of “going away” to college, and in step with her faith she “started hearing good things” about Harding University and decided to enroll. She’d hoped that the school would deepen her faith and surround her with Christian influences, and by all accounts it has done both.
While Sydney’s story is one of success, the work that needs to be done on the Hopi Reservation remains immense. She views the Reservation as a tough field for Christianity because of some of the abuses that have taken place there in the name of religion. Even still, her positivity isn’t swayed, she sees a way for Christ to impact the Reservation one day at a time, one loving act at a time. Ghandi was once asked what it would take to make India a Christian nation, to which he replied “Simply that Christians would live as Christians.” It’s hard not to see the parallel here.
The beautiful part of Sydney’s story is that she is a trailblazer, not by design or intent, but by circumstance. She’s a young Hopi woman pursuing a computer engineering degree and living out her faith, by all accounts that makes her a minority of minorities, but it makes her a trailblazer and a trend setter and a beacon of hope for the work that still needs to be done among our Native American brothers and sisters.