Andrea Hales: Gathering Tribes
Andrea Hales felt inadequate to the task but she couldn’t deny the prompting she was feeling to start a podcast. The podcast would tell the stories of Native American Latter-day Saints and provide a platform to share their testimonies as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hales knew she didn’t grow up close to her Navajo side of the family but she felt her heart turning to her fathers and, as a result, a podcast called “Tribe of Testimonies” was born.
It's not me, it's definitely the Lord.
Find Andrea’s podcast Tribe of Testimonies, here.
Andrea’s interview on the Cultural Hall: Andrea Hales Ep. 524 The Cultural Hall
Quote: “Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that” (Russell M. Nelson, “Hope of Israel,” worldwide devotional for youth, June 3, 2018).
2:44- Native American Heritage
5:16- Indian Placement Program
8:53- A Part of the Book of Mormon Story
10:28- Tribe of Testimonies and Tribes in General
16:00- Hearing Him
21:08- Lessons Learned
24:40- Gathering Israel
29:10- The Lord’s Preparations
31:45- Growing Into Identity
34:27- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
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The description of the Tribe of Testimonies podcast reads, "Everyone's story is different–conversions, families, missions, education's, careers, talents, achievements, failures, trials. As we share our stories maybe we can strengthen each other. May we all walk in beauty," end quote. This is true no matter who you are or where you come from, but Andrea Hales, a part of the Navajo tribe, has focused her attention on telling the stories of Native American Latter-day Saints and the stories they tell are just as remarkable as the reason Andrea felt prompted to start her podcast.
Andrea Hales is the host and creator of the Tribe of Testimonies podcast. Andrea received a Juris Doctorate degree and an MPA from BYU. She previously worked as a legislative associate at the Navajo Nation Washington office, and as director of accountability and policy in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. She and her husband Mark are the parents of four children.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Andrea Hales on the line with me today. Andrea, welcome.
Thank you so much.
Well, this is such a privilege for me. And I want to start by saying how much I admire the work that you're doing and your choice to like put your time and resources into this project. But before we get into Tribe of Testimonies and all that you've been doing with that, I wondered if we could kind of start with your upbringing. You've talked about how you weren't really raised around the Native American part of your family. So I wondered if we could start with what your heritage meant to you while you were growing up, and then how did knowing that you were part Native American shape your identity and your–kind of–understanding of who you are?
Sure. So I'm, I'm part Navajo, I'm not full Navajo. I was raised in a teeny tiny town called Ferron, Utah. And I ended up there because of the Indian placement program, but we'll talk about that in a little while.
So, where I grew up, there were no other Native American families there. My mom–as far as I knew–was the only Navajo in Ferron. As I went to junior high and high school there were a couple other families that were Native American, but they–both of the parents were Navajo of those families. And I was from a mixed marriage so that made me different.
I was raised really close to my grandma and grandpa, like as in we shared a driveway. And this is my dad's mom and dad, so my white grandma and grandpa. And we go see my mom's family a couple times a year. And that's a six-hour drive from where I lived. So it was like a big deal when we went down there but I wasn't raised near them. I was raised with my white family and I never felt like . . . that significantly different from anybody.
I don't, I don't look super dark. I'm not–I just don't look like it. And I also don't look super white either. Like, I'm a mixed kid. So I knew I was different. I knew my mom had a different story than most of the other moms and dads that I knew. And I just, I just loved who I was. I loved that I knew things other people didn't know. I loved that about me. And I also loved that I was always told the Book of Mormon was about my ancestors, so I wasn't treated differently growing up by people. It wasn't until later in my life that I was treated differently. But yeah, I enjoyed my upbringing. I enjoyed knowing who I was and having family that I had and all the things, so.
Well, I think it is–I think it's so cool. So you mentioned that your mom, well, you mentioned the Indian placement program, and your mom was part of that program.
So my mom is one of seven children. And I think all seven of them did the placement program, a child–it wasn't forced on anybody, it was freewill, it was encouraged. A child had to be a baptized member of the Church, and some of them actually didn't really know the Church, they just were baptized and sent on this program because it was away from the reservation.
So those probably were not as successful stories as my mom. But when my mom joined the Church, it was, "This is a really good thing for me." Also, there were family situations where my mom was growing up that it was a–I'll just say it was a really good thing for my mom to not be with her parents.
So she came on the placement program when she was, I think she was 12 when she came, and she went to a few different houses. And some of the parents were nice to her and some of the parents were not. So even in my mom's story not all of, not all the placements were good placements. And I think that's true for a lot of the children that were on the placement program. Not all the placements were good placements.
I think there were families that chose to take these children who did it out of social guilt maybe? They possibly were not the good parents. Yeah. So yeah, there's a whole mixed bag of people coming out of the program who some of them had amazing experiences and some of them were like, "I am done with the Church." So for my family it was a really good thing, even for my aunts and uncles. Not all of them stayed active in the Church, but it wasn't because–as far as I understand it–it wasn't because of their placements.
So for those Andrea that are less familiar, what is your understanding of like, what the purpose of the program was?
Or the goal, I guess.
Yeah. So the goal was to be able to give the children opportunities to learn, have a better education, and to learn how the gospel is supposed to be. How's it supposed to function in an active family. And so there were children that were able to see all of that. They were able to have a really good education–because back then education on reservations was not up to the standard, like I guess you could say.
And so being able to go somewhere else where the school systems were more stable and organized, those were benefits for it. And then, like I said, also to have families that were modeling the way that the gospel was supposed to happen in your family, that was a definite goal. And I think, I think the successful, the families who were successful in just loving them and nurturing them and showing them how to live the gospel, those were successful, I would say.
Okay, so, this is so interesting to me. So then outside, aside from this placement program, what would you say–and I know this is probably not going to be just based on your own experience, but also maybe in the lives of those that you've interviewed, what would you say makes being a Native American member of the Church a unique experience?
Yeah. So I think something that makes it unique is we–when we gain our testimony of the Book of Mormon, almost everybody that I've talked to when they say that they gained the testimony, they're like, "I know that these are records of my ancestors." And I feel like that too. When I've gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon I was like, "These are records. This Book of Mormon is a record of ancestors. I come through this lineage." And I think that is something that is unique.
A lot of my guests–not a lot–there are some guests when I've asked them a certain question they are like, "This story in the Book of Mormon, I learned this story at my mother's knee, or at my grandmother's knee, or I've heard this story in this different way." And I think that's really a testimony of the Book of Mormon itself too, that it was, it's promised in the Book of Mormon that it would come back to our people. So I think that's what makes it a unique experience as a Native American member of the Church.
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. So the name of your podcast is–The Tribe of Testimonies. And I love that name. I think it's so, like you know immediately what it is. So I think that's wonderful. How did you come up with that name?
I actually really like that name, too. But when I was first planning this podcast, the name that I was almost stuck on from the very beginning was From Remnants to Roses. In the scriptures, they call us–that there will be the remnant of Joseph left behind. And so that's where the remnants part comes from. And in the Doctrine and Covenants, it says the Lamanites will blossom as a rose. And so I was like, "Yeah, that's–I like the alliteration of it." And, but I really tried to do research before I started my podcast, I just didn't jump into it. And so I emailed lots of friends and just talked to people and asked them, "What do you think of Remnants to Roses?" They were like, "I wouldn't know what that means," I'm like, okay, so then–
Right, it's deep, and I like that about it. But it's not as easy a get.
Yeah, so I'm like, okay, so I need to brainstorm. So I came up with a list of like, over 20 different names, different ways to do it. And then I surveyed my friends, I'm like, "Which of these names–" I researched which ones are already taken, which ones might have alternative meanings and I just was like, when I came to Tribe of Testimonies I was like–this is it. Because I think one way to look at a tribe is a family, a family who shares a common belief and a common heritage and a common purpose. And so our tribe is the tribe that has–we testify. And that's, that's where I got my name from.
Well, I think it's so cool. So one thing that I love too, that I think ties in the tribe part of the name really well is that you make sure with each episode to list the tribe that each guest is from. Why–for those of us that are not as clued in–why are tribes such an important part of Native American culture?
It's our lineage. It's a shared heritage. So in the Navajo way, in my tribe, we introduce ourselves a specific way. We talk–first we introduce our clans, we have four clans, the first one is our maternal clan, like our mother's first clan, and then our second is our father's first clan, and then our third clan is our mother's second clan. And then our fourth clan is our father's fourth clan.
So in English, my mother's first clan is the Weaver, or the Zia, or the Hairy people. I don't know how they all relate, I haven't figured that out yet. But so it's "Tl'ogi." And I think that's how you say it correctly. And then our second clan, my second clan is my father's clan, and he's white. So we say "Bilagaana." And then my my third clan is "Tsi'naajinii," which is the Black Streaked Wood people. And then my fourth is white, so "Bilagaana," so those are my four clans.
And each tribe has a different way of describing who they are. They have a different name for themselves. They have, they have different modern history stories as well, like not just–not just like ancient ancient, but like, as in since the country has begun, since white people came we have our own different stories for that too. So each tribe has meaning and stories and ceremonies that are different, maybe similar but different than other tribes.
Okay, so another thing that I wanted to ask you about is you had one guest on your show who talked about the similarities between his tribe which I believe he was Navajo, is that right?
All of my guests do that I–
Okay. So the way I frame my podcast for everybody is I ask them to introduce themselves in their tribal way as much as possible, because not every–and if it's in their language–awesome. If not, that's fine. And then some of them know their clans, some tribes don't really focus on clans as much. But then the next thing I asked everybody is to share something that they love about their heritage that relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so almost all of them are–no, all of them–are able to do that. And the interesting thing about that is a lot of them talk about how prayer is so integral in their tribe, and they see that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they recognize that is a parallel that cannot be denied.
For sure, yeah. I think, where I grew up, we had a family in our ward who were Native American. And I always admired them for their faith in the way that they brought their Native American heritage with them to Church. I thought it was like, so cool. So I also love Andrea, how you decided to start this podcast and that it kind of originated with a prompting. What would you say this experience of starting Tribe of Testimonies has taught you about hearing Him?
Oh, that's such a great question. So in 2020, when we were all really talking about those words that President Nelson taught us, you got to, you got to figure out how to hear him, whatever way it is that you need to hear Him, you need to figure that out. At Easter, I had a friend do an art challenge. He asked us to–on Facebook–he's like, "Do something, do something creative." And I'm like, "Yeah, yeah," and I was like thinking about that. I'm like, I want to do, I'm just going to do–I'm not an artist, so I drew a poster of Jesus, very simple, but I was proud of it. And at the top, I wrote "Hear Him." And so that was on my mind. And then all through that summer of 2020 I was thinking about how I could draw closer to Him. And we were home with our children and I was home with the children more than my husband was and I was listening to good, uplifting things and I was trying really hard to hear Him.
And so I was listening to podcasts, and I was listening to this one, All In, and I was also listening to one called Latter-day Lives. And I listened to them every time they came out. And I was just seeking ways to fill my life with goodness, so that I could hear Him. And then in October, the other guy, he announced that he was going to stop his podcast for a while, and I was like, "Noo!" I was actually kind of upset.
It's like losing a friend.
Yes! I was so–I was actually literally upset about it. And I was laying in but in my bed that night, and I was thinking about, "Heavenly Father, what am I supposed to do now?" Like, just a silly prayer, but I was talking to Him, and I, and then I received this prompting that I needed to start this podcast.
And I was like, "Noo. . . I can't do this." And then I fell asleep. And the next day, this prompting wouldn't leave me, it wouldn't leave me. And so I started thinking, oh, maybe I could and I knew from the very beginning that it was supposed to be for Native Americans, but I was like, "Heavenly Father, I wasn't raised traditionally. I wasn't raised on the reservation. I wasn't–I don't surround myself with Native American people right now. How–" So I have had these debates with Heavenly Father, "How are you . . . How are you telling me that I have to do with this? Because I'm not, I'm not the right one."
And the Spirit kept saying, "You are the right one. You're the one. I need you to do this." So when I finally stopped talking back to Him, and just listened to Him, I looked for ways that I could do it. And I talked to people and I talked to friends and I made phone calls to friends who hadn't talked to a long time and I worked it out and I followed through on that prompting that I heard that I needed to do this, because I'm the one that Heavenly Father wants me to do at this time.
So I heard Him, and I didn't believe Him at first. And now I'm so glad that I'm doing this because I am fulfilling part of my patriarchal blessing. And I've been able to meet people that I never would have thought about. I would have had no chance to meet before. So hearing Him and then following through, those are two different things but they are definitely related.
Well, I love that so much because I think that experience that you just described, we've all had similar things where it's like, we feel prompted to do something, but maybe we don't feel adequate to the task, or we feel like we wouldn't even know where to start. And so we do, we kind of talk back to Heavenly Father. And so I love that you kind of were able to like work through those feelings. And I loved when Richie Steadman interviewed you on the Cultural Hall, he talked about how much he loves that you acted on the prompting you've received and have just been willing to learn as you go.
So I wondered, you know, coming from a place where you weren't around other Native Americans all the time, and it wasn't like this huge part of your background, what would you say is the biggest thing you've learned from the interviews that you've done?
So I've learned that there are people who need to be connected. And I have been, I've been that connector. I've learned that there are people who are looking for ways to grow their testimony. And the people that I've interviewed have given that opportunity for them, I have learned that I can be the tool that the Lord wants me to be. The things that I've learned are that people need other people, and everybody has something to give to somebody else. And I think that–I think that's probably the biggest thing that I've learned about this project.
Yeah, well, and I think that's so good. I loved one thing that you talked about before in another interview as you talked about how you feel like one of your spiritual gifts is like to connect with people and to remain in contact with people, which I think is a spiritual gift. And I love that you acknowledge that. And that then because of that you're able to figure this thing out, and you're able to connect different people together. And I think that's remarkable. What would you say that you've learned about taking the imperfect action and acting in faith, even when we may not entirely know what we're doing?
Oh, I would say that the Lord compensates and the Lord opens doors. I–when I started and I talked to people, I told my book club friends and they're all white ladies. They're all the most beautiful white ladies and I love their guts. And one of them brought me a check for $200. She's like, "This is amazing! I want you to do this!" And I was like, I couldn't say yes and I couldn't say no, I just said thank you.
The Lord has opened the doors for me. I have–my former stake president here in Bluffdale–I'm in Bluffdale, Utah–he went on his, he served a mission as a mission president in the North Dakota, Bismarck mission. And he saw my posts on Facebook about it. He's like, "Oh, I know people!" And he started connecting me with people and he's now back and he's still connecting me with people. And I just feel overwhelmingly blessed because that, because the Lord is like, "I'm going to make the way for you, I'm going to make it so that you can reach out. I'm going to make it so that people can hear you, and hear your guests. I'm going to make it so that you can testify of Me and of the Book of Mormon." And yeah, I just I really love that about this experience. Because it's not me, it's definitely the Lord.
Well, I have felt the same way about this podcast in terms of like, when people are like, "Oh, you do such a good job." And like, I really can't take credit. And I just feel like super lucky to get to do it. So I totally understand that feeling. I couldn't help but think, Andrea, as I prepared for this interview, about how really what you're doing here with Tribe of Testimonies is helping to gather Israel. I wondered for you, like, is that something that you've thought a lot about? Do you feel that and why do you think that that is important?
Oh, definitely. So as I mentioned a few minutes ago, I–in my patriarchal blessing, it says I'll be an instrument in the gathering of Israel. And I was like–as a teenager, I'm like, okay. And then as a college student I was like, "Not going on a mission. I don't know how I'm going to do this. Okay, it's still there, hasn't disappeared," like. So I mean, I'm 42 right now, and I never have ever felt like I've really been a part of the gathering of Israel.
And, yes, in Sunday school, we talk about how we can be member missionaries and we can serve our neighbors, and even people have said serving our children and teaching them the gospel and helping them to grow their own testimony, those are ways to gather Israel. And I agree with that. But I always felt like–is that really what I–is that really all? And as I've been doing this project, this podcast, I feel like I am helping gather Israel.
There is a woman that I have interviewed, and she is in Canada, and she doesn't know any other Native Americans who are members of the Church, like, anywhere near her. She knows some from other parts of her life, but like where she lives right now, she knows none. And, and yet, she's now part of this tribe. She knows that she's gathered, she has a testimony of the gospel, she has a testimony of the Savior. But she's gathered in a different way. And I've been blessed to be a part of that.
I am–I feel like I have . . . really, really trying to make it as inter-tribal and intergenerational and inter-state as possible. Because I'm trying to be able to touch whoever needs to be touched, who needs to come back. I am trying really hard to share testimony and be a missionary from my house. And it's been–I don't know that I have been a part of anybody coming back to the Church, but I have been a part of, not me, like, "Andrea, you're great," but like this podcast has been great in that I have been able to reach a few people who are like, "I have this Native Heritage. And I've been disconnected from it. And I wanted to know how better it associates with the Church or different variations of that." And they have felt gathered. And I just feel so blessed that I get to be a part of this. It's exciting.
Absolutely. Well, I–recently somebody asked me to speak to their Institute class, and they said, "Will you speak about how what you're doing contributes to the gathering of Israel?" and I was like, "What I'm doing doesn't contribute to the gathering of Israel." But it was like such a good exercise to think about, like, "Does what I'm doing contribute?"
And there are a couple of quotes from President Nelson that stand out to me and I think what you're doing Andrea is a perfect example of this. He said, "Anytime you do anything that helps anyone on either side of the veil take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that." And then he invited us to be part of something big, something grand, something majestic.
And the cool thing is, thinking about how you are being able to do that from your own home, which makes me feel emotional. But just how much Heavenly Father loves us and gives us the chance to be a part of this work, which is so cool. Andrea, you have a pretty remarkable educational background. And I couldn't help but think as I was kind of prepping how your education has to have prepared you to contribute in this way. And I wondered for you, how can you see that God has prepared you through the work that you've put in? And maybe, you know, you never could have anticipated hosting a podcast with that background, but it's cool to see how that plays into it.
Yeah. So my education, I spent seven years at BYU and came away with three degrees. I have an undergrad in business, I have a Master's of Public Administration, and I have a juris doctorate. And I worked in Washington, DC for a year, part of it was with an internship, I worked in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and most of it was in the Navajo Nation Washington office.
And then I came back to Utah, and I took the Bar and passed the Bar. And I worked in the higher education office in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Utah. And I wouldn't say I particularly . . . I don't know that any of those are particularly relevant to this kind of podcast, they're really not. But I feel like those gave me confidence and just the ability to reach out and talk to people that I don't really have associations with.
And so I think maybe those are some of the ways that my education has benefited this, this podcast. The podcast is not a social movement, other than a testimony movement. It's not a political movement, I don't talk about politics at all, because my politics actually are probably different than most Native Americans, even in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I, I just simply want to share testimony. And so maybe some ways my education has and maybe some ways it hasn't, but it's also given me context that people who are amazing people who have things to share. So maybe that's part of it, too.
Right. I think all of that, you know, network–everything plays into what forms a complete person, you know, and all of that can contribute. I also love that really what you're doing when you boil it all down is turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. And to me, like the–I haven't listened to all of your episodes, but what I have listened to I feel like that's what this is about for you. And it's so cool to me to think that you–somebody who wasn't raised around that part of your family feels this pull and this connection. So I wondered, how would you say you've felt connected to your Native American ancestors while working on this podcast?
Oh, I love that. So I, I never went to a ceremony growing up. I never–I went to powwow's, but I never did anything ceremonial. I heard phrases here and there, I understood some things. And I saw things from a distance, but I never participated in any of it. Turning hearts to the fathers, that has been something I've grown into, I guess you could say and, and as I've grown into it, I've seen how it's benefited me and made me feel more complete.
There have been a couple of people that I've interviewed who were adoptees and were really not raised around it. And they feel that need to know their heritage, even though they weren't raised in a family that associated with it at all, they feel that need. And I think even those–I also received an email once from a woman who was like, "When I joined the Church, I thought I had to leave all my heritage behind." And she's like, "As I've listened to your podcast, I realized how much I don't have to leave it at all." Like, maybe parts of it but all the good stuff, that's what I can find in the gospel of Jesus Christ and so I think that turning those hearts . . . I'm seeing it happen and I feeling it happen, even in myself a little bit more each time.
That's so neat. I think with that, you know, if you can help people recognize that they don't have to leave that part of themselves behind entirely, and they can bring what their ancestors gave them, than that is–that's something that your ancestors have to be proud of, you know, and so I think that that's remarkable. Andrea, my last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Oh, I've thought about this for a long time, even way before my podcast. But I, as I was growing up, and we went down to the rez to visit family, there was a phrase that I often heard, it says, "Walk in beauty." And I've learned through my life that it comes from a Navajo Blessingway ceremony.
And it is a ceremony that is–the intent is to bring a person back into harmony with all things. There is supposed to be–bad things happen. There are supposed to be hard times and trials and learning experiences. That's what the way talks about, but we need to have the right balance of that.
And so let me read a little bit for you. It says, "With beauty before me, I walk with beauty behind me. I walk with beauty above me, I walk with beauty around me, I walk." And as I understand it, this Blessingway ceremony is often given to those who are going into something hard, like military sometimes or that, I don't know, like they're going into something hard. And I just envision this with beauty–I walk in beauty. And I also have always envisioned our lives holding fast to the iron rod.
And so I–in my mind, I've combined these things, I walk in beauty as I grasp to the iron rod. And if I am staying in that, in that straight and narrow path, I'm all in. I'm allowing growing experiences. They're hard. I'm allowing happy times because that's the purpose that God put us on this earth. And I'm holding fast to that rod. I am all in this plan that He has given to us. I'm all in. And that's what it means to me to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm willing to learn. I'm willing to go through it. I'm willing to and I'm trying my best to have that harmony, because that will bring me to the Savior and to eternal life.
That's beautiful. Thank you so much, Andrea, you are a delight. And please keep up the good work. You're doing an incredible job.
We are so grateful to Andrea for joining us on today's episode. Be sure to check out Tribe of Testimonies wherever you listen to your podcasts. A big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this and every episode of this podcast.
Just a reminder if you're doing your Christmas shopping that if you're a big fan of this podcast, the All In book is available now and is a great way to share one of your favorite things with your friends this Christmas. You can find it now in Deseret Bookstores and online at Deseret Book.com. Thank you so much for listening, we'll be back with you again next week.