Stargazer: Deloria Bighorn

Deloria and her husband, Jacob, seated, with the Bighorn family in 2007.

Deloria Bighorn loved the excitement and danger of racing in the rodeo. When she was growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, horses and rodeos were important in her family’s Chickasaw and Yankton Sioux Indian culture. Deloria was also raised as a Christian—her great-grandfather was the first American Indian ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. But when Deloria was a teenager, she questioned her faith and grew rebellious. She struggled with drugs, alcohol, and teen pregnancy.

Deloria’s life began to change when she discovered the Bahá’í Faith in her teens. She earned a degree in social work and worked as a school counselor, using her own challenging experiences to help her guide youth. She worked at the Maxwell International Bahá’í School in British Columbia, Canada, for 18 years. Her late husband, Jacob, also taught there. Today, Deloria serves on the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of the Bahá’ís of Canada and with its Office of Aboriginal Affairs*. She continues her dedication to counseling at Pearson College on Vancouver Island in Canada.


Q What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory was when I was six years old. My parents were Christians, and so we had Christmas . . . [That year] when it was over . . . my mom said, “Oh, I think there might be something else for you . . . Let’s look out here.” And there was my dad outside in the snow up to his knees, holding . . . a black horse with a bald face, you know, a white face, and four white stockings. And of course, his name was Baldy . . . Baldy was such a good horse.


Q What was the most challenging experience for you as a kid?

Our elders . . . were very, very industrious people . . . So my parents worked all day, and then would come home and change clothes immediately and go outside and work until it was too dark . . . It was very lonely for me . . . We lived out in the country, and we didn’t go on vacations, and we didn’t do anything. I wanted to live like the other girls . . . There were great things about it . . . we had a million cats and dogs and pigs and everything you could think of . . . But living in the country was lonely. I think that was the biggest challenge.

Barrel racing was one of the events Deloria competed in at rodeos when she was 14.

Q You performed in rodeos as a kid. What was that like?

That was the funnest thing ever . . . I didn’t have a bicycle because when you live . . . on country roads . . . places are very far . . . Every day I would come home and saddle up my horse and ride. One of the wonderful things was when my dad would . . . saddle up and we’d go together . . . Sometimes we would go to two or three [rodeos] a weekend. That was very special, very, very exciting . . . It’s scary, too.


Q How did you know you wanted to be a counselor?

As a result of many different things, I was drinking and so forth. I ended up getting pregnant when I was 16 . . . My parents . . . just didn’t know what to do. So eventually, I was sent to a home for unwed mothers . . . I had an opportunity to experience very closely what the system is like when they send you to an adoption case worker or a counselor in the home . . . They were trying to be sincere and trying to do their best. But these [case workers] were girls who had never had a day of adversity in their lives . . . They didn’t know what they were talking about . . .

So I just made up my mind that . . . I wanted to be able to help . . . [As a school counselor] I could use my life experience . . . I understood what they were going through, because I went through the same things.

Deloria on her wedding day in 1978.

Q How did you overcome the challenges in your youth, and what did you learn?

When I heard about the Bahá’í Faith, I knew . . . progressive revelation . . . was the absolute truth** . . . I just felt my faith in God again . . . But then [the Bahá’ís] came to the rules . . . And I remember very clearly [thinking], no one’s going to tell me I can’t have fun. And then, I landed in the home for unwed mothers . . . [After giving birth] you think about what you did . . . How your actions—the need to be thoughtless, the need to be careless, the need to have your own fun—then causes a pain in someone else’s life that can never be fixed . . . I wasn’t able to walk away from the drugs and alcohol easily. It really took me about eight years to really be able to stop . . . But I had made this spiritual decision . . . to be a Bahá’í . . . So I would try, try so hard . . . I ended up getting a master’s [degree] in social work, and . . . I really felt strongly that I had to be a role model.

At a youth conference in Canada in August 2010, Deloria (center, in turquoise blue) leads the Friendship Dance. The conference focused on the theme of "a common path of service." Photo by Brian Thom.

Q What do you value most in your upbringing from the American Indian culture?

I think the feeling that I came from a people who . . . were given teachings that led them to . . . create great civilizations . . . The guiding principle that someone of my culture lived by is to be the very best relative you could be. And that would encompass everything that there needed to be taught . . .


Q If you had one wish for Brilliant Star readers, what would it be?

I would wish for them to have loving and tender hearts. That’s just the key. To have loving and tender hearts allows the best of a person to come through. A generous heart that can give in the way that we were meant to.


*A National Spiritual Assembly is elected to guide a country’s Bahá’í activities.

**Progressive revelation is the concept that there is one God Who continually sends Messengers, such as Jesus, Muhammad, and Bahá’u’lláh, to guide humanity.

Family photo - standing, left to right: Frankie Lau, honorary son; Kai; Jelena and her husband, Simon; Jordan and his wife, Meleyna.

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