National Native American Heritage Day - Friday Nov. 29, 2019

Submitted by George Garnett, USFS - Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Native American pattern-2


National Native American Heritage Day is a holiday observed the day after Thanksgiving and honors Native Americans across the nation. This day celebrates the vibrant cultures, traditions, and heritages while recognizing the many contributions Native Americans have made.

In the United States today, Native Americans contribute to society daily and the USDA Forest Service is grateful for each and every one. They contribute to the goals of the Forest Service through a variety of occupations. Through art, science or upper management, their insight and perspectives greatly help the Forest Service. Some individual states have also taken legislative action to recognize this day. For example, Maryland established this day in 2008 under the name American Indian Heritage Day. In honor of this day, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest would like to recognize three individuals that work within the forest who are of Native American ancestry. Their experiences are worth noting.


Stephen James

Stephen G. James - Navajo

Stephen G. James – Land Surveyor, Apache-Sitgreaves Headquarters

Stephen is Navajo and is Ashiihi (Salt People) born for the Naakai dinee (Mexican People) clans. Stephen was born in Gallup, New Mexico and grew up on the Navajo Reservation outside of Gallup. He started his career with the Forest Service in 1993 while attending SW Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, NM. While enrolled in the Survey Certificate program, Stephen majored in Engineering Technologies and applied with the Forest Service as a coop student participating in a variety of work/study programs. In 2000, he graduated from NM State University in Las Cruces, NM with a Bachelor of Science degree in surveying and immediately started working full time with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Springerville, AZ. Stephen has over 26 years with the US Forest Service.

What Stephen likes most about the Forest Service is the opportunity to work with a variety of talented individuals whether they be federal employees, surveyors from all over the state, Tribal Nations, and within local communities. His job with the Forest Service has allowed him to provide professional land surveying and realty specialist services. He’s also a member of the Arizona Professional Land Surveyor’s Association.

What gives Stephen the most joy, is spending quality time with his wonderful family. He has two sons and one daughter. His wife of 22 years works at Round Valley Middle School. In Stephen’s spare time, he enjoys coaching youth programs such as basketball, soccer and baseball. But basketball is his passion! It was a favorite sport growing up on the reservation. He’s coached Boys & Girls Club basketball league and as Round Valley HS Girls Varsity Basketball Assistant Coach.

Stephen is also passionate about helping his family with education. He strongly feels that education is so valuable that, he would not be where he is today without it. Stephen also values nature because we have a deep connection with land and nature. Stephen feels that the bottom line is protecting our natural resources.

Stephen has a huge extended family. His father was a Viet Nam Vet and his mother worked as a Teacher’s Aide at schools he attended outside the reservation.


Ernestine Nozie

Ernestine Nozie - Navajo

Ernestine Nozie – Support Services Specialist (SSS), Alpine Ranger District

Ernestine is also Navajo.  She is of Bitter Water People and born for Mexican People.  Sawmill, Arizona is her hometown, north of Fort Defiance, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation.  She has worked with the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch, Window Rock Schools, and Apache County Superintendent of Schools before beginning her career with the Forest Service in April 2009.  Ernestine started on the Gila National Forest as the Information Receptionist on the Quemado Ranger District.  She detailed as the Administrative Assistant and later received the permanent position as Administrative Assistant.  She completed a detail as Executive Assistant for the Forest Supervisor in Silver City, NM.  She then went on to Flagstaff Ranger District where she worked as Administrative Assistant at the Coconino National Forest.  Early 2018 she completed a detail as Support Services Specialist to the Wilderness Ranger District in Mimbres, New Mexico.  In October 2018, Ernestine moved on to the Apache – Sitgreaves National Forests to work at the Alpine Ranger District as the Support Services Specialist.  She has enjoyed many roles with the USDA Forest Service.

Ernestine loves her job. She’s a people person and has enjoyed meeting a variety of people from many different forests. One of the things she enjoys most about working with the Forest Service, is sharing her knowledge with other people and also loves learning new things.

Her husband Nathaniel is from the San Carlos Apache Reservation. He also works with the US Forest Service, as a Fire Management Officer (FMO) on the Gila National Forest.  What makes Ernestine Nozie happy? She says, “My family!” Ernestine has one daughter who is attending college in Albuquerque studying Anthropology.


Ray & Janet Greasewood

Ray Greasewood, and his wife Janet

Ray Greasewood – Assistant Engine Captain, Lakeside Ranger District

Ray Greasewood is full-blooded Navajo. He has been an Assistant Engine Captain on the Lakeside Ranger District for more than 19 years. Before working at the USDA Forest Service, Ray worked for the BIA at White River on the Fort Apache for a number of years. It was at the BIA at Fort Apache where Ray had the opportunity to work as an elite wildland firefighter known as a “Hot Shot!” In time, Ray heard about the many opportunities available with the Forest Service.

Now that Ray’s been with the Forest Service, he is very happy to be a part of this federal agency. When asked, what he likes about the Forest Service? Ray explains, “The Forest Service is like a second family.”

Ray has a wife and three kids at home. Sometimes, he thinks about changing his career path. Perhaps even working in safety with the Forest Service.

Ray was born on the Navajo Reservation in Indian Wells, about 35 miles north of Holbrook. He still has family there and a place to retire, when the time comes. His wife is Apache. She has also worked for the Forest Service. Now she’s in school majoring in nursing.

Ray is very passionate about wildlife. He owns two horses and owns a lot more horses roaming about on the Navajo Reservation. He says that all his life, he’s owned horses. “I love horses!” says Ray.

Learn more about Native American Heritage Month: