Natalie benally – co-founder of Tse’nato’

Natalie Benally is Diné, Zuni Pueblo, Southern Ute and Mexican. She was born into the Grey Streaked Ends People Clan, born for Red Running into Water. Her maternal grandparents are of the Zuni Pueblo Clan and her paternal grandparents are of the Water Edge People Clan.

She’s the co-founder of Tse’Nato’, a multidisciplinary storytelling company. “I get to do what I’ve always wanted,” she explains, “which is to create and make space for native stories, told by the people themselves.” One of the many amazing things about Natalie is her passion for creating space for others to express themselves.

Currently, she is working on a multitude of projects. She recently completed work on an AMC series that takes place on a Navajo reservation, two short films projects that highlight native artists (the first one is Azhish: Stories in Motion, which comes out January 2022), and she’s finishing up directing a play at the Santa Fe Playhouse titled The Thanksgiving Play. The play tackles the difficult subjects around “wokeness” and telling other people’s stories without their input or voices. This satirical play can be difficult and triggering for native audiences, though. She suggests that audiences go into the play with open ears and eyes to learn about the harsh truth of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Growing up, she was pulled towards both the arts and science. Stage, song, and dance blended with a love of botany and the environment. Natalie explores all avenues and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to learning. This is something that she wants to build for the kids from her rez and other Indigenous youth. When asked what her personal goal is for the future, she responds, “The overall vision of what I hope to achieve isn’t necessarily things that involve me personally. The reason why I’m doing work in creative spaces is to create a pathway for people to experience these things. I want to be able to create an environment and hold a space for kids from my rez to be artistic or pursue artistic careers at an early age.” Providing these experiences and skills for Indigenous youth and building a bridge to future success is her driving motivation. From learning how to be a lighting technician, to acting, to dance, to directing, she wants them to know they can explore, experiment, and have fun discovering their talents and strengths.

Natalie has a big heart and it’s what drives her to create and build for her community. At Girls Inc. of Santa Fe, we were fortunate to have her as a part of our team for many years. Her dedication to the girls and to making an impact helped us grow further into the city and surrounding areas. And while we miss her energy and laughter, we’re also proud of all she’s achieving right now!

Her guidance for girls? “Always listen to whatever voice is inside of you. The spaces you find yourself in, there’s going to be a lot of times you question yourself. I encourage you to always be open to changing and evolving. Change and growth in your persona are always good. You’re not always going to be the same person, hopefully!” With people like Natalie in the world, making change and creating new art, there will always be powerful role models that can help facilitate that.