Banyacya's name was changed to Thomas Jenkins on entry to grade school in accordance with Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) policy at that time. Later in life as a symbol of commitment to the Hopi he changed his name to its present form. As a young man he attended the Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California and went on to receive a two-year scholarship in 1930 to study at Bacone College, Oklahoma, one of the first all Indian colleges.
At college he initially trained to become a clergyman before changing his mind to become a school teacher instead. He also excelled as an athlete and was a noted long distance runner.
It was at Bacone College, whose curriculum then typically excluded any native American studies, that Banyacya felt there was a need for Native Peoples to have their own spiritual development and to study their own culture, religion and traditional ways of life. Banyacya, together with a Crow colleague from Montana named Medicine Crow, set up an Indian lodge at the college and began performing songs and ceremonies.
The year 1941 saw the onset of US involvement in World War II. Banyacya refused to register for the draft on the grounds of Hopi principles which forbid the bearing of arms. He was imprisoned for seven years.
On release from prison, he wrote a letter to President Eisenhower requesting a meeting between the military and Hopi leaders on the subject of Hopi exemption from the armed services. Later, in 1953, Banyacya together with a group of traditional Hopi spiritual leaders met in Holbrook with officials from the Selective Services and successfully secured conscientious objector status for the release of Hopis from compulsory military conscription.
In 1948 Banyacya was appointed as interpreter and spokesman for traditional Hopi leaders. This followed a decision by the Kikmongwis or spiritual leaders of the Hopi, who had gathered to discuss and put into action certain aspects of Hopi teachings which have been handed down unchanged in an oral tradition since ancient times.
In accordance with these teachings or Hopi prophecy as they are also known, Banyacya was instructed to travel to the U.N.'s "Great House of Mica" in New York, carrying a message of peace to the world. He was instructed to carry the Hopi message and relay it to the four corners of the earth. In his ambassadorial role as representative of the sovereign Hopi Nation, Banyacya produced the first Hopi passport which has been recognized by the many countries he has visited.
Banyacya was the driving force behind a series of six caravans that moved across North America beginning in the summer of 1952 whose purpose was to set about reviving interest among Indians in their culture and religion. Traveling from city to city, reservation to reservation these cultural convoys were to have a profound and lasting effect in the regeneration of Indian cultural and spiritual development. The caravans drew in the greatest thinkers, spiritual leaders and medicine people of the era and succeeded in drawing Indian people of all nations together. The gatherings often attracted thousands of participants as they wound their way across the continent. And they achieved the desired effect of reviving the language, cultural pride, and a return to the spiritual path.
In addition to his work in North America, Banyacya has spent much of his life taking the Hopi message out into the international community. He travels widely, visiting and lecturing at educational institutions. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his participation and involvement in programs and projects involving indigenous people. He sits on the advisory panels for many organizations at home and abroad.