National Homemade Bread Day and the History of Frybread

November 17 is National Homemade Bread Day, and bread is one food that knows no cultural bounds. However, this holiday is also a reminder of the darker history behind one of the breads that is typically recognized as a traditional Native food, Indian frybread. Frybread was created 155 years ago as a way to survive, and after three generations, a Native American food movement is gaining momentum to put this food in its proper place in history and shift its reputation as traditional Native food.

Frybread is typically made out of white flour mixed with water, baking powder or yeast and a sprinkle of salt, which is then deep-fried in oil or lard. It can be eaten alone or with powdered sugar, honey or other toppings. Frybread is also used in Indian tacos with beef, and depending on the cook, a mixture of cheese, lettuce, and beans might be placed on top of the flat fried bread.

Most Americans consider frybread a traditional Native food, and while this may be true given its origins, it is not an accurate description of its historical roots. The Navajo created frybread in 1864 when the U.S. government initiated the reservation system and food commodities for the tribes after disrupting their way of life. At the time, the Navajo who had been living in Arizona were forced to make the “Long Walk” and relocated to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico — a treacherous 300-mile walk that led to hundreds dying. In fact, ethnic cleansing in the U.S. led to many tribes being removed from their ancestral homelands, and the history of frybread is directly linked to this trauma and the Native fight for survival. In later years, boarding schools adopted frybread as a part of the meals served to Native children, and it is even served in present day.

Such commodity “food” was unknown to the Navajo since their traditional foods consisted of fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meat such as venison. Processed foods were not consumed by the Navajo people, and therefore, conditions such as diabetes were not a factor in their lives. The consequences of a commodities diet include high rates of diabetes, cardiovascular, and other life-threatening health issues that can be traced back in U.S.-Native history. Ultimately, processed food was just one more method used in ethnic cleansing, yet the Native people were able to take this threat and instead use it to survive. This incredible story is one that should be remembered each time we bite into a freshly cooked piece of fluffy frybread topped with honey.

Today, Native people are turning back the clock and seeking a return to their ancestral diets. Most tribes have stories or beliefs about their foods and those stories are woven into the fabric of their respective societies. Food was and is considered sacred, even a medicine, and consuming food is more than a physical experience to feed their hunger, but rather a holistic experience for their spiritual, mental, physical and emotional well-being. Think of some of your family’s favorite dishes and the memories of making those dishes together. Hopefully, these memories bring back feelings of connectedness, joy, family, love and gratitude — much more than simply eating.

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PWNA Celebrates Heritage Month and Hosts Reception to Commemorate Partner Wes Studi

For nearly 30 years, we’ve recognized November as National American Indian Heritage Month. This November, we encourage you to join Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) in the #PWNA4HeritageMonth celebration by watching our new videos about life on the reservations and participating in our giveaways.

As part of American Indian Heritage Month, we’re also reminded to celebrate the countless contributions and achievements of Native Americans and consider what more we can do to positively impact tribal communities.

Wes Studi, legendary actor, PWNA partner and advocate for social change on behalf of Native communities
Wes Studi, legendary actor, PWNA partner and advocate for social change on behalf of Native communities

Recently, PWNA proudly celebrated one of these special individuals – legendary actor Wes Studi. Wes made history on Sunday, Oct. 27 as the first Indigenous actor to receive an Honorary Oscar, at the 11th annual Governor’s Awards hosted by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. The Governor’s Awards – also known as Honorary Oscars – signify lifetime achievement within the film industry and Wes was among four recipients this year, alongside Geena Davis, David Lynch and Lina Wertmüller.

Following the recent announcement of our partnership with Wes, PWNA hosted a special private reception for Wes on Saturday, Oct. 26, to commemorate his achievement in film. More than 50 guests joined Wes at Paramount Studios to toast to his accomplishment. PWNA’s Chairman of the Board Christina Kazhe thanked Wes for his years of advocacy to bring attention to the critical issues in Indian Country on behalf of Native American communities.

Celebrating legendary actor and PWNA partner Wes Studi at a private reception to commemorate his Oscar and film career

Those in attendance partook in a special screening of our new PSA series developed with Wes to help break misconceptions and raise awareness of the realities of life on reservations. Wes stressed the importance of sharing this PSA with audiences as many people are unaware of what’s happening in Native communities, and correcting the misperceptions is a critical step in enacting long-term solutions and social change

Notable guests included actors Tantoo Cardinal, Sherie Blake Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher, Heather Rae and Dawn Jackson, along with directors Chris Eyre, Gregory Nava and Valerie Red-Horse.

Remember to visit www.pwna4hope.org throughout the month of November for the latest updates, including:

  • New videos and DVD giveaways every Friday (Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 22) and Nov. 26
  • Bonus giveaway on Nov. 27
  • Five ways you can help


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Recently in Native News

Native American issues are gaining more national attention as cities across the country recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and celebrate Native American traditions, culture and art. Please enjoy a compilation of our favorite Native American headlines from the month of October. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Why more people are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day via PBS News Hour

  • “Increasingly, Columbus Day is giving people pause. More and more towns and cities across the country are electing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to – or in addition to – the day intended to honor Columbus’ voyages. Critics of the change see it as just another example of political correctness run amok – another flash point of the culture wars. As a scholar of Native American history – and a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina – I know the story is more complex than that. The growing recognition and celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day actually represents the fruits of a concerted, decades-long effort to recognize the role of indigenous people in the nation’s history.”

Studi stars in PSAs focused on reservations, need for giving via Cherokee Phoenix

  • “Cherokee actor Wes Studi is partnering with a national nonprofit organization for video public service announcements to ‘raise awareness of realities on the reservations’ and spur giving. The goal, Studi said, is to ‘increase awareness and show that supporting Native-led causes is the only way we can create change. We are trying to get away from the misconceptions … about Native Americans,’ Studi said. ‘What we really want to address is foundation funding and just general, overall giving, which has absolutely dropped.’”

The Native American Designers Behind Ginew Are Redefining Americana via GQ

  • “If you’ve been following fashion the past few years, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in vaguely Native American design. Whether it’s the avalanche of Southwestern-printed Patagonias on Grailed or the explosion of sterling silver and turquoise jewelry decorating the wrists and belts of menswear dudes (or even the goods of luxury brands like Dior, with its oblivious campaign for ‘Sauvage’)—Native American style is everywhere. In fact, it’s gotten so popular that last year, Pueblo and Zuni artisans went to court to force non-Native brands to stop illegally using their name on counterfeit goods. And the problem isn’t just that traditional Native designs are being watered down or used inappropriately, but that many Native designers and craftspeople have been left out of the boom.”

Preserving Native Food Traditions via Sierra Club

  • “Sean Sherman was 13 years old when he started working in restaurants. He started as a busboy, but by 27, he was an executive chef in a restaurant in Minneapolis, well on his way to a promising career. But a few years in, Sherman—a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe—says he had an epiphany: Native American foods were sorely underrepresented across the restaurant industry. He asked, ‘Why? And what can we do about that?’ Now, Sherman dedicates his career to restoring Native American foodways in his work as a chef, educator, and author. In 2014, he launched a catering and food education business called The Sioux Chef, with co-owner Dana Thompson. He’s since won a James Beard Award for best American cookbook and a James Beard Leadership Award.”
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Winter on the Reservation: Would You Choose to Heat or Eat?

Late October marks the return of cold weather, awakening us to early morning chills, frost on our windows and in some regions the first snowfall of the season. Cooler temperatures are manageable, and often enjoyable, for the average person in the average home, especially when you have cozy sweaters, running water and heat at the flip of a switch. Yet, the change of seasons is not as cozy for many people living on remote reservations across the U.S.

Many Native American Elders are at risk in their own homes, every single day. And winter is no exception. Winter storms in the Northern Plains and Southwest leave communities, such as Cheyenne River, Navajo and Hopi, without access to food, water, transportation and firewood.

Poverty brings its own kind of chill, adding to the winter risk. PWNA serves reservations across nine priority states, focusing on communities with the highest need in the U.S. Winters in the Northern Plains often come early and last longer, leaving Native American Elders in impoverished communities more susceptible to the risk and costly realities of winter. Even without a storm, running out of firewood or being unable to pay the electric bill is all too common in remote communities.

About four in ten Native Americans also live in substandard, hard-to-heat homes with incomplete plumbing and utilities and no funding to repair leaky roofs and uninsulated windows. Simultaneously, about half of Native American grandparents, living on fixed incomes, are also responsible for raising their grandchildren. This means more food to purchase and more use of utilities in the home. So, for many, winter often comes down to making the difficult decision: Do you heat or eat? What would you choose?

PWNA’s Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA) program gives struggling Elders a hand-up for getting through winter. NPRA provides winter fuel vouchers or firewood – depending on what the Elders and program partners request – and  winter emergency boxes that provide essential supplies for winter survival, such as socks, gloves, hats, blankets, nonperishable food, batteries and flashlights.

It’s terrible to imagine having to choose whether your family will have ‘heat’ or food to ‘eat’ when both are critical for survival. Your choice is much easier – you can choose to help Native American Elders today by donating to NPRA and contributing to winter warmth on the reservations.

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Recognizing National Animal Safety and Protection Month

October is National Animal Safety and Protection Month — a time to recognize the important measures that should be taken in order to protect animals and pets. It’s also a time to support organizations with a mission to take care of animals and promote their safety and welfare. Many do not realize the issues and risk that animals living on reservations face every day or the associated risk to community health, which is why one of PWNA’s programs focuses on supporting and fostering reservation animals.

Across the Navajo Nation, there are an estimated 1,500 stray dogs and cats roaming around without a home, but the real number may be as much as four times higher. Other reservation communities face a similar challenge. While many people see these animals and want to help, they do not have the proper resources to do so. Thankfully, there are some actions that can be taken in order to prevent and save these animals from facing such severe conditions.

We encourage everyone to take the pledge to treat all animals humanely by doing the following:

  • Provide necessities for these animals such as pet food, blankets, toys and treats
  • Support mobile spay and neuter clinics
  • Care for stray and orphaned animals, with the goal of adoption into loving homes
  • Spread the word by telling family and friends about stray animals and overpopulation on some of the reservations

PWNA’s Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) program supports reservation programs focused on animal care. RAR provides foster care kits with food, bowls, leashes and more to support our partners in rescuing and rehabilitating dogs and cats and finding them forever homes. Another service within the RAR program is Pet Promise, a spay and neutering fund to help subsidize spay and neuter services, vaccinations and preventive medicine for fleas and ticks. Join the 4,616 people and counting who have taken the pledge to protect reservation animals and treat them humanely by visiting the PWNA website and signing your name. You can also contribute to the fight to help rescue these animals by donating to Reservation Animal Rescue.

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PWNA Partners with Legendary Actor Wes Studi

Last week, PWNA announced a new partnership with award-winning actor Wes Studi during a press conference at the third annual Native American Cultural Celebration hosted by the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. With the partnership announcement also came a sneak peek of our new public series announcement (PSA) series that we developed with Wes around the widely held misconceptions related to Native American people, history and funding.

The five-part “Realities Series with Wes Studi” includes an accurate portrayal of life on the reservations and dispels long-held myths that continue to impact Native communities today. Throughout the series, Wes discusses history and treaties, realities on the reservation, education, casino economics and charitable giving to Native communities, some of which reside in third-world conditions.

Both PWNA and Wes feel passionate about bringing attention to the critical issues and disparities that Native American communities face every single day and we hope that, together, we can increase positive outcomes for our reservation partners.

Wes is an admired actor and producer who is known for his work in major films, such as Dances with Wolves, Avatar, The Last of the Mohicans, The New World, Geronimo: An American Legend and A Million Ways to Die in the West. As a Cherokee American citizen, Wes has advocated for Native communities over the years to bring attention to the critical issues in Indian Country.

Later this month, Wes will be recognized for his lifetime achievement with an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. PWNA, with the support of Paramount Pictures, is also recognizing Wes for 30 years of legendary moments in film.

We encourage you to check out our complete PSA series with Wes today and learn just how critical it is to support Native American causes.

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Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day

The controversy around Columbus Day has come to light in the past few years, and people are starting to question why we celebrate it at all. Originally, the holiday was meant to recognize the achievements of Christopher Columbus in his “discovery” of the Americas. Columbus intended to discover a new trade route to the eastern countries but inadvertently found the Caribbean, and after later expeditions, South America. Let’s elaborate on why this might be controversial.

While not the first to come upon it, Columbus was credited with the discovery of western land, and with that, the indigenous peoples of that land. His treatment in first contact with indigenous peoples was less than honorable. Some of Columbus’ own journals unveil how he saw these people as little more than animals and he documented how Europeans could easily convert them into a workforce, among other roles. He treated the indigenous people with deceit, abuse, and most of all, a lack of basic human courtesy. More recently, scholars have been more forthcoming about the realities of Columbus’ relationship with indigenous people, prompting people to ask, “Why are we celebrating this person?”

In many cases, the answer is unclear. However, it has given rise to alternative celebrations in respect to the western cultures that were deeply impacted by Columbus. This includes Native Americans Day, Indigenous Peoples Day and Día De La Raza, all celebrated the second Monday in October as an alternative to Columbus Day. Notably enough, the states or countries that have enacted these alternate holidays are those with sizeable indigenous populations that continue to face social injustices today.

Columbus Day reminds us that there are two sides to every story, and that without understanding how something affects all parties involved, recognition can be easily misgiven. The transition away from Columbus Day comes from an understanding that while he is credited with ‘discovering’ the Americas, he was not the first to discover or inhabit these lands, nor should he be celebrated for the inhumane actions he took following his ‘discovery.’

Accepting that Columbus performed horrible actions toward others and not the history taught in school has led to a shift in how we ‘celebrate’ this day by instead recognizing the survivors of his actions. Hopefully, the transition away from Columbus Day can bring more cultures together as we shouldn’t be afraid to recognize mistakes and learn from our past. By recognizing those mistakes, we can work toward fostering a more caring and inclusive future.

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Recently in Native News

As we step into fall and get closer to election season, we’re seeing more focus on Native American issues in news headlines across the country. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite Native American headlines from the month of September for your enjoyment. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Inside a New Effort to Change What Schools Teach About Native American History via Smithsonian.com

  • “Students who learn anything about Native Americans are often only offered the barest minimum: re-enacting the first Thanksgiving, building a California Spanish mission out of sugar cubes or memorizing a flashcard about the Trail of Tears just ahead of the AP U.S. History Test. Most students across the United States don’t get comprehensive, thoughtful or even accurate education in Native American history and culture. A 2015 study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that 87 percent of content taught about Native Americans includes only pre-1900 context. And 27 states did not name an individual Native American in their history standards.”

Groundbreaking set for National Native American Veterans Memorial via American Legion

  • “The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host a day of events on Sept. 21 in conjunction with groundbreaking of the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The events include a webcast interview with Harvey Pratt, whose design concept for the new memorial was selected last year. Pratt is a Cheyenne and Arapaho artist based in Guthrie, Okla., and a member of Cheyenne and Arapaho American Legion Post 401 in Clinton, Okla. The memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, will consist of an elevated, stainless steel circle balanced on an intricately carved stone drum. The design incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection, and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders, and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing.

Climate change report: Native Americans face unique challenges via Tulsa World

  • “While climate change poses common risks across the United States, some scientists say Native American tribes in the southern Great Plains face unique challenges. Higher temperatures, extreme weather events and water resource constraints could severely affect the ability of Native Americans in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas to obtain food, water and shelter, as well as hamper their ability to preserve ancient cultural activities, according to the National Climate Assessment. In the southern Great Plains by the end of the century, temperatures are projected to increase between 3.6 and 5.1 degrees, and if greenhouse emissions are not cut, the region might endure up to 60 more days above 100 degrees than it does now, according to the report.”

Native American voters could help swing the 2020 presidential election via CNBC

  • “Native American issues are in sharper focus in the 2020 presidential election cycle, particularly as Democratic contenders put more emphasis on policy proposals. The Native American electorate could end up being pivotal in seven major swing states: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Wisconsin, according to data from Four Directions. ‘We can make a difference,’ said Renee Lenore Fasthorse Iron Hawk, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. ‘There are swing states that will make a difference. We can and have mobilized our vote when it matters.’”
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The Significance of Feathers in Native Cultures

Feathers are a prominent symbol of the culture and history of Native Americans. Some of the most noteworthy achievements in the life of a Sioux citizen are those in which his family honors him for the things he has done. In the Sioux tribes and many other tribes across the country, Native Americans honor the achievements of their community, family and friends by awarding an eagle feather.

Eagle feathers today mark every modern-day milestone from military service to graduation, sobriety, life events or career achievement, and the award of an eagle feather is of great significance. To have enough eagle feathers to wear a headdress is a sign that the individual has performed great works in life.

However, the use of feathers originated in more serious and difficult times. They came when individuals guided communities, protected an encampment, captured resources from an enemy or necessarily took a life.  They also served as symbols of celebration, such as when someone earned a name, got married or served the community. And not long ago, wearing a headdress was the equivalent of a decorated military veteran.

Traditionally, Bald Eagles or Golden Eagles were the source of these feathers and Native Americans took only what they needed. Today, there’s an additional kind of stewardship involved. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the spiritual and cultural significance of eagles to Native Americans and operates the National Eagle Repository to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers and other parts from naturally deceased eagles. Even then, a permit, proof of tribal enrollment and waiting period is required due to high demand.

Across America, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to feathers, headdresses and what they mean to the Native cultures from which they originated. For tribal members, no matter the reason, to be sporting these items as attire or costume dishonors our cultures and traditions.

Misunderstanding across cultures is common, so it’s important for Native Americans to clearly communicate the significance of feathers — one of the few traditions that still passes through our generations. Today, awarding feathers is about celebrating life and marking our accomplishments, while continuing something significant that Native peoples have done for centuries. This is important, as there was a time when celebrating our traditions was forbidden, and it took many years of activism for that restriction to be lifted.

All that can be asked of anyone is to remember the roles traditions play in Native cultures and to rethink that Halloween costume or headdress you might wear to the Redskins game. The intention behind an action does not make up for the disrespect it may carry, and the entire Native population had to fight for the right to continue the tradition of eagle feathers in honoring their people.

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Supporting Native Students through the 2019 Combined Federal Campaign

Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) season is upon us and PWNA is pleased to participate for the ninth consecutive year through our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program. The CFC employee-focused program is the largest and most successful workplace charity program in the world. The CFC online giving period is from now through Jan. 12, 2020. And while there are many reasons to pledge your support to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, we ask that you consider giving to a Native American-serving cause, such as AIEF.

AIEF supports K-12 and higher education for Native students, including students such as Jack, who remembers the challenge of getting basic school supplies, and Josie, who relied on scholarships for college tuition. The AIEF scholarship committee sensed Josie’s determination from the beginning and knew she would one day significantly impact others — and she sure has. Josie now develops teachers through her insights on fostering educational equity for all students.

If you’re in the federal workforce or the military, you have the chance to make a difference, too. Here are 10 timely reasons you should pledge your support to American Indian students:

  1. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Native youth have the highest rate of teen suicide in the U.S.
  2. CFC’s Education Week is Sept. 30 through Oct. 4, and Teacher’s Day is Oct. 5, and both Native teachers and students need the most basic school supplies for the classrooms.
  3. World Obesity Day is Oct. 11 and many Native youth are impacted by obesity and diabetes due to inadequate diets and lack of access to affordable healthy foods.
  4. Native American Day is Oct. 14, and more states and schools are now celebrating this occasion instead of Columbus Day.
  5. November is American Indian Heritage Month and Native youth are the future of tribes and the solution to the many challenges they face today.
  6. Veteran’s Day is Nov. 11 and Native Americans serve the military at the highest rate of any population in the U.S. Not to mention, some of our AIEF scholars are also veterans.
  7. Native American Heritage Day is Nov. 29, commemorating nationwide the many contributions Native Americans have made to this country.
  8. December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month and surely there’s no greater gift than that of school supplies.
  9. Giving Tuesday is Dec. 3 and while Americans are largely focused on giving, less than one percent of their donations will benefit Native Americans — the most underserved population in our country.
  10. New Year’s Day is Jan. 1 and your resolution could be bringing resources and hope to Native students in 2020.

Be sure to catch our AIEF video under CFC charity code 54766.

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