National Buy a Musical Instrument Day

May 22 is National Buy a Musical Instrument Day, and it’s an opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon the impact of music on cultures around the world. In the past of any culture lies some point where music underscored acts and events of importance, be it drums of war or songs of marriage, birthdays, or religion. Indeed, in many societies, art such as beadwork, pottery crafting, dancing, painting, and music is a key part of life.

In the past, music was integral to Native culture and now, on the reservations, music continues to be a part of everyday life, whether it helps someone work, celebrate, or even find some solace in the hardships of their life. Music gives us something to look forward to, talk about, or share. Friends have jam sessions after school and on weekends, and groups gather to learn the traditional songs of the Lakota and help carry this tradition on to future generations. Even those among us who were never encouraged to learn our traditions or language were at least encouraged to learn our music or our arts.

PWNA has shared with me that in 2015 they supported Native youth through a group known as Teens for Music, which promotes music as a positive interest and cultural activity, and organizes workshops that teach Native youth how to play musical instruments.

As an alternative to boredom or harmful habits, learning to play a musical instrument is a positive and beneficial hobby that enriches every aspect of life. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between music and quality of life. Studies show that those who play musical instruments tend to do better in school and work, experience more happiness and productivity, and experience less stress. Programs in music (and other arts) give teens a chance to find their passion, de-stress, make friends, and hopefully be happier overall.

Personally, music became a huge passion for me after high school, and I began integrating it into my exercise, hobbies, and even sleep. It has amplified my experiences and in a way helps me store the memories of my life. Many of us in fact catalog our lives by the music we were listening to when… and songs that once meant … now hold personal experience or meaning.

It is very hard to imagine a world without songs, or melodies, or even tunes that get stuck in our heads. Music nurtures us, develops us, accompanies us, and rewards us as we journey through our lives. Surely, more programs like Teens for Music and recognitions like National Buy a Musical Instrument Day could benefit indigenous youth and other youth across the country.

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SNAP/EBT or America’s Harvest Box?

Well, here’s a plan that has been shown to work for decades: the SNAP/EBT program. About 38 million people receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including low-income families, senior citizens and some who live in our rural areas. In today’s blog though, I’ll be taking a look into the proposed plan to cut SNAP benefits and its implications.

I’ve written before about the U.S.D.A. Commodities program and diabetes, about how the amount of empty carbs and sugary foods provided to reservation communities has led to a notably higher rate of diabetes among Native people. Well, the currently proposed “budget saving” plan – known as “America’s Harvest Box” – is only a new take on the existing government food box plan that, while alleviating hunger for families, leaves them wanting in terms of variety of foods and actual nutrition.

As a child I experienced the benefits of “commods” — two boxes of food per month, usually filled with pasta, powdered eggs, canned spam, rice, beans, boxed milk and maybe some Gatorade, if we were lucky. Oh, and the cheese (still some of the best mac ‘n cheese ever made)! But these definitely lack the fresh, healthy, whole foods and items such as those used in Blue Apron meals.

Yet in the Harvest Box announcement, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney likened the Harvest Box to a Blue Apron type program. In recent months, I’ve tried food delivery services like Blue Apron in an attempt to bring better food into my college life and I’ll say this: there is absolutely no comparison in the items. And trying to promote them as the same creates a false interest for those who won’t actually dig into the details.

What’s more, how does a 10-dollar minimum food delivery service save budget over an average cost of two dollars per meal for SNAP? In some cases, the Harvest Box program would cut up to half of SNAP/EBT benefits, not only taking away the possibility of more nutritious food choices, but subjecting families to the health impacts that have already been observed from these boxes. SNAP eligibility criteria would also be altered, adding new guidelines that would disqualify many families in need and for other families reduce the help received.

In my personal opinion, trying to save money by introducing a mix of lower quality foods is simply saving for the short-term while adding to health care costs in the long-term. In fact, this new proposal has been in testing groups for years and shows food boxes to have long-term health impacts. Whether they have even been shown to provide an adequate amount of food to families based on volume and portions is unclear. Maybe if the Harvest Boxes provided better food items, the program would help families, though in its current state, I simply see another commodity plan looking to save money.

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Donors Ask: Does Monthly Giving Make Sense for Me?

Nonprofits in the U.S. bear an enormous responsibility, filling the humanitarian needs and gaps left by government-funded social programs and corporations that do not view these needs as profitable enough for investment. In the balance, people suffer and are left wanting the quality of life and equity enjoyed by other Americans. This is why millions of people in the U.S. choose to work at nonprofits, and to do so for a lesser salary than they could earn in private industry.

In this way, I view nonprofit workers as akin to donors:  both are the lifeblood of nonprofits; both care about making a difference and ensuring their help reaches those who need it. Nonprofit workers and donors also share another likeness:  commitment to a cause. I personally have worked in the nonprofit sector for over a decade, and now as VP of Development at Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). I grew up on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and, like each and every one of PWNA’s donors, I am committed to improving quality of life for Native Americans.

One of the best ways I’ve seen to do this is to keep on giving. For me, this means keep on working long and productive hours at PWNA and putting my heart into it. For our donors, this means keep on giving to support the cause through PWNA and the programs of PWNA.

In fact, donors have a very special chance to support the cause through “sustained” giving, or in simpler terms, through monthly giving.  Many donors ask us: Does monthly giving makes sense for me? It’s a great question that all donors should ask.

My question to donors is:  Do you realize how much more you can help by giving monthly, as an alternative to giving frequently in response to fundraising appeals? Or that giving monthly helps all year?

First and foremost, you should know that if you sign up for monthly giving, and you ever need to stop or change it, doing so at PWNA is as quick and easy as a call to our Donor Relations Department. Next, monthly giving means less mail and fundraising calls for you — and most importantly, it means knowing you are easing the suffering of others, every day. It also means a lower cost of fundraising for the charity, and maximizing how efficiently and effectively your gift is used in support of the mission. This just makes financial sense:  monthly giving = more impact.

You might be a monthly donor if:

  • You are donating to a particular program or cause over and over
  • Routinely choosing to support a particular ethnic group
  • Looking to lessen a particular concern for those in need
  • Making frequent gifts to a particular program or project
  • Wanting to see your gifts used as efficiently as possible, to make the greatest impact
  • Wanting to help, and also wanting to receive less mail or fewer fundraising calls

I would welcome a call from anyone who wants to learn more about monthly giving and joining our Circle of Friends. You can reach me or my staff at 800-416-8102, or visit

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Spotlight on PWNA’s Phoenix Distribution Center

At Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA), we take pride in the work of our partners who serve Native communities on 60 reservations across 12 states, year-round. So, what does it take to ensure we’re helping our partners serve their communities?

In addition to our donor relations and administrative offices in Virginia and Texas, PWNA operates two distribution centers that directly serve our partners in the Southwest and Northern Plains. Our distribution center for the Southwest is located in Phoenix and houses essential supplies and materials that are distributed to reservations across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and portions of Colorado and California. Every product in the 40,000-square foot warehouse is inventoried, valued, and accounted for as part of an annual auditing process. And while maintaining track of items at this scale can be a challenge, our team has scored 100 percent on audit accuracy for the past three years.

Our Phoenix warehouse is stocked year-round with canned goods and emergency food and water, toiletries, school supplies, new clothing items, emergency blankets and more. These items are made available through donations of high-quality, gift in-kind products and purchased items, to ensure PWNA is ready to deploy deliveries and replenish supplies when our partners need them. Recently, local news outlets 3TV AZ Family and ABC 15 visited the Phoenix distribution center to learn how we’re helping Native American communities.

PWNA operates a distribution center of similar size and volume in Rapid City, South Dakota, to serve reservations across North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Idaho as well as a portion of Washington state. Through our program partners on the reservations, PWNA delivers about $30 million worth of goods and project support annually.

Every week, our drivers load up and hit the road to make deliveries to about 100 program partners, about half of which are located in the Southwest. These deliveries help support reservation-based programs that are working to combat barriers to education, food access, disaster relief, and animal welfare on Native American reservations.

PWNA’s mission is two-fold: serving immediate needs and supporting long-term solutions as identified by the Native American partners and communities we serve. Our regional distribution center teams are a vital component in making sure we work toward realizing our dream of stronger, more sustainable Native American communities.

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Disaster Response for State of Emergency on Montana Reservations

The winter of 2018 has been relentless in Montana, bringing extreme cold, heavy snow and blizzard conditions. So, when Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency for the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Reservations, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) knew requests for emergency response were soon to follow.

A month earlier, the Blackfeet had already declared a state of emergency on their reservation, and it was still in effect. Located near Glacier Park and the town of Browning, Montana, schools were closed for days on end and high winds had caused huge snow drifts that shut down travel at times – making it difficult for residents to shop for food and other essentials – and impacting animals, as well.

On March 1, Roy Crawford, our program partner from the Blackfeet Food Bank, called PWNA requesting supplies for 500 households in Browning and Heart Butte, in need of items such as blankets, water, bread, baby formula and diapers, toilet paper and personal hygiene items. PWNA coordinated delivery of supplies to the food bank warehouse on March 20 when the roads became passible, with support of the UPS Foundation.

On March 12, Patricia Ramos, our program partner from the Environmental Health Office (Northern Cheyenne Tribal Board of Health), requested similar supplies for 600 households in Birney, Busby, Lame Deer, Ashland and Muddy Creek. In this case, the Northern Cheyenne picked up the supplies from PWNA’s distribution center in Rapid City, South Dakota on the same day.

Roy and Patricia shared this feedback:

“The supplies that PWNA sent made a huge impact. We were able to help Browning and Babb communities, and Heart Butte next. 500 individuals were served. Our southern communities were hit the worst, and plow crews were stretched pretty thin. Some families were stuck longer than 14 days due to drifting snow and help was not getting to them. Snow mobiles were utilized by law enforcement and Game, Fish and Parks to help us get the PWNA products to the homes.” — Roy Crawford

“In collaboration with PWNA, we were able to obtain the much needed resources to help our community. The quick response and working together to get the products from Rapid City to here was great. By having the items readily available, we were able to distribute them quickly to those most in need. We have a high population of low income families here; some were already without power, All of the PWNA products were well received.” — Patricia Ramos

PWNA’s goal as a first responder for the reservations is to provide a rapid response to remote reservation communities that request emergency aid and to raise mainstream awareness for much needed support. When weather and other events arise in communities that are already economically-stressed, it can bring extended hardship and challenge. PWNA partners like Roy and Patricia turn to PWNA during these times because they know we can quickly mobilize to provide emergency supplies for immediate impact. Through our programs — Northern Plains Reservation Aid, and Native American Aid — PWNA provides emergency relief in our 12-state service area and evaluates other disasters on a case by case basis, if requested by the tribe.

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Recently in Native News

As we strive to keep you informed of the news and culture affect Native American communities from across the country, Partnership With Native Americans has compiled our favorite stories from the month of April. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Native Americans across Ivy League convene at Penn for ‘Navigating Two Worlds’ conference via The Daily Pennsylvanian

  • “The student organization Natives at Penn hosted the biannual Ivy Native Conference this weekend for the first time since 2013, drawing in students from across the country and beyond. At the conference, which was centered around the theme “Navigating Two Worlds,” students and invited speakers discussed the barriers that Native Americans face in higher education. Some talked about the challenges of preserving traditional practices at college while others brought up the pressure of feeling like “cultural translators” for Native American culture.”

Native Americans Fighting Fossil Fuels via Scientific American

  • “A historic number of Native Americans are running for political office this year in congressional, state legislative and gubernatorial races. Although candidates are running on a variety of platforms, candidates like Deb Haaland put the environment front and center. Haaland, who is making a bid for Congress in New Mexico, is committed to addressing climate change through a transition to 100 percent renewable energy. “The fight for Native American rights is also a fight for climate justice,” she said in an interview.”

Native American-themed books garnering attention via Daily Press

  • “Author Mary Ruth Hughes was informed that her four “Native American” themed books were accepted into the archives of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Daniel F. Littlefield, the director of the Sequoyah National Research Center at the university, informed Hughes about the distinction. Her books include historical novels “Tishomingo” and “Return to Okla Chuka,” along with “Willow Flower’s Gift” and “Native American Recipes.” The vice president of the Mohahve Historical Society who lives in Apple Valley and has “strong roots” in her home state of Oklahoma, Hughes said she was “excited and honored by the news.” Located in Little Rock, Arkansas, the research center holds the largest assemblage of Native American expression in the world.”

Seattle School Board selects first Native American superintendent in city history via Seattle Times

  • “When Denise Juneau takes the reins of Seattle Public Schools in July, she will be the first Native American superintendent in the city’s history. The Seattle School Board voted unanimously 7-0 Wednesday evening to hire Juneau, who was Montana’s state superintendent from 2008 to 2016. “The work that we do is based on trust, and what I heard from so many people is that Ms. Juneau was already coming with a high level of trust,” Board Vice President Rick Burke said before the vote.”
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Indigenous Cinema Favorites

Movies of indigenous peoples have always been a bit on the back burner of cinema. While some movies such as “Dances with Wolves” or “Last of the Mohicans” have garnered great fame, there are many that get little recognition by movie critics and movie goers. Native American focused movies are indeed in short supply, and often include inaccurate portrayals, but the ideas they take on in the modern era have wide-reaching themes such as family issues or cultural death.

In support of PWNA’s aim to help raise awareness about realities in Indian Country, I’ve compiled a few of my favorite films that portray indigenous cultures in a realistic, informative light.

The first movie is an old favorite of mine: “Smoke Signals.” This movie has a great many examples of native humor, as well as many other methods that indigenous cultures use to cope with difficult situations. Following Victor Joseph in his dealing with his father’s passing, the movie hits on many difficult subjects, but has as its heaviest theme family estrangement, something that is found in Native and non-Native American communities around the world.

Another favorite movie of mine is “Rhymes with Young Ghouls,” a 1970’s era film that occurs on a fictitious reservation and heavily involves the theme of Christian-run state schools and their efforts to integrate native children into mainstream society. With my own family having had a taste of this dark part of history, and many outside people having little to no insight on these old boarding schools, I find it important to make these situations known through cinema. While the story also has some supernatural elements, the realities of these schools and some of the dramatic situations people go through are depicted accurately.

To touch on one last movie, I think “Skins” is a moving portrayal of some of the situations encountered in indigenous (and other) communities. Following a local officer named Rudy Yellow Lodge on a fictional reservation, the movie was actually shot on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After a local incident involving a murder, and dealing with an alcoholic brother, Rudy steps out as a vigilante and sets the local ABC store on fire. While this movie deals with heavy themes of alcoholism and the consequences and stress it causes on the reservation, it gives the audience the experience of addiction and the bonds it can break in a family. This movie also shows the barriers that can be overcome by families dealing with these problems together – in any community.

I think indigenous-made movies today provide an insight into reservation realities, histories, and other parts of the dysfunction in modern day culture, and they are portrayed well. Not often feel-good films, they deal with the tougher issues that take place on the reservations, with colonization and assimilation into the modern world, and at the same time tell compelling stories complete with heroes, villains, vigilantes, and bystanders. Make your next movie night one of these Native American tales!

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April is National Garden Month

April is National Garden Month, and many of our partners are committed to supporting a healthier lifestyle through gardens and other community-based projects this month and year-round, with support of the support of the Walmart Foundation. For example, the New Hope House Shelter and Garden in Eagle Butte, South Dakota recently completed a PWNA canning class led by Inyan Eagle Elk and supported by Shelter Director Daniel Butcher and Therapeutic Garden Coordinator Austin Red Dog. In this class, participants learned to preserve the food that will be grown in the shelter’s garden later this summer.

The New Hope House Shelter & Garden is considerably new to gardening, just one year ago turning much of their open lot into a haven of raised garden beds for squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, and more. The regard shown to Unci Maka (Mother Earth) has in the first harvest produced positive results for plants and people. Austin reflected on their first year. “The residents themselves really surprised me — when I was at ceremony, they really took to it. They were out there every morning checking on the plants, watering them, and making sure they were okay. I feel like the plants really gave them compassion, because the residents cared for them from the time they were seeds. They helped give the plants life to grow, and that’s what we really hoped would be part of the impact.”

“Medicinal is another aspect of the gardening. I see this happening with other tribes. Indigenous foods are powerful; we have buffalo berries that are a super food, wild grapes, rosehips, currants, and June berries. Some of these foods are becoming scarcer, and we want to make these plentiful.”

The first year of the New Hope Shelter garden was not without hiccups. They tried to grow turnips, which they now know have a 99% fail rate. They also know that temperature, zone, and elevation are factors that need to be considered for planting. Melons and corn, they said, “crashed – we need to plant earlier. The good news was that the beans, okra, cherry tomatoes did really well.”

Daniel, Austin and crew stay motivated knowing that “the learning and sharing of ideas with the community about food and aspects for our bodies is healthy both mentally and physically.” Daniel recently posted this garden video on the shelter’s Facebook page.

Austin is optimistic about the future. “With consistency, as long as someone is gardening, there are always people that want to learn.” He shared that the shelter’s location has helped catch the attention of community members, said that people walk by and ask about the plants and the shelter team gives them samples so they can taste the difference from what they may get at the store. Austin emphasizes, “If enough people grow their own food, show more respect for mother earth, recognize that everything — the weeds, plants, animals — plays a part, and take care of the plants, the plants will take care of us!”

Inyan also knows gardening is a critical factor in turning around the health implications plaguing tribes with poor food access. “Gardening is more important in native communities. People go to stores, shop for their food, money is exchanged for whatever food we choose, and we end up viewing food as a luxury as opposed to medicine that nourishes us.”

Although Inyan doesn’t plant a garden, he sees his role as sharing knowledge with others who want to learn. “The information belongs to all of us and sharing it — that’s my role.” Over the past year, Inyan has been leading our PWNA canning and cooking classes to better involve community cooks in healthier eating. “If only everyone realized how much work and love is attached to gardening, the connection to the land, preserving food, and practicing and partaking of the medicines. Our people invented those ways and many of those stories are gone, but as we get wiser with food, we will get those ways back.”

Inyan’s dream is that “everyone should be in the dirt — every spring, be up in the morning picking weeds and contributing, and training kids to grow food to feed themselves. My grandparents always talked about this, and it’s up to us to spark it. Indigenous people feeding each other and eating with each other — those are our ways.”

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April is National Pet Month

Spring brings more than great weather – across the U.K. and the U.S., this is the season of pets! National Pet Month is celebrated in April in the U.K. and until the end of May in the U.S., and is a chance to renew our efforts to properly care for our four-legged friends.

Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) is Partnership with Native Americans’ (PWNA) animal services program, which works with reservation partners around the country to improve the lives of injured and orphaned animals and to educate reservation communities on proper care of pets. RAR services support spay and neuter clinics; rescue, rehabilitation and placement of animals through foster care; community education; and ultimately finding forever homes for stray animals.

In many tribal communities, stray animals are a common sight, which makes population management a necessary undertaking. But as it turns out, there are health benefits to these efforts as well. A 2013 Banfield report on pet health found that animals who get spayed or neutered have longer lifespans than those who do not.

In 2017, generous RAR donors made it possible to help reservation partners feed and care for stray animals, ensuring healthier animals and communities. The Oglala Pet Project (OPP) is one of the partners that received a RAR spay/neuter grant, and the impact is being felt across the Pine Ridge Reservation. As they shared, “We successfully spayed or neutered 61 animals from our start of this grant. This included 33 dog spays, 13 dog neuters, 8 cat spays and 7 cat neuters.” This work, they explained, prevented more than 1 million kittens and over 700,000 puppies from being born without a home.

Beyond attending to stray animals, OPP also offered services to community members whose animals they knew had multiple litters in the past. “We had owners contact us to surrender the puppies that their dogs just had. We agreed to take the puppies into our adoption program, and the owners agreed to take their dogs to the vet to be spayed.”

Native communities have been proactively tackling the homeless pet population for years and now are able to help more animals through support from RAR and its donors. This year, celebrate National Pet Month by getting your own pet spayed or neutered, ensuring they enjoy a long, tail-wagging life!

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Recently in Native News

Continuing our goal of keeping you informed of Native American news and culture from across the country, Partnership With Native Americans has compiled our favorite stories from the month of March. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

There’s Never Been a Native American Congresswoman. That Could Change in 2018. via The New York Times

  • “When Deb Haaland was a child, she would rise early on this state’s sun-beaten tribal land, sling a water jar around her waist and climb the mesa overlooking her pueblo. It was as high as she ever thought she would go. Now, she is among a historic number of Native American women running for elective office. None has ever served in Congress, but that could change this year if Ms. Haaland wins.”

Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed via National Geographic

  • “The Zuni people rely heavily on hard-won earnings from handmade jewelry and crafts. The tourism department of Zuni Pueblo estimates that 80 percent of working adults there make arts and crafts for sale. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a living.”

Branch returns to her Navajo roots via Harvard Law Today

  • “That confusion as to why the world changed when you crossed the Navajo Nation boundary line was a driving question for my youth and my life,” says Branch. It propelled her to study law and policy. And three years ago, at age 36, it led her to become Attorney General of the Navajo Nation.”

Navajo Rug Gallery Weaves Ancient Art And New Technology Together With Bitcoin via Forbes

  • “Navajo weavers today are carrying on a 300-year-old tradition of weaving blankets and rugs. Their unique upright loom uses a traditional weaving technique that cannot be mechanized. The loom is warped with one continuous wool thread and the weft is woven through it, one thread at a time. “It is a very time consuming and meticulous process,” Getzwiller explains, “Small rugs can take a full week to weave, while larger Navajo rugs can take years to complete.”
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