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Why It’s Critical to Reclaim Heritage Foods in Tribal Communities

Across the country, there are 574 federally recognized Tribes, each with their own heritage foods and recipes. Traditional Native American cuisine is rich and diverse, yet we see so little of it today even in Tribal communities. This is largely due to a storied history of Native people being saddled with a traditional Western diet and food dependency when the reservations were formed. This, in turn, drives food-related diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. In fact, diabetes disproportionately impacts Native youth aged 10-19 and 27% of Elders aged 65 and up. 

To live healthy lives, Tribal communities must have access to healthy food and clean drinking water – it’s as simple as that.

Healthy Nutrition with Heritage Foods

Through our food services, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is working to ensure Native Americans have the nourishment they need to thrive. This includes increasing access to culturally relevant and nutritious foods and working collaboratively with Tribal partners to address food insecurity and preserve traditional food practices. For instance, PWNA hosts Train the Trainer (T3) nutrition training on healthy cooking with ancestral foods, a long-term solution toward better health outcomes.

Last year, with support from Olo for Good and the Tides Foundation, we hosted food demos to train more than 400 people how to cook and eat healthier through our NPRA and SWRA programs.  We also distributed more than 113,000 pounds of fresh produce and ancestral foods such as bison and mutton to help families in the Northern Plains and Southwest provide nutrient-rich meals at home.

Native American Recipes

If you are like me and like to cook, I would encourage you to try some traditional Native foods like this Three Sisters recipe and to download our Native American Recipe Book today.

What’s the best part about Native ingredients? They all have a backstory deeply rooted in our history, which makes using them and learning about them even more interesting. We’d love to hear from you about what Native foods you have tried or are interested in, so drop a comment below or leave one on social media!

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What is the #1 Predictor of Running Water at Home?

Clean water is a basic human right but not necessarily an equal opportunity. In the United States, communities of color face unequal access to water – and this impacts 48% of households on Native American reservations. That’s why we’re rallying around the U.N. theme of “Water for Peace” on World Water Day, coming up on March 22. We’re also focusing on water for Native American Elders on Arizona Gives Day, which is April 2.  We hope you’ll join us.

Water is critical to life – humans can only survive about 3 days without it. Yet many of us take for granted this precious resource. Tribal communities know better. Many tribes live with contaminated water year-round, hauling water for daily use at home. And did you know it’s not where you live or your income that determines water access – it’s your race.

Hauling Water is Difficult for Elders

For Darlene Yazzie, the nearest water on the Navajo Nation is 9 miles away. In 2019, it cost her $1.10 plus gas money to fill up her two 5-gallon barrels with water. Darlene has to drive to a water station and haul the water home. Not only that, but she was told prices will be increasing. On average, Navajo citizens travel 48 miles to get drinking water. Can you imagine working this into your daily routine?

Last year, we delivered nearly 200,000 bottles of water to remote reservation communities. To learn more about water in Indian Country and why water access is different for tribes, download our free “Water In Indian Country” fact sheet.

Easing Water Scarcity

As the U.N. says, water is critical to sustaining life, stability, and peace. Indeed, water scarcity, climate change, and systemic racism are driving tensions up and resilience down. In a 2019 report named Watered Down Justice, EPA data confirms unequal access to safe drinking water in the U.S. And just last year, the Supreme Court ruled that “tribes have right to as much water as they need to establish a permanent homeland” on the reservations, yet the government has no responsibility to aid them with access to clean water.

Water affects everyone, so everyone needs to take action. You can help address this difficult inequity for Native American Elders – please donate for clean water today from now through April 2.

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Congrats to Lily Gladstone and Flower Moon for Authentic Storytelling

Entering Oscars season, Lily Gladstone is at the top of everyone’s list for her performance as Mollie Kyle in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. This is greatly deserved attention for her portrayal of the Osage matriarch who fought like hell to honor her sister, her family, and her Tribe.

The historical component of the Flower Moon story makes even more powerful the idea that fact is stronger than fiction. Scorsese did a magical weaving together of the details, the storyline, and the representation of the Osage people. In fact, there are many details layered into the movie that can be quickly glossed over by viewers.

Is this a true story? Was this legal maneuver to retain oil head rights widely used? What are head rights? How were the agents able to declare the Tribal members incompetent? Was the FBI born out of this era of lawlessness?

So many of these threads of American history are tied to this story that it was fascinating to be transported back to that era. Sadly, what we know today is that money and power can bring out the worst in humanity. Conversely, the energy, determination, and grace of Native women have long held our communities together even through the most challenging eras.

Lily has embodied the power of this story while carrying herself with beauty, humility, and selflessness throughout all the attention she has garnered. Hearing her speak the Blackfeet language drove viewers wild on the internet, and watching her honor her mother strikes the core of all that is good in humanity.

A True Story

On paper, in the book, and in the film, this story might be the first documented case of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), which makes it the gut-punch that Devery Jacobs felt when watching the film. I know many people who watched the movie and had a visceral reaction to the abuse of women and the guttural pain expressed by Mollie. They were blindsided by this true story in American history. Yet, in our Tribal communities, there are countless tales like this that are life-changing, devastating, and relentless.

The Strength of Native Women

The strength that we all need to persevere these historical inequities largely comes from our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and aunties. On more than one occasion, Native women have stood at the forefront to defend the rights of their families and Tribal Nations. Whether it was defending land and resources or advocating for treaty fulfillment, Native women have an unequivocal strength, humor, and fierce nature instilled by family and survival.

Many other Native actors brought the movie to life as well. Appearances by Tantoo Cardinal, Tatanka Means, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, and Jillian Dion, along with the open consultation with the Osage Nation, make this a once-in-a-generation feature that sets a new storytelling standard. Knowing that relatives of Henry Roan Horse are happy with the film tells me all I need to know about the efforts toward authenticity.

These are challenging times for our people and our country. Having the ability to escape into films and celebrating the wins from countless hours of hard work is uplifting for Native communities. Walk in beauty, Lily Gladstone; we all walk with you.

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Why Traditional Tribe Names Are Important

Thinking about Native representation reminds me of tribal names – both having them changed and having them used by others. Many tribes in the U.S. were randomly given new names by the U.S. government, the Spaniards, the French, and sometimes other tribes. Why? Simply because they found it more convenient to use a different frame of reference.

Look at this Indigenous map and ask: Whose land are you on? You’ll only see traditional tribal names, which are not taught in school and thus unrecognizable to most Americans today. This does little to support Native representation, especially since more tribes are returning to their traditional names. One example of a traditional name in use is Kewa Pueblo rather than Santo Domingo.

What’s more, many of the traditional tribal names simply mean “the people” or refer to where they live. But that is not the case for the names randomly assigned to tribes by others or the meaning given to such nicknames. This chart shows some examples of nicknames related to tribes in our service area.

Tribe names as military code names

It seems Native names are also a convenient source of code names for military operations. For example, the code name Geronimo may have referred to Osama bin Laden or the military operation surrounding his capture. But why link an American legend and freedom fighter to a most wanted terrorist? The Senate Indian Affairs Committee seems to agree that it’s disrespectful. They said: “These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native and non-Native children are devastating.”

Some Army helicopters named after tribes include the Lakota, Chinook, and Iroquois, to name a few. This practice began in 1947 when Army General Hamilton Howze wanted to name the first two Army helicopters after something fast, strong, and related to American history. So, he thought of the Native warriors of the 19th century… This is flattering in a way, yet not so much in other ways. And then there are sports team names – a whole other story.

The point is that what can only be called ‘nicknames’ reflect how other people remembered the tribes or thought of them during the colonization era. Yet traditional Native names have sacred and ancestral meanings and deserve to be known and respected. Traditional names link tribes to nature or humankind, and like the Lakota, remind us “mitakuye oyasin” (we are all related).


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Nothing About Us, Without Us – Why Native Representation is So Important

Representation is always top of mind for minorities and Indigenous people. As a country we are headed in the right direction with the rise of DEI efforts across corporate America, higher standards in Hollywood to tell accurate stories, and media that showcases people from diverse backgrounds and races, but we still have a way to go. This brings me to a mantra I have been bringing up a lot lately: “Nothing about us, without us.”

Recent news has been covering the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the new requirements put into place. For background, NAGPRA was enacted in 1990 to outline a process for museums and federal agencies to return Native cultural objects. This includes artifacts as well as human remains and funerary belongings to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian Tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations. Starting in January 2024, museums all over the country began a five-year journey to repatriate these items to their origin Tribes and communities. But as you might imagine, this task is nearly impossible for many reasons, the main one being a lack of Native representation in the museums and on the ground doing the work. Natives have a long-storied history that lives through oral storytelling, so most of the teams working to repatriate these items should be those most familiar with our history – Native Americans. You can watch a recent interview I did with KOTA-TV (FOX) reporter Cody Dennis about NAGPRA here.

The challenges we face with NAGPRA are just one example that shows why it’s so important to include meaningful Native representation in the professional space. “Nothing about us, without us.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is an example of research and representation done right. The director and crew, including Leonardo DiCaprio, worked with the Osage Nation to ensure that every aspect – from clothing to artwork to language – was accurate to the culture and timeframe. Many Osage were cast as extras in the movie as well. Golden Globe winner Lily Gladstone learned to speak Osage for the role. She is Blackfeet (Siksikaitsitapi) and Nimíipuu on her mother’s side (Nez Perce on her father’s side).

For decades, non-Natives have been telling our stories through exhibits, screenplays, and even politics. It will be interesting to see what issues come up throughout the 2024 Presidential Election year that may impact the tribes. We’ll be keeping an eye on state versus federal recognition and the benefits of each (or lack thereof), ICWA, water rights, and whether the candidate’s platforms will help or hinder the tribes.  

As major moments roll out this year, I encourage our donors and supporters to ask questions about Native representation and impact. I am also always happy to share my perspective from a Native point of view. You can message us via Facebook or Contact Us through our website and let us know what you’d like to learn more about!

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Native American Athletes in the Olympics & Super Bowl

Native Americans are highly accomplished in sports, from the Super Bowl to the Winter Olympics. Then known as International Winter Sports Week of the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, the first Winter Olympics were in Chamonix, France. Clarence John Abel (aka “Taffy) from the Chippewa Indian Sault First Nation participated. He was the U.S. flag bearer and played on the U.S. Olympic hockey team, scoring 15 goals. Soon after, he was recruited by the New York Rangers (1926-29) and Chicago Black Hawks (1929-1934). As a member of two Stanley Cup championship teams, Abel was among the first inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Any story on Native athletes would be incomplete without a mention of Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills. Jim Thorpe from the Sac and Fox Tribe won two gold medals during the 1912 Olympics. Often referred to as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, his athletic career started at the Carlisle Indian Boarding School with football and track. Thorpe played baseball for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. He also played major league baseball for the Boston Braves back when the city had two pro teams. In 1964, Billy Mills from the Oglala Sioux Tribe became the second Native American to win Olympic gold. He was also the only American to win the gold medal for the 10,000-meter run.

Fast forward 100 years to February 11th. Two Indigenous players with the Kansas City Chiefs will face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Center Creed Humphrey from the Potawatomi Nation and long snapper James Winchester from the Choctaw Nation will be on the field. This is Kansas City’s fourth championship game in five seasons.

PWNA Connections to Athletes

Shifting gears a bit, these Native American athletes and teams have connections to Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA):

  • Football: Canadian Eli Ankou is Ojibwe and defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons. He has also played for the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Eli was one of the 800 players who took the field in the 2018 My Cause My Cleats campaign. Then #54 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Eli chose PWNA as his cause/charity to raise awareness and inspire Native youth.
  • Baseball:  Jacoby Ellsbury from the Colorado River Indian Tribes was the first Navajo to play in the major leagues. MLB All-Star and a member of two World Series Championships, he played for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. In 2010, Jacoby partnered with sports marketing agency Charity Hop to create “Zinfandellsbury” wine and shared the proceeds with his three charities: Project Bread, the Ellsbury-Read Character Strength Project, and our Navajo Relief Fund program.
  • Basketball:  Cherokee Parks is from the Navajo Nation. He played for the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors. Cherokee is now retired from the NBA after a serious injury. He played in both the U19 and U21 FIBA World Championships, winning gold both times. PWNA was honored to celebrate Native American Heritage Day with the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago.

Representing Tribal Nations

Some Native American athletes to watch include the Thompson Brothers from the Onondaga Nation (lacrosse), Teton Saltes from the Oglala Sioux Nation (XFL football), Lauren Schad from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (pro volleyball), and Mariah Bahe from the Navajo Nation (boxing). All these Native athletes and more are setting new records, representing their Tribal Nations, and breaking stereotypes about being Indigenous.

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5 Films With Accurate Native Representation

One of the biggest challenges facing Native Americans today is being misunderstood. This comes from incomplete or inaccurate history taught in schools, stereotypes, election statistics, lack of inclusion in research and Hollywood depictions. The truth is, most Americans hold at least some misconception about Native people, history and funding. To help everyone become more NativeAware®, here are 5 diverse shows or films with accurate representation of Native history and Native life today.

1. Reservation Dogs

The first all-Native programming on mainstream TV is Reservation Dogs. A comedy series about four Indigenous teenagers who want to leave their reservation in Oklahoma and head out west to California. The series was created and produced by Taika Watiti and Sterlin Harjo. What makes this show special is that it’s written by Indigenous writers telling Indigenous stories portrayed by Indigenous people. Both entertaining and educational, the American Film Institute listed it among the ten best TV programs for 2021, 2022 and 2023. It gives viewers a glimpse into real Native life and realities on the reservations today. In just three seasons, the show had 14 wins and 62 nominations, including Independent Spirit awards, a Peabody Award, Television Critics Awards, a Golden Globe nomination and more.

2. Killers of the Flower Moon

Set in 1920s Oklahoma, Killers of the Flower Moon sadly depicts a true story about serial murders of members of the Osage Nation and greed of the American people. This string of brutal crimes came to be known as the Reign of Terror — and it was all about the oil on Osage lands. Although many details from the book are omitted, the plot centers on the history of the Osage Nation and how they outmaneuvered legal precedent at the time. The Osage Nation and its members helped producer Martin Scorsese and author David Grann bring this story to light for the first time in 2023. As you may have heard, Lily Gladstone made history on January 7th as she became the first Native American to win a Golden Globe in the “Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama” category for her performance in Killers of the Flower Moon.

3. Gather

Native ancestral food is medicine, but traditional foodways and health suffered due to colonization and federal commodity programs. Being in control over one’s foods is slowly coming back to Native people through seed banks, garden projects, foraging and nutrition training. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, Gather is a documentary by Sanjay Rawal that follows people from four different tribes on their journey of reclamation, addressing food insecurity to ancestral food practices. As the New York Times so aptly puts it, preserving and practicing cultural food traditions is part of remaining sovereign in the United States and healing from generational trauma caused by colonization. PWNA services are part and parcel of this Native American Food Movement.

4. Geronimo, An American Legend

As complex as it is, writers John Milius and Larry Gross recount the life of Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo, his resistance to U.S. policy and expansion, and his eventual surrender. Starring Oscar-winning actor Wes Studi, the film accurately portrays Geronimo as a fighter but driven to those actions to protect what is left of his people, their land and culture. While Geronimo was intended as mainstream entertainment and is not historically accurate in every detail, Native Americans involved in the project say director Walter Hill attempted the most honest look yet at the legend. In addition, the film accurately portrays that the West was won through various forms of cultural genocide.

5. Wind River

This movie portrays the reality of Missing and Murdered Indian Women and Children (MMIWC) that still confronts Indian Country today. It’s about a Native woman who was killed and the red tape that keeps many Native women’s cases from being resolved by federal agents. While Wind River is fictional, the story is based on hundreds of actual stories just like the film and the injustice against Native women. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (creator of Yellowstone), the film tells a story inspired by real life concerns and ends with a chilling quote: “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland established the new Missing & Murdered Unit in 2021, so this issue is getting more attention but remains a problem.

As diverse as they are, these five shows and films are just a few of those with accurate details about Native people, history and modern life. To stay up to date on Native cinema and entertainment, follow the American Indian Film Institute, and follow @PWNA4hope on social media.

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My 2024 Predictions in the Election Year

From politics to the entertainment industry, 2023 was a major year for Native issues. In 2024, we must reflect on lessons learned and think critically about how to best support Tribal communities. Weighing how to positively impact the Native Americans living on underserved reservations is especially crucial during an election year. With so much going on in the world, here are a few 2024 predictions tied to ongoing inequities that affect Native lives.

The Election Year Effect (Native vote, candidate-issues, charitable giving)

2024 will be an election year for 40 countries around the world, leaving an open opportunity for major disruption. I predict

  • There will be a big push to get Tribal citizens registered in March and out to vote.
  • 2024 will be the highest Native American voter turnout ever.
  • Native voters may influence election results, especially in down-ballot races (choices further down on the actual ballot).
  • A large portion of charitable giving from candidates will not support Native causes, largely due to overseas conflicts. This will pose challenges to other nonprofits that campaign and fundraise heavily during elections. To support PWNA, please donate here.
  • The 2024 election will have a distinct impact on the ongoing investigations around ‘Indian’ boarding schools.
Native American Food & Health
  • Tribes are investing and gaining momentum in ancestral food reclamation, so we expect to see funders align with this movement.
  • The journey to Indigenous food sovereignty will be amplified in 2024.
Native Representation in Entertainment
  • 2023 brought some great traction with Native representation in entertainment, thanks to Killers of the Flower Moon, Reservation Dogs and 1923 (Yellowstone spin-off). I predict the desire for accuracy in telling Native stories will continue to grow, even though getting there may be a slow road.

2024 will be an interesting year and you can count on all of us at PWNA to keep you in the loop. Stay NativeAware® by reading our bi-monthly blogs and following us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Most Popular Blogs That Held Your Attention in 2023

Wars of Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza, disasters in Maui and Florida and hate crimes for Asians. Blacks and Jews – these impacted millions of people and captured the lion’s share of media attention in 2023. Some topics (think U.S. politics) were predominant every day even to the point of overexposure. At the same time, topics such as Indian Country are routinely underexposed with little media coverage. So, we are thankful you devoted some of your reading time and attention to our blogs and Native news.


Besides becoming more NativeAware®, we saw other positives in 2023 too, like your support to help us change lives on reservations. All the food and water, school supplies and scholarships, leadership development, emergency preparedness, etc. we provided are thanks to you. And together, we closed the year knowing holiday gifts helped bring smiles to Native Elders and children on the reservations.

Your Favorite Blogs

For those of you who follow our blog regularly, topics on food, equity and representation had the highest readership:

Topics like culture, water insecurity and giving gained the most engagement. These were your favorites:

2024 Predictions

2024 is an election year, so we’ll hear lots about that in the coming months. Stay tuned later this week (Thursday) for some 2024 Predictions from our President & CEO, Joshua Arce of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation of Kansas.

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