Celebrating Our AIEF Scholars this Graduation Season

“We honor them [graduates] with songs, talking positively of how this group is going to change things. People are smiling and seeing how parents react as [the students] graduate. Why can’t we live like this every day — positive, a moment of happiness?”

Ben Good Buffalo, a veteran and father to two daughters from the Red Shirt community of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, spoke these words as he reflected on graduation ceremonies.  

These words ring true as we celebrate those Native American students who are crossing the stage to collect their college diplomas this graduation season. Each step taken toward their dream of education they have sought and earned seems more intentional, more focused – especially as they consider what the next chapter, post-graduation, will bring. For many students, graduation is only the beginning — whether that beginning brings new employment, continued academics or simply a break from the books is up to each graduate.

Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is proud to have supported the academic journeys of some of the students who’ve received their college diplomas this year through scholarships awarded by the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of PWNA. AIEF aided 90 students with scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year and provided other funding opportunities through college partners. Today, we’re sharing remarks of gratitude from two of those scholarship recipients as they embark on their new beginnings, post-graduation.

Elisha, Navajo
Native American Studies and Psychology, Duke University

“The American Indian Education Fund has been supporting me for the past two years. My educational and career goals would not be possible without the generous donors that help support AIEF. The financial generosity has allowed me to be one step closer to achieving my goals and dreams and has helped me focus on what is important, my education. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to complete my education. I am committed to using it to encourage others to understand the power and importance of earning a degree. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!”

Andrea, Zia Pueblo
Associate of Arts, Haskell Indian Nations University

“I would like to thank the AIEF committee for awarding me a scholarship to attend college without having to worry about the financial situation. The scholarship has been a huge help for me and my parents, as I attend college 12 hours away from home. With the help of AIEF, I have been given many opportunities that allowed me to become a better person, academically. I have also received endless support and encouragement from the AIEF team and am extremely grateful for everyone who took part in my success. I also want to send many thanks to the donors for shining a light at the end of the educational tunnel. Without your support and assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue and receive an associate of arts degree at Haskell Indian Nations University. Once again, thank you for your hard work and dedication in assisting us Indigenous scholars.”

Congratulations to our AIEF scholars and graduates, and their families, and all other college grads this year. You are the future and we are grateful for your commitment to your education and your communities!

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Arizona Recognizes First Native American Day

This week marked an important moment in history as Arizona marked its first official Native American Day, recognized on June 2. This is a special milestone for Arizona’s Native American community and the 22 Indigenous tribes across the state.

Arizona joins California, South Dakota, Nevada and Tennessee as one of the few states that have designated a specific day to honor their Native American history and contributions. Senator Jamescita Mae Peshlakai, who is currently serving her second term in the Arizona Senate as the state’s first Native American woman senator, introduced the bill (SB 1235) for Native American Day last April.

While the bill was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey last year, the holiday could not be recognized in 2018 due to the Senate’s 90-day waiting period for a law to take effect. As such, Native communities and supporters spent the past year looking forward to commemorating the first holiday in 2019.

In addition to the new holiday, Arizona agreed to rename four of the state’s highways after Native American veterans. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation was asked to designate U.S. Route 89 between Flagstaff and the Utah state line the “Native American Veterans Highway.” A portion of Arizona Highway 264, which runs through the Navajo Nation, is to be named the “Navajo Code Talkers Highway.” Similarly, the portion that runs through the Hopi reservation, is to be named the “Hopi Code Talkers Highway.” Lastly, U.S. Route 160 between the New Mexico state line and the junction with Route 89 is to be called the “Native American Women Veterans Highway.”

Sen. Peshlakai is a member of the Navajo Nation and an Army veteran herself. She represents legislative district 7, which spans seven counties and is one of the largest legislative districts in the contiguous U.S. Most recently, she’s focused her efforts on improving access to quality education for Native American students in the state.

Arizona’s Native American history is rich and has made a permanent impact on the state’s identity. This month, we encourage you to spend some time visiting some of the many Native American landmarks and museums across the state and paying homage to the Indigenous peoples and history of the Grand Canyon state.

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Recently in Native News

As we approach the halfway mark for 2019, Native American news continues to make headlines, and we’re sharing some of our favorites from the month of May. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Actress hopes to open more doors for more Native Americans via Associated Press

  • “While Rose describes ‘Chambers’ as a supernatural horror show, she says it touches on real-life issues as well. ‘Real life has its stress. Real life has its scares and real life … plays into the fantasy world at the same time,’ she said. The show also explores real-life cultural issues affecting Native Americans, including the use of its mascots and other imagery in mainstream culture. In one scene, Sasha sees a mural of a Native American on horseback, wearing a feathered headdress and lifting a tomahawk into the air.”

A Native American Tribe Gets Rent as Reparations in Seattle via City Lab

  • “Since 2017, the Duwamish Tribe in Seattle has received thousands of letters. Some have been a simple ‘thanks’ or ‘we’re with you.’ Others have been a bit more profound, mentioning restorative justice and payback for stolen land. ‘I’m a visiting student, living temporarily in Seattle. This is one small way of giving back to the Duwamish, whose land I live on,’ said one note. But every one of the messages have given this Native American community two very important gifts—’rent’ and proof that they are not alone. The correspondence is part of Real Rent Duwamish, a program started two years ago to help people who live or work in Seattle give back to the area’s early inhabitants by sending them money every month.”

Under new Washington law, state will invest more in improving Native American tribal members’ health via Seattle Times

  • “Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill this week to direct money to tribal health-care systems and create a council focused on improving health outcomes for members of the 29 tribes here. ‘I think it is one of the most promising pieces of legislation I’ve seen on the state level,’ said Aren Sparck, Government Affairs Officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB). Sparck worked on the bill, which has been a couple of legislative sessions in the making and got the governor’s signature Tuesday. The program is expected to distribute $3 million to $5 million in the first year, and that number could grow in future years. Through Medicaid, the federal government matches money that states invest in Native American health care.”

Inside one woman’s 7 year journey to photograph every Native American tribe via Elle

  • “One night, after a day spent photographing Indigenous corn farmers high up in the Andes mountains, Matika Wilbur was visited by her grandmother in a dream. ‘Oh, sweetheart,’ her grandmother, who died when Wilbur was 11 said, ‘What are you doing here working with these people, when you haven’t even worked with your own? Go home. Help your people. Be who you were born to be.’ Wilbur was interning for a nonprofit in South America—thousands of miles away from her family’s land on the Swinomish Reservation, a Native American community of 2,500 just north of Seattle. She awoke with a start and began to cry.”
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Spotlight: Native Art Contest Winner Jacob Maurice Johns

PWNA’s Native Art Contest provided a promotional opportunity for creatives within the Native community by sharing their artwork and asking the public to vote for their favorite submission. The winner of the contest was selected based on the highest number of votes, and the final winner was announced at the beginning of this month. We’re spotlighting this year’s winner, Jacob Maurice Johns.

Jacob Maurice Johns
Hometown: Mesa, Arizona
Tribal Affiliation: Akimel O’otham (Gila River Pima) and Hopi

Jacob attended cosmetology school in Washington state and then worked as a hairdresser and rave promoter/DJ before discovering his passion for social issues and completely shifting gears in his career. Jacob became serious about his social activism in 2016 after the presidential election and contributed greatly to movements such as the water protection protest at Standing Rock. Today, Jacob contracts as a Community Supported Organizer for the nonprofit organization Backbone Campaign, where he focuses on organizing front-line and non-violent direct action.

Art has been a passion of Jacob’s for as long as he can remember — his mother was a portrait artist, so he grew up in an environment that nurtured creativity. Jacob’s skills are mostly self-taught, but his mother provided some tips and tricks on portrait drawing once that became his focus in 2002. Early on, Jacob focused mainly on black and white paintings but has since incorporated more color into his work to create a “gritty urban feel that brings light to darkness” and connects the past to the future.

Realizing that art can drive social change, Jacob decided to intertwine his two passions and create artwork around the issues he feels strongly about. He donated his time and talent to the Spokane American Indian Community Center by creating paintings that were used for fundraising. His artwork has even taken the form of a large 10-foot by 10-foot dreamcatcher on the side of a warehouse for Spokane nonprofit Terrain Show, and he will be working on another large mural soon for a local women’s homeless shelter.

Jacob also decided to turn his talent into a business, opening an art studio in Spokane, Washington, where he’s currently living. You can see more of his works on his Facebook page at Studio One Eleven. One of his most popular offerings at his studio is personalized portraits, where people can bring in a photo of themselves or someone else for Jacob to recreate in his own unique style. He also creates “interactive” pieces where anyone can provide their own contribution to his large artwork. Interested in purchasing one of Jacob’s pieces? Contact him at studio1eleven@yahoo.com.

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An Elder Reflects on the Rosebud Reservation

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe reservation in South Dakota was established in 1899 and is home to more than 10,000 residents today. Rosebud is a complicated place, where new projects designed to help residents on the reservation both enhance and sometimes delay progress. With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to provide readers with an inside look at Rosebud through the lens of one its lifelong tribal members, Irene Young.

Irene was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in October of 1962. The Parmalee community was her hometown, and she visits often as many family members still reside there. I recently spoke with Irene who shared more about Rosebud’s history – what it is, what it has been and what she’s seen change over the years.

Irene Young, Sicangu Sioux

TP: What do you remember about your childhood on Rosebud?

IY: When I was little, we didn’t have a community. Our houses were at least half a mile to a mile apart. There were dirt roads, no pavement. And we walked everywhere, no rides. We used to walk over to our neighbors or to my grandpa’s house. The school bus came to the end of our driveway, but it was still a quarter-mile walk to get to it. When I was about 13 years old, our [house] was one of the first few houses to have a telephone – and it had party lines. You picked up a phone and could hear three conversations of people in the area. Today, everyone has a television and even kids have phones. We’d just sit around and visit, talk about anything and everything, like how the clouds came in.

TP: How close were you to Lakota traditions and culture growing up?

IY: We didn’t practice much [traditions] or attend powwows. [The reservation] used to have powwows, but I don’t remember past about age 9. My grandpa could speak broken English but really was closer to Lakota. My grandma could understand English but was also fluent in Lakota, so she helped translate.

TP: What do you think happened to the Lakota language?

IY: The boarding schools probably affected our language. Speaking in Lakota was forbidden, and if we did, our hands were hit, or we were beaten. I went to boarding school when I was 5 for about three quarters of the school year. Then my sister learned I was there and pulled me out.

TP: What do you think keeps the Rosebud community going?

IY: For me, it is the closeness of kin that keeps the community together and strong. When winter storms hit,  for example, so many people live out in the countryside that assistance isn’t immediately available, but neighbors make it a point to assist each other in hard times.

Although they weren’t so long ago, some of the stories we hear about are easily forgotten, especially stories of lack of transportation, the need for good homes, and even substance abuse problems. Today, man-made meth is a problem, more than alcohol. We heard these stories before they became the problems they are today, and I think they’re what’s behind the high suicide rates on the reservation. I don’t remember there being a lot of suicides back in the day. I was little when I lived there, so if it happened, they probably wouldn’t tell me. But it happens more nowadays. I think the children probably feel alone. Fortunately, I don’t remember even funerals as completely unhappy moments. Family comes, people re-tell old stories, new generations meet, and in the end it’s less about mourning and more about celebrating the life that happened. The people of Rosebud have always had a way of seeing the good in the bad and making the best of a bad situation. That’s what keeps them strong.

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Celebrating Strength in Motherhood on Mother’s Day, and Every Day

Mother’s Day is the one day of the year where mothers are recognized for all they do for their children, but it’s an undeniable truth that many mothers contribute to building their nations every single day. Within their respective communities, women serve in many roles, but none is more important than the role they play in shaping their family circles.

In my nearly 30 years working with, in and for tribal communities, I’ve connected with generations of Native American mothers, each with their unique journey and stories of joy, courage, humility and grief. Their roles as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters intersect fluidly, with the combined end goal of fostering good relatives who treat others well and nurturing future generations of individuals who are equipped with a strong sense of self and culture. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing the stories of two of these inspiring women.

Brycea, Fort Yuma-Quechan Community

Brycea is an 81-year-old manager at the Quechan Senior Center on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation near Yuma, Ariz. Brycea was recently the recipient of an annual recognition given to an Elder of the Quechan Tribe for their good deeds and mentorship in the community. She’s also earned an Iron Award for her leadership efforts in Imperial County, Calif.

At home, Brycea reflects on her childhood where she and her siblings were raised by her older brother and his wife, as she’s now reciprocating the parenting role by caring for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Brycea’s intergenerational home includes her granddaughter who’s lived with her since Brycea’s daughter passed away a few years ago, along with a teenage grandson and a 7-year-old great grandson. Brycea took her great grandson in because his mother had been “in and out of the hospital.” Fortunately, Brycea tells us, his mother is doing much better now and will be able to take him back after the school year is done.

Her generational sense of responsibility is as steeped in community and work, as it is in family and home.  Brycea says her age is “just a number.” Last year, after 16 years in retirement, she went from being one of the many Elders who receive services at Quechan to managing services for the entire center. Her advice for serving others is “listen and learn.” 

Duanna, Standing Rock Sioux Community

At 47 years old, Duanna is changing the status quo and seeking a college degree in human services at Sitting Bull College. Witnessing the struggles that many in her community face on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D., Duanna wants to help reunite families through education and teach other mothers “a better way to parent and better themselves,” as she puts it. She was awarded a scholarship through the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans, to continue her education.

Duanna is also a grandmother who is co-parenting her young granddaughter with her son. She wanted to assist him and ensure his success as a parent to a young daughter. Duanna herself was raised by her mother after her father passed away at an early age.

She said her mother taught her many things – both verbally and non-verbally – “not just by words but by her actions that I mirrored.” For Duanna, her mother was also her best friend, mentor, and someone she looked up to and admired. “I like to think I made her proud by becoming the person I am,” said Duanna, “It was, after all, thanks to her teachings.”

As to how she navigates it all, Duanna shared this lesson of self-care that was once given to her: “Love yourself enough to know what is good for you, and what is not. Seek out good things that help you academically and spiritually. Surround yourself with positive people, educated people, spiritual people. In the end you must learn to love yourself before you can love others.”

PWNA wishes to extend a sincere thank you to all the mothers who serve their families and their communities, nurturing future generations of good relatives and strong, sustainable nations – not only on Mother’s Day but every day.

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Recently in Native News

Spring is upon us and we’re sharing several noteworthy Native American headlines from the month of April. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.


Native American Women Are Facing a Crisis via MSN “Native American women and girls are facing an epidemic of violence that is hiding in plain sight. They are being killed or trafficked at rates than the rest of the U.S. population (on some reservations, women are 10 times as likely to be murdered as the national average, according to). Some simply disappear, presumably forced into sex trafficking. These cases often go unsolved. Now, three senators are hoping to combat this epidemic. The bipartisan bill… was introduced last week by Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska; Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat from Nevada; and Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana. It aims to change what the a ‘lack of a diligent and adequate federal response’ to these crimes.”

Native Nation: Immersive New Play About Issues Facing Indigenous People via Phoenix New Times

  • “Native Nation, a new work by Sicangu Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse, provides a rare theatrical glimpse into issues facing native people in Arizona. The play was commissioned by ASU Gammage and is presented by Cornerstone Theater Company. The immersive experience incorporates live theater, an artisan marketplace, a fashion show, and cultural performances. Cornerstone has a long history of creating works based off conversations with community members and inviting nonprofessionals to participate in set, prop, costume, and lighting design.”

This Native American inscription was found deep inside a cave. Two centuries later, scholars think they understand its meaning via The Washington Post

  • “At first glance, it looked like a set of black numbers and letters written in English, perhaps with some symbols included. It had gone unnoticed for nearly 200 years in a cave nestled in a wooded hillside overlooking Fort Payne, Ala. — population 14,000, about 60 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tenn. — and was partially covered by graffiti. But when cave explorers found the inscriptions, they realized the significance. After years of research and analysis, a team of Native American scholars and anthropologists determined the inscriptions are the first evidence of the Cherokee syllabary — the tribe’s written system that uses symbols to create words — ever found in a cave. It details the ‘secluded, ceremonial’ activities of the tribe that once occupied the area.”

History’s Forgotten Pioneer: The First Native American Doctor via OZY

  • “As the sun slipped past the horizon, the young girl watched with growing anxiety as an elderly woman struggled to breathe. It was 1873, and they lived on the Omaha Reservation in the northeast corner of Nebraska. The old woman’s condition was worsening, but the White doctor — sent for four times — refused to come. The hours ticked by, and eventually, the woman died before the girl’s eyes. As she would later describe in her journal, Susan La Flesche Picotte vowed that night to do whatever it took to become a doctor. It took her nearly two decades, but in 1889, La Flesche became the first Native American to graduate from medical school…”
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Celebrating Día del Niño and Promoting Child Literacy in Native Communities

Native American children represent the future generations that will carry out the traditions and customs of their tribes. As we approach the international “Dia del Niño” (“Day of the Child”) holiday on April 30, we wanted to share the history of this celebration and more on how PWNA supports literacy for children in reservation communities.

“Dia del Niño” originated in Mexico in the early 1920’s and is now observed across Latin America and other countries in the world, including the U.S. The day recognizes the importance of children in society and promotes their well-being. Today, many organizations make use of this holiday to promote child language and literacy, including the American Library Association and the Association for Library Services to Children.

This day in time promotes the importance of reading by linking children to books, languages, and cultures in the home and at school. Unfortunately, many Native American children struggle with reading and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, American Indian and Alaska Native students score lower in reading than non-Native students in grade school due to education system issues, under-funding and other barriers.

PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program is committed to improving literacy on reservations by giving Native youth access to reading materials and encouraging volunteers to support reading time. AIEF partners with community programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs and Head Starts to help stock books for students who may not have access at home or through a local library. Children are encouraged to participate and check books out so that reading becomes instilled as a regular practice in their lives. Regular reading helps improve reading comprehension. Some partners also promote literacy buddies so that students and parents or older students can read books together.

This “Día del Niño”, we encourage you to celebrate the magic of reading by sharing your favorite culturally relevant Native American children’s book with any young readers in your life. 

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Honoring Our Connection to the Land on Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, a day of environmental awareness and activism across the world. Earth Day began as a protest in 1970 against the industrial progression of the world and the increasingly adverse impact on the environment and wildlife population. It was a critical moment for environmental awareness. That same year, the Nixon administration instituted the Environmental Protection Agency, and cornerstone protection such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act were enacted.

This Earth Day, we recognize how much the environment means to all of us, and especially Native Americans. Many Native people maintain their relationship with the Earth as best they can, whether it’s helping their communities protect the land and water or restoring their relationship to the Earth that was lost over time. PWNA assists tribal communities by focusing on sustainability, recognizing the land and water of Mother Earth are part of the solution.

Remote reservations often experience higher levels of malnutrition and obesity akin to some developing countries, resulting from a lack of affordable food, healthy food and sustainable food sources. PWNA supports sustainability projects on the reservations, such as Project Grow and community gardens, that address food insecurity, favor Mother Earth and its inhabitants, and honor our connection to the land. For garden projects in communities across South Dakota and Montana, for example, PWNA provides seeds, tools and gardening training to plant and harvest fruits, vegetables and even honey.

There are plenty of resources for starting your own community garden, including Native Food Systems, and the SDSU Extension Office that has tons of information on planting, maintaining and harvesting a wide variety of crops and plants.

Our relationship with the Earth is a fragile one that seems to be slipping away from us into a place from which it may never recover. By promoting more projects such as community gardens, we encourage self-reliance, keep our traditions alive and reduce the harmful footprint on our Earth and eco-system.

It is my hope that more communities will embrace Earth Day and learn how to protect the environment. By caring for Mother Earth, we ensure that we, and future generations, can live off the land. 

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Recognizing The Accomplishments of Native American Athletes on National Student Athlete Day

National Student Athlete Day, created by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS), is recognized by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) colleges and universities on April 6. The day acknowledges student-athletes who excel in the classroom and on the playing fields, all while giving back to their communities through volunteerism and service projects.

For us, National Student Athlete Day reminds us of the importance of sports in Indian Country and the Native American athletes and professional teams who support Native causes.

Sports can serve as a healthy way for Native American youth who live in remote reservation communities to cope with the everyday stresses and historical trauma imposed on our tribal communities. Native American children have the highest dropout rates of any ethnic group in the United States, with 29 to 36 percent of all Native students dropping out of school mostly from grades 7 to 12, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Participating in sports, however, gives Native youth another way to succeed and excel.

In the Northern Plains, basketball — commonly known as “Rezball” — is not only the most popular sport but a way of life. Competitions such as the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) and the Dakota Oyate Challenge bring Lakota high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams together and attract college scouts. These tournaments showcase players who otherwise may not have the opportunity to be seen, given the remote locations of their reservation communities.  

Quite a few Native Americans have excelled as professional athletes and role models for youth across Indian Country, including:

  • Olympian medalists Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox), Billy Mills (Sioux), Rickie Fowler (Navajo) and Ashton Locklear (Lumbee)
  • NBA players Kyrie Irving (Standing Rock Sioux) with the Boston Celtics, Cherokee Parks (Cherokee) with the Dallas Mavericks, and Ron Baker (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) with the New York Nicks
  • NFL players Sam Bradford (Cherokee Nation) with the Minnesota Vikings, James Winchester (Choctaw Nation) with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bryce Petty (Chickasaw Nation) with the New York Jets, and Eli Ankou (Ojibwe) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Though some sports teams have perpetuated negative stereotypes through insensitive team names, logos and mascots, other franchises have supported championing Native American causes. Last year, Jacksonville Jaguar Eli Ankou highlighted the social issues facing Native communities by selecting PWNA as his charity of choice in the NFL “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign. The Dallas Mavericks invited PWNA to give a presentation on Native American history and culture and partnered on a ticket sales fundraiser for a fall 2019 game.

National Student Athlete Day reminds us that sports are more than an extracurricular activity. They’ve inspired generations of youth, and especially Native youth to succeed beyond the field and bring hope and confidence in coping with the hardships of life on reservations.  

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