Celebrating Arizona’s Birthday and the Rich Native American History of the Grand Canyon State

As we gear up to gift to our loved ones cards and flowers this week, those of us in Arizona are also recognizing the state’s 107th birthday on Feb. 14. Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. Prior to that, the region was considered a territory of New Mexico.

Arizona, the Grand Canyon state and home to 22 federally recognized tribes

Today, Arizona is home to more than 7.2 million residents (according to the U.S. Census) and with more than 114,000 square miles, the communities are as diverse as the landscape. In fact, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized Native American tribes and the third-largest population of Native Americans in any state. The indigenous people in Arizona account for more than 10 percent of the more than 2.7 million Native Americans in the U.S.

Oraibi, a Hopi Indian village in Arizona, dating back to at least 1150 AD, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States. Other “old ones who were here before” Arizona statehood included the Hohokam, Anasazi and Mogollon, as well as:  

  • the Pima Indians
  • the Apache Indians
  • the Cocopah Indians
  • the Halchidhoma Indians
  • the Havasupai, Yavapai, and Hualapai tribes
  • the Jocome and Jano Indians
  • the Maricopa
  • the Mohave
  • the Navajo
  • the Southern Paiute
  • the Tohono O’odham (Papago)
  • the Yaqui
  • the Yuma
  • the Zuni

Many of these Native American reservations border the state’s major cities (Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma), so it’s not unusual that Native American customs and traditions have had a significant impact on Arizona culture. Whether it’s rows of custom turquoise jewelry at the annual Arizona Indian Festival or ancestral Native pottery displayed inside the Arizona State Museum, you don’t have to go far to find the Native American influence. Even the name “Arizona” derives from an Uto-Atzecan Indian word meaning “little spring” in the Tohono O’odham language.

This month, we encourage you to learn more about the history and heritage of Native Americans in Arizona. If you’re local, plan a weekend outing to the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archeological Park or day trip to the Hopi House near the Grand Canyon. You can also pick up a copy of Native Americans of Arizona or Traveling Indian Arizona to plan an authentic trip to the Grand Canyon State.  

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The Native American History of Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Phil, otherwise known as the “Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” is perhaps America’s most famous groundhog. Phil hails from Punxsutawney, Penn. and he has one job on one day every year – forecasting winter weather on what has become known as Groundhog Day.

Did you know the history of Groundhog Day is rooted in Native American culture? The town of Punxsutawney was originally settled and inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians (“the Original People”) for thousands of years, and the town’s name is derived from its traditional name Ponsutenink, meaning “Town of the Ponkis” (Ponki meaning sand fly).

The tradition of Groundhog Day was first held on Feb. 2, 1886 in Punxsutawney and had its origins in Candlemas – a traditional Christian festival where Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed to bring blessings to their household for the rest of the winter. In 1887, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club established Punxsutawney Phil as the official weather prophet. That same year, they also declared Punxsutawney the “weather capital of the world.”

Each summer since then, club members return to the area known as Gobbler’s Knob to partake in a ceremony in which Phil is given a secret elixir to prolong his life and youthful good looks. Phil is rumored to be “immortal” and now about 132 years old.

For more than a century, Phil has come out of his burrow to check how winter is going and more precisely when winter will end. As legend has it, if Phil sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if not, we will see an early spring.

As for the groundhog himself, he’s also known as ‘woodchuck’, possibly derived from the Algonquian word ‘wuchak’, the Narragansett word ‘ockqutchaun’ and/or the Cree word ‘otcheck’ (a member of the weasel family).The Wabanaki people even have Grandmother Woodchuck in their legends who teaches patience and wisdom.

This year, Phil’s predictions mean we’re in for an early spring. Personally, I was hoping for the cool spring breeze and escape from this winter’s howling cold in South Dakota!

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Recently in Native News

With the start of a new year, we remain committed to informing our readers of the news and culture in Native American communities across the country. As such, we’ve compiled our favorite stories from the month of January. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

‘If the water is rising, then so must we’: Indigenous Peoples March in Washington against global injustice via Common Dreams

  • “In an event described as “breathtaking, heartbreaking, strong, and beautiful,” representatives from native communities around the world came together in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the first-ever Indigenous Peoples March. Organized as a rebuke to the violence and injustices that Indigenous Peoples often face—from the murder of native girls and women to police brutality to having unceded tribal lands torn away by colonizing governments and fossil fuel corporations—the march kicked off Friday morning outside the U.S. Interior Department. “I think it’s a collective cry for help because we’re in a time of crisis that we have not seen in a very long time…”

Oklahoma museum exhibit honors Native American veterans via News on 6

  • “The Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska is hosting a special exhibit honoring Native Americans who have served in the military. In the past three years the museum has seen a more than 200% increase in visitors, thanks in part to the traffic the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile brings to town. But the new exhibit at the museum is sure to draw in crowds as well. As you walk up to the Osage Nation Museum you pass by a bronze statue of one of the tribe’s great warriors, Chief Claremore. Addie Roanhorse, the acting director of the Osage Nation Museum, says, “It gives us the platform to tell our own story.”

Bill would allow Native American students to wear regalia via Bismarck Tribune

  • “In 2015, Chelsea Schmitt and six other students successfully petitioned officials at Bismarck Public Schools to allow students to wear eagle feathers at their high school graduation ceremonies. The eagle feather — a symbol of strength and honor, and “not just a decoration” — is gifted to Native Americans when they reach a milestone in their lives, such as a graduation, Schmitt told a room full of lawmakers on Monday. “Like my Native American family members have in the past, I got to wear a piece of my culture, a piece of who I am, on a very important day in my life,” Schmitt said.”

Historic day in San Juan County as majority Native American Commission takes office via KUER 90.1

  • In an historic first, Native Americans hold the majority on the San Juan County Commission following a packed swearing in ceremony Monday [Jan. 7] in Monticello. People jammed the San Juan County Commission chambers as a judge administered the oath of office to a half-dozen county officials. Among them were incoming Democratic commissioners, Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy, both Navajo and supporters of the controversial Bears Ears National Monument. For years, Republicans have dominated San Juan County government. But now San Juan County is the first county in Utah to have a local governing majority of Native Americans.”
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Emergency Preparedness is Key for Disaster Mitigation and Recovery on the Reservations

Weather extremes and other environmental emergencies in recent years have intensified the need for tribal citizens to prepare in advance of disasters. This winter, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is helping communities better prepare when disaster strikes with the distribution of The Native Family Disaster Preparedness Handbook to reservation programs who are participating in our Emergency Preparedness service.

Written by Vincent B. Davis, Sean M. Scott et al., and published by Preparedness Matters, the handbook provides timely, relevant information about risks, options and practical steps Native American families can take to save lives and protect property – before, during and after disasters. The handbook serves as a reliable resource to guide disaster planning and recovery for culturally- and geographically-sensitive solutions on the reservations.

When disaster strikes, PWNA responds quickly with disaster relief for tribes in need of supplies for the homeless, elderly, persons with disabilities, veterans, children and others. Currently, through the support of grant funding from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, PWNA is also advancing emergency preparedness in Northern Plains tribal communities through training, networked collaboration and access to resources, such as the Disaster Preparedness Handbook.

While the often-advertised “emergency kit” can prepare you for immediate needs, it is only a starting point and many more factors must be considered to navigate your family or community from emergency to recovery. Reservation communities often do not have the same access as others to information and resources available to them, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, it’s important to realize the following:

  • FEMA is NOT an individual relief organization for homeowners. FEMA plays a critical role in addressing public damages through transportation, communications, logistics management, public safety and security, but its resources are limited and only available when certain conditions are met. Qualifying for individual assistance is more challenging, especially on a reservation, so don’t rely on FEMA coverage to be available in the event of a disaster.
  • FEMA does NOT fit the same way for tribal communities. Reservations are sovereign nations and not counties or states, yet the criteria set for FEMA aid is based on counties and states, so aid is typically skewed in favor of non-tribal populations. Additionally, individual aid is based on area-wide loss rather than individual property value and there’s a cap.
  • Homeowner’s insurance is critical. Oftentimes, tribal members live in homes owned by the tribe itself but uninsured, or homes conveyed to the member by the tribe, but residents are unaware that they must purchase insurance on their own for their dwelling and personal property. If a home is severely damaged, rendered unlivable, or destroyed and federal dollars are unavailable to rebuild, residents can be forced to live with relatives in overcrowded spaces, be relocated off the reservation entirely, or become homeless. The ripple effect can be catastrophic. Having adequate insurance can be a financial lifeline that not only will help you rebuild your life, but also pay for additional living expenses, food, clothing, furnishings, debris removal and many other costs.

For more information on FEMA and how you can better prepare ahead of a disaster, visit our Disaster Resources page. You can also download our FAQs, Disaster Facts for Homeowners and more to better understand FEMA and regulations to keep in mind as a homeowner.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Native American Rights

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up on Jan. 21, we remember a man who not only fought for the civil rights of African Americans but also advocated for social equality of Native Americans.

Dr. King spent his life in pursuit of his goal that one day we may be judged not on the color of our skin but on the content of our character – and he championed equality for all people of color. Dr. King’s actions aided Native Americans more than most of us know. He specifically advocated for the desegregation of Native Americans and inspired much of the modern-day advocacy for Native rights, including water rights and tribal sovereignty. Many advocacy groups for tribes, such as the Native American Rights Fund, arose shortly after the era of Dr. King in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.

King’s passion and dedication ultimately led to his untimely death, but his message continues to resonate for those who seek and support fair and just opportunity for all, despite their ethnicity or background. In his famous letter written from a Birmingham jail cell in 1963, Dr. King reflected on the definition of injustice and morality and desire for equal rights for all the oppressed:

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. … We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.”

Dr. King’s words inspired a deeper focus on how the history of oppression has affected all “people of color” in America and his legacy lives on in those who continue to seek equality.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we encourage you to reflect on Dr. King’s work and what it means for us today. Celebrate his legacy through an act of kindness, a volunteer effort, or learning more about the rich history of his accomplishments and the movement that sparked so many of today’s American ideals.

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Poverty Awareness Month: Alleviating the Challenges Facing Native American Communities

More than 40 million people in the U.S. live in poverty – earning less than the federal official poverty threshold for a family of four ($24,000). January is Poverty Awareness Month and the month-long initiative raises awareness and calls attention to the reality of rising poverty in America.

Unfortunately, impoverishment is all too common in many Native American communities. In fact, two of the five poorest counties in the U.S. are located on Indian reservations and the highest poverty rate by ethnic group is found among Native Americans, accounting for 27.6 percent of national poverty overall.

Within the most geographically-isolated Native American communities, tribes experience a variety of social determinants that ultimately fuel poverty, from lack of job opportunities and education access to limitations involving transportation and infrastructure. Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) works year-round to offset the living conditions that accompany poverty, assisting reservation communities through its material services and long-term solutions.

Immediate relief through material services helps ensure access to basic necessities in Native communities, including safe drinking water, fresh produce, non-perishable food items and non-food items to alleviate financial stress in low-income households. Many families often must choose between spending on groceries or other life-impacting choices such as school supplies before a new school year or winter fuel to heat their home.

PWNA’s work is inspired by a vision of strong, self-sufficient Native American communities, and its services that support long-term outcomes are just as critical as those that address immediate needs. Through services focused on community investment, capacity building and higher education attainment, PWNA helps Native American community-based leaders work toward solutions that will more sustainably improve the quality of life in their communities.

Whether it’s providing a Senior Center with food to ensure hot meals to Elders, or funding scholarships to assist Native students with higher education, addressing poverty comes in many shapes and forms. This month, we reflect on the seriousness of the growing poverty in America and acknowledge that our work is critical to the Native communities we serve.

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2018 Year in Review

As we ring in the New Year, we’re taking a moment to reflect on an incredible year for Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). In 2018, we continued to support Native Americans in some of the most remote, impoverished reservations through a variety of programs and initiatives prioritized by our program partners and emerging leaders.

Last year, we launched our inaugural Strong Native Women 4 Directions program. This cohort is an extension of our 4 Directions Development Program, designed to support personal and professional development of emerging leaders in tribal communities. The women’s cohort was made possible through a grant from PepsiCo Foundation and we look forward to celebrating our inaugural graduates this March.

PWNA also had the opportunity to participate in the NFL’s 2018 #MyCauseMyCleats campaign, thanks to the generosity of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Eli Ankou. More than 800 NFL players took the field wearing custom cleats that reflected a worthy cause and Eli selected PWNA, honoring his indigenous ancestry and support for underrepresented Native American communities.

Lastly, PWNA was fortunate enough to once again conclude our year focusing on our annual holiday services, providing warm meals for Elders, families and children, and distributing holiday stockings and gift bags to celebrate children and Elders and help our partners spread holiday cheer in their communities.

We look forward to another year of championing a brighter future for Native American communities. For now, we wanted to share our readers’ favorite blog posts of 2018:

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Happy Holidays from PWNA: Remembering Christmas Pasts

Happy holidays! Please join us in remembering children on the reservations and Christmas pasts by watching our Native American holiday video. We hope you enjoy and share it with friends and family.

The music in the video is provided by Lumbee / Tuscarora recording artist Jana Mashonee. The beautiful lyrics are sung in Navajo by Jana, who generously granted PWNA permission to use her music. Jana’s album, “American Indian Christmas,” features 10 classic Christmas songs – including the one in this video – sung in 10 Native languages and accompanied by an orchestra of traditional Native instruments.

Jana is a nine-time Native American Music Awards winner and best pop-recording artist of 2013. Her music has been featured on Discovery Channel and Redbox and she’s previously performed at presidential inaugurations and Carnegie Hall.

Until next year, blessings from all of us at PWNA to all of you!

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Thank You and Happy Holidays

From all of us at PWNA, we’d like to wish you — our program partners, community project leaders, volunteers, donors and organizations who support our work — a happy holiday season. In working together year-round, we’re ensuring a better quality of life for those living in remote, and often forgotten, Native American communities.

Your support is critical to assist our partners in spreading holiday cheer at a time of year that can otherwise be stressful and lonely for some. Across 110 different reservation communities this year, our partners and their volunteers are busy preparing for community-wide meals, distributions of useful gifts and numerous Santa stops. Food and gifts are provided through Northern Plains Reservation Aid, Southwest Reservation Aid and other programs of PWNA.

Holiday meals offer partners a special opportunity to bring community members together and ensure Elders, families and children receive a warm, healthy meal free of financial stress and in the company of others. This year, PWNA will support holiday meals for tribes in the Southwest and Northern Plains, including:

  • Hopi in Moenkopi, AZ
  • White Mountain Apache in Fort Apache, AZ
  • Navajo in Fort Defiance, AZ, Cove, AZ and Shiprock, NM
  • Standing Rock Sioux in Cannonball, ND
  • Cheyenne River Sioux in Howes, SD
  • Northern Cheyenne in Busby, MT
  • Ponca in Norfolk, NE
  • Oglala Sioux in Porcupine, SD

Gift bag distributions are intended to help honor Native American Elders in individual communities. This year, we’re delivering gift bags with essential items for Navajo Elders in Bluff, UT and the remote community of Hogback, NM, as well as the Elders in Pueblo of Pojoaque, NM, the Oglala Elders in Porcupine, SD and Allen, SD, and the Northern Cheyenne Elders in Lame Deer, MT and Ashland, MT, among others.

Our holiday stocking distributions celebrate children and help our partners create positive events in their communities, while providing practical items for families. This year, PWNA will deliver holiday stockings for children in the San Carlos, Hopi, Navajo, Pine Ridge, and Omaha communities, and more. We will also deliver stockings for children on the Crow and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota, the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska, the Nambe and Santa Clara pueblos in New Mexico, and the Cocopah Reservation in Arizona, to name a few. Children in some of these communities will also delight in a visit from Santa as part of our Santa Stop service.

As part of our commitment to students who receive our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program scholarships, we provide them and their immediate family members with useful holiday gifts with the intent to remove any added stress for scholars and help them focus on successfully completing their first semester.

Our program partners, such as these, can best share how PWNA’s support can impact communities during the holidays:

“I can’t tell you how much our children appreciated the Christmas items you sent us. Many of the children would not have received anything if they had not received the stockings…They were really great. The children especially like the stuffed animals and the coloring books. Thank you very much.” – Mel (Pine Ridge)

“On behalf of our community, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to PWNA and to those who so generously donated the Christmas stockings to our community. Because of your time, effort, hard work and dedication to Native American communities, you have made our Christmas a joyous one to remember. Again, thank you very much.” – Joseph (Yankton)

PWNA is grateful for the many relationships and collaborations that help us brighten the holidays for tribal citizens and enable us to be one of the largest Native American-serving organizations in the U.S. The Native communities we serve have the highest need in the U.S. and everything we do is only possible through the generosity of individuals like you who care about others. We’re fortunate and humbled to have your support year-round and especially through your year-end giving.

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Q&A: NFL Lineman Eli Ankou discusses #MyCauseMyCleats campaign and why he feels Native Americans are underrepresented

Yesterday we shared part one of our two-part Q&A with Eli Ankou of the Jacksonville Jaguars and why he chose Partnership With Native Americans for the NFL’s #MyCauseMyCleats campaign. Today, we share more of our conversation focused on Native Americans, the social issues affecting reservation communities and what Eli would like to see us all do to raise up Native youth for a brighter future.

Eli Ankou Interview, Part II

PWNA: You mentioned you feel Native Americans are underrepresented in the U.S. Could you share more about this?

ELI: Across North America, they are kind of an underrepresented population in terms of music, sports, pop culture and other aspects. My Cause, My Cleats is one way to bring attention to social issues pertaining to Native American communities. Sports and entertainment are great ways to introduce more about the culture to a broader spectrum of people, and expressing our culture is a great way to connect with people.

PWNA: Are there particular social issues of concern to you?

ELI: It has to do with the lack of visibility, and I think the main issue for me is that there are so many problems that are simply not brought to the attention of the general public. I remember hearing a statistic on women disappearing from reservations, or problems with a lack of water. There are so many different issues and it would be good to give a voice to those issues.

PWNA: And relevant to this goal, is there a certain message you want to send people?

ELI:  I would tell the younger generation, the kids and the teenagers, that you hold the most power on social media, and it’s a great platform to let your voices be heard. Help us get a message out that Native American youth are capable of whatever they set their mind to — it only takes hard work. The more people who are on board with this, the better. We need to help Native communities get on their feet and then pass it on to help others.

PWNA: In other words, you’re asking the youth in this country — Native and non-Native — to help motivate and empower one another, and to raise awareness and resources to benefit Native communities?

ELI: Absolutely.

PWNA:  What are you personally doing to empower Native youth?

ELI:  I am planning on hosting a few football camps and inviting kids from local reservations. It doesn’t have to be tackle football but getting them out to play and gaining a sense that they can do something if they put their mind to it. I want to be able to reach as many kids as possible and look forward to working with PWNA to make this possible.

** We often hear that we need to get the attention of others in order to spread the word about the realities for many Native American communities. Yet, it’s not every day that someone as familiar to the general public as Eli Ankou is passionate enough to use their voice and help the message be heard. PWNA is sincerely honored that Eli believes in our mission and shares in his commitment to empower Native American youth and encourage the generations of tomorrow to help each other.

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