This Year, Resolve to Be More #NativeAware

Last year reminded us to take a step back, express gratitude for what we have and show empathy for those whose struggles are greater than ours. COVID-19 brought to light many difficult truths about the disparities within America’s diverse communities, including for our Native American population. Now, many more people are paying attention to these struggles for the first time and want to know what they can do to help.

As we embark on 2021 together, we want to encourage you to add one resolution to your list: Be more #NativeAware.

Did you know Native Americans historically have been undercounted in the census? Or that there are multiple voting barriers for Native Americans that largely stem from living in remote, rural areas? Last year, Native communities came together to ensure their voices were heard so that they might have a chance to address the most critical issues facing their communities. For example:  

  • 23% of Native families experience low food security, meaning they have inconsistent access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life.
  • Native Americans endure a legacy of healthcare disparities, fueling high rates of diabetes, cancer, tuberculosis and infant mortality.
  • Only 13% of Native students hold a college degree, roughly half the rate of Caucasian Americans.
  • Up to 61% of Native children live in poverty or low-income households, and 29% of employed Native Americans live below poverty level.
  • Suicide rates for Native Americans between the ages of 15-24 are three times the national average — and the second leading cause of death for their age group.
  • 90,000 Native Americans are homeless, and 40% live in unsafe or substandard housing.

The fight against COVID-19 is not yet over and we want to continue to support our reservation partners while helping to bring attention to the issues that matter most so that others can help end the cycle of poverty in Indian Country.

So, how can you be more #NativeAware in 2021?

  • Check out our YouTube channel to learn more about how PWNA helps Native communities.
  • Read up on food insecurity, animal welfare, and the education barriers unique to Native American students.
  • Purchase a Native Aware t-shirt to support PWNA’s ongoing work with the tribes.
  • Tune into our “Realities Video Series with Wes Studi” and share what you learn. Be sure to include #NativeAware in your post.
  • Link your Amazon Smile account to Partnership With Native Americans so that a portion of every item you purchase on Amazon helps support our mission.
  • Visit our Native Aware site to learn more about the realities Native Americans are struggling with and how you can help. And share the page!
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and use #NativeAware and the URL www.nativeaware.org to help spread the word!
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2020 Year in Review

As we prepare for 2021, we want to take a moment to reflect on the past year here at Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA). 2020 brought a global health pandemic that led to more people taking a closer look at the longstanding social injustices that affect Native American communities. Thankfully,  through the continued support of our generous donors, we were able to assist some of the most remote, impoverished reservation communities in the country when they needed it most.

We also celebrated a milestone anniversary – 30 years of service – for impacting lives through immediate and long-term relief from critical barriers in food, education, animal welfare and emergency relief across Indian Country. We’re grateful that we’ll be able to continue working with our partners in the coming year.

Once again, thank you to the donors who’ve allowed us to continue carrying out our mission to champion hope and brighter futures for Native Americans.

With that, we’re sharing a glimpse of your top ten favorite blog posts from 2020:


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Merry Christmas and Thank You!

Season’s greetings! Each year, we take time to reflect on the impact of our program partners and donors on Native communities and assess the challenges we have overcome together in that time – and to put it mildly, 2020 was unprecedented.

The entire country was confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic nosedive and the social movement of a generation – none of which deterred us from carrying out our mission. To the contrary, our staff stayed safe and dug deeper, emotionally and mentally, to ensure we continued providing essential services to the most geographically isolated and impoverished communities in the U.S.

I started as the newly minted president & CEO of PWNA in January. In February, we held the First Lakota Food Summit in Rapid City, SD –  an overwhelming success for our partners and participants. As I finished visiting our offices in the Northern Plains and Southwest, we began to hear about coronavirus – and when Native communities began canceling spring ceremonies, and the NCAA canceled the March Madness college basketball tournament, we knew it was serious.

As many watched from their homes during lockdowns from March through June and longer (some Native communities are still in lockdown today), PWNA was able to adapt and continue operations safely and effectively. We transitioned many of our training services to an online platform, introduced a new portal and Instagram channel aimed at creating awareness of reservation realities, celebrated a milestone 30-year anniversary as a Native nonprofit, and hired a new vice president of fundraising to ensure we can continue to carry out our mission.

Sadly, the adverse impacts of COVID-19 to tribal communities were countless and only magnified the social inequities we work to address even in ‘normal’ times. Though, on a hopeful note, we saw the best of humanity as those who could stepped up to make a difference.

National news outlets, such as Forbes, NBC, ABC, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and more helped share the stories and images of what was happening – and helped raise a new awareness of life on the reservations. We also owe a special thanks to legendary actor Wes Studi for helping us get the word out. Our entire staff was proud to see PWNA continuously highlighted as a top nonprofit serving Indian Country.

The outpouring of donations has been heartfelt and uplifting, helping to answer the call for COVID-19 relief for the tribes. In short:

  • Thousands of individuals made donations to PWNA for the first time – including Kliff Kingsbury, head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Funders, such as Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, Newman’s Own Foundation and LDS Charities, generously renewed grant funding.
  • New funders, including Boeing Corporation, Sergey Brin Family Foundation, Catena Foundation, South Dakota Community Foundation, Arizona Community Foundation, Synchrony Bank and the Verizon Foundation, prioritized Native giving.
  • And just as our warehouse inventory was running low, new in-kind donors, such as Baby2Baby, Convoy of Hope, Global PPE, Kate Farms and Boomer Naturals stepped up with critical supplies.

We are not out of the woods yet. Continued advocacy, awareness and social justice will be critical factors in the recovery of our tribal communities, and it will take several years. So, as we approach the new year, we’d like to remind you that nonprofits rely heavily on end-of-year giving. If you’re thinking of donating, we hope you’ll contribute to PWNA and postmark it before midnight on Dec. 31 for a tax deduction.  

From the entire PWNA family, we would like to wish you all a happy, healthy and joyous holiday season, in a safely scaled back version of your celebration with your loved ones.

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Recently in Native News

In the spirit of the season of giving, Native American communities are coming together to support one another – financially, physically and emotionally. From helping small businesses impacted by COVID-19 to advocating for social justice, several notable headlines from December showcase the resilience of Native communities. Check out our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest Native news headlines.

Navajo artist Emma Robbins is bringing tap water and solar power to hundreds of homes that never had it before via Insider

  • “If young Emma Robbins ever got thirsty while visiting her grandparents, she drank soda from a can — the syrupy sweet kind that was off-limits back home at her parents’ house, where water flowed freely from the faucet.”

More than 5,000 Navajo Nation businesses receive virus financial aid via KTAR

  • “An economic relief program for Navajo entrepreneurs, businesses and artisans has awarded coronavirus relief aid to more than 4,000 individuals, according to a press release Tuesday. The Navajo Nation Business and Artisans Economic Relief Grant distributed approximately $29 million in relief funds to applicants facing financial hardships from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Native Americans are tired of being lumped in as ‘something else’ in polls, other surveys  via Chicago Sun Times

  • “On election night, Jodi Owings and her family watched the results reported live on television in their Oklahoma home. She noticed a CNN graphic that displayed returns by race as white, Latino, Black, ‘something else’ and Asian.”

Doctor on what it’s like to fight the Coronavirus on the Navajo Nation via NPR

  • “NPR’s Ari Shapiro speaks with Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service’s Navajo Area, about the challenges of fighting the coronavirus on the Navajo Nation.”

Last month, Native students at Princeton embraced activism. Now, they’re looking ahead via The Princetonian

  • “Each November, Native American students at Princeton raise a tipi outside of Prospect House to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. This year, amid the pandemic and a reckoning with injustices on and off campus, the student group Natives at Princeton (NAP) designated November 2020 as Native American Activism Month.”
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Early History of Christmas in Native American Communities

The origins of Christmas may stem from several events based on different religious and cultural beliefs, such as the Celebration of Yule, the integration of St. Nicholas, the birth of Jesus Christ, or the recognition of Winter Solstice. When European settlers came to the Americas and discovered the existence of Indigenous peoples who had never heard of these things, they made it their mission to introduce these concepts as a pathway to build trust, integrate and subvert the traditional ways of Native Americans.

Today, Christmas is celebrated in many diverse ways and is considered one of the most celebrated holidays throughout the world. So, how did the early Native Americans celebrate Christmas?

It’s been said that winter is the season of stories. In the past, winters restricted the amount of movement tribes could make, so they would gather resources and do the best they could to hold out through the season. During this time, celebrations of the Winter Solstice took place as well, and more often than not families and friends would gather around a fire and tell origin stories, tales of spirits, and other anecdotes.

After the introduction of Christmas,  tribes in the east, west, north and south developed unique ways to celebrate the holiday. One of the earliest recorded instances of tribal participation in Christmas happened in the 1600’s when a Jesuit priest helped the Huron people write their first Christmas carol. Singing has always been a large part of Indigenous cultures, and even in this new tradition, they integrated old customs.

Many tribes also saw Christmas day as part of the story of Jesus and a prophecy being fulfilled. Today, you will find many examples of traditional ways and Christianity joined in different denominations of beliefs. The communal nature of tribes is still very important in many celebrations, reminding people to celebrate and take care of one another with kindness and compassion.

Regardless of the origins of Christianity in Native culture, and many of the intentions when it comes to colonizing the tribes, we can still see the value of the holiday. Christmas brings an opportunity to reflect on shared values of gratitude, compassion, charity and joy.

Today, the holiday is celebrated through singing, dancing, sharing, eating and giving. The ways our ancestors celebrated Christmas and how we continue to celebrate today shows that our culture can adapt and has the room to celebrate and be accepting of new traditions, stories and legends, no matter who held them.

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Give the Gift of Water this Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to join in on the global generosity movement to support urgent causes. One of the most critical requests for communities in Indian Country is water. Many of us don’t think twice when we turn on a faucet to wash our hands or pour ourselves a glass of drinking water.

Unfortunately, clean water access is an ongoing crisis in many remote reservation communities. Rising temperatures and declining rainfall over the past century have depleted the groundwater that was once the principal source of drinking water for many Native Americans. Today, tribes face constant legal battles over water access and water rights on Native lands. They also lack infrastructure and funding for necessary repairs and improvements in plumbing.

On the Navajo Nation alone, 30 percent of residents lack access to running water while 42 percent of homes do not have complete plumbing facilities. On average, Navajo households are traveling 48 miles to get drinking water and pay 71 times the amount that urban area residents pay to access clean water.

This is especially concerning when we’re fighting a global health pandemic and frequent handwashing helps deter the spread of the virus. While tribal communities are enforcing social distancing, curfews and stay-at-home orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many Native people are nonetheless forced to break these guidelines to haul water from other places.

Not surprisingly, emergency requests for water have escalated and PWNA is including water in nearly every delivery to the reservations. Already this year, we sent more than 40 shipments of drinking water for nearly 6,500 people. However, we need help from our generous donors to continue to serve those in need.

Today – #GivingTuesday – PWNA will receive matching donations dollar for dollar up to $100,000 to ensure we’re impacting as many lives as possible. We hope you’ll donate today and join us in giving hope and clean water to Native Elders, Children and families.

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Q&A: Irish-born musician Danny Burns talks about his latest single, “Many Moons Ago,” and why he supports the Native American community

The connection between Native Americans and Irish descendants runs deep. The relationship began in the mid 1800’s when Native Americans offered relief to the Irish during the potato famine. Recently, many Irish people have returned the favor by donating to help Native American tribes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, Irish born folk singer-songwriter Danny Burns released a song inspired by these gestures. “Many Moons Ago,” feat. Grammy award-winning folk singer Sarah Jarosz, pays tribute to the unique connection between these two cultures.

We recently caught up with Danny and learned more about his connection to Native Americans, his thought process when writing this song, and why he’s passionate about raising awareness around Native American communities. Today, we’re sharing our conversation with Danny:

PWNA: There’s been an outpouring of support for Native American communities from the Irish amid the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you feel about that?

DB:  It makes me very proud of both communities, how our sense of family is so important in both cultures. It just shows how the bond has grown and survived for so long. It dates back to many years ago, with both Irish and Native Americans sharing similarities that a lot of people might not be aware of.

PWNA: What inspired you to record this song?

DB:  I started writing this song when I was 14 years-old after starting a school project about the workhouses. These were the colonial housing projects where families could be fed and work, but in return they had to give up their land to the English. Similarly, in Ireland, there was a place where families were sent after the crops failed in the famine. During that time, half of the population of the island either left or died at the hands of the English. Ultimately, it took me a long time to finish this song, but it perfectly combined both cultures’ heritage once it was done.

PWNA: What’s the main message you’re hoping to convey with this song?

DB:  The main message I really wanted to show was the bond and kindness we’ve shared over the generations, but in a way that conveyed the similarities we both share as well. We’re both indigenous peoples, with myself being from Ireland, and Native Americans in North America. We both share a history of colonial injustices, which is partially why we’ve maintained our friendships for so long. Recently, the Irish Lacrosse team volunteered their spot for the Iroquois Nationals team to take their place at the 2022 World Games.

PWNA: What’s your personal experience or connection to Native Americans?

DB: I have many close friends who are Native American. They range from fellow artists to lawyers and trade men. We had a tribal chairman attend our record release show in Washington, D.C. at the City Winery when we were promoting my last record. He is a member of the Little Shell Tribe in Great Falls, MT.

PWNA:  What do you want people to take away from this song?

DB:  I hope this song continues to grow the friendship between the Irish and Native American communities. In Ireland, we have so much respect for these great individuals and our strengthened relationship over time really solidifies that. It’s always my goal when writing a song to make music that connects people and tells a story from start to finish.

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Recently in Native News

This month has been full of change. As we wrap up 2020, we’re sharing our selection of notable Native headlines from the month of November. From voter turnout to celebrating Native American Heritage Month, there is a lot to discover. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest Native news headlines all year.

Navajo Nation reinstates stay-at-home order as COVID-19 cases surge via HuffPost

  • “The Navajo Nation on Monday will reinstate a stay-at-home lockdown for the entire reservation while closing tribal offices and requiring new closures and safety measures for businesses due to rising COVID-19 cases.”

Native American voters in Arizona showed up in force for Biden as COVID-19 ravaged Tribal Nations via BuzzFeed

  • “This has been a catastrophic year for the Navajo Nation. The coronavirus pandemic has spread like wildfire through the sprawling reservation, infecting thousands and killing hundreds. Still, Diné, the Navajo people, voted in huge numbers this election, and largely in favor of Joe Biden, helping turn Arizona, a longtime deep red state, blue.”

335 homes connected to Navajo Nation electric grid through CARES Act via KTAR News

  • “Funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has connected 335 homes to the electric grid in Navajo Nation. According to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, crews have been working 10-hour days to help connect the homes and more families are expected to be connected in the coming days. NTUA’s stated goal is to provide electricity for 510 families identified in the 2020 Light Up Navajo II application process.”

A record number of Native American women were elected to congress on Tuesday via Global Citizen

  • “Native American women are more represented in the US government than ever before. A record number of Native American women, nine Democrats and nine Republicans, ran for Congress in the 2020 election on Tuesday, compared to just two in 2018, according to the news site the 19th. Three of the candidates won House seats.”

How one fitness enthusiast is tackling the Navajo diabetes crisis via Men’s Health

  • “Loren Anthony’s backyard gym keeps growing. Early this year, he had a few wooden beams. When summer ended, he had railroad ties, chains, and crates, MacGyver-ing them together for deadlifts and shoulder presses. The 37-year-old grits out a workout session nearly every day, often uploading clips to his Instagram or Facebook account. It’s how he inspires his Diné people to find ways to train—and he desperately wants them to do that. “I want more people to understand that fitness is a lifestyle that isn’t a trend,” he says.”
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Celebrating Thanksgiving through Gratitude and Generosity

When the colonists faced bitter cold, illness and hunger in an unfamiliar land with few resources for survival, the Native Americans gave them life-saving help. Their generosity brought forth a bountiful harvest more than 400 years ago that served as inspiration for the modern interpretation of what Thanksgiving represents. However, the colonists’ gratitude toward Native Americans was short-lived and the Native Americans continue to face the resulting challenges, even today.

Historically, Native Americans relied on the abundance of Mother Earth to nurture their communities. Now, though, there is typically little fresh or healthy food available to Native Americans who live on the remote reservations established by the U.S. government during the Westward expansion.

With limited grocery stores, the food choices are wanting – even on Thanksgiving. This, complemented by the staggering unemployment rates and limited transportation within tribal communities, leaves fewer opportunities for prosperity than for the descendants of America’s early settlers.

For 30 years, Partnership With Native Americans has worked to ensure Native American communities are not forgotten about, even when the rest of the nation is celebrating Thanksgiving. We collaborate with tribal partners through our Northern Plains Reservation Aid and Southwest Reservation Aid programs each year to offer healthy Thanksgiving meals to those most in need.

While our Native partners on the reservations have had to adjust their distribution methods for 2020 to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, they are still dedicated to providing Thanksgiving meals to Native Elders, children and families. We are supporting the distribution of family meal bags that Elders can prepare at home with their families, in addition to a limited number of socially-distanced, congregate meals for community members. This year,  despite the challenges brought forth with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are grateful the pandemic has raised critical awareness of the realities of life across Indian Country. In the past, mainstream media often did not cover the significant impacts of an emergency on a reservation community. This year, we’ve seen an increased understanding from the media and general public relative to what it means to live remotely – oftentimes with limited food, water and connectivity.

As we continue to recognize American Indian Heritage Month, we hope that you will encourage your family to remember Native Americans as you come together – in person or digitally – to celebrate what you are most grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Here are a few ways you can celebrate Native Americans this Thanksgiving:

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Rock Your Mocs 2020

Rock Your Mocs 2020 (RYM 2020) is here!  The annual week-long campaign brings together tribes across the country – and globe – to show off their moccasins and honor Native American ancestors and Indigenous peoples as an extension of American Indian Heritage Month. RYM 2020 will be recognized Nov.15-21, 2020.

RYM was founded in 2011 by Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. She partnered with Emergence Productions – A Native American-owned event production company – to bring this cultural celebration to life. Originally celebrated on Nov. 15, RYM is now celebrated for a full week so that more people have a chance to share in the tradition.

Each year, organizers around the world host awareness events, dances, marathons, and workshops to bring communities together. These events can occur anytime during the week but with the ongoing pandemic, we recommend you check local listings for updates and follow local guidelines about social distancing and gatherings. Many participating organizations are getting creative this year, such as the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. They’ll be hosting a virtual 5K run in moccasins where participants can sign up to run (or walk) their 5K on their own time.

Participating in the RYM movement is simple – even if you don’t own moccasins! Just wear a turquoise ribbon for awareness and solidarity, take a picture of your mocs or ribbon and post it on social media, using the official hashtag, #ROCKYOURMOCS. The hashtag will allow people to follow along and see the unique designs and types of moccasins used by tribes around the world.

The RYM movement aims to inspire cultural pride and empowerment for tribes and Indigenous peoples and raise awareness of Native causes, such as the efforts of PWNA, which has served Native communities for 30 years. Being able to celebrate our culture is fantastic, and RYM is a wonderful way to support our communities, teach younger generations about our history, and bring people together to share in honoring and preserving Native American heritage.

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