Two weeks ago, more than 800 NFL players took the field wearing custom cleats that reflected a cause important to them, as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign. From youth empowerment to cancer awareness, players chose to champion causes near and dear to them. For Eli Ankou (#54), a defensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars, that cause is supporting Native American communities.
Less than 6 percent of participating charities in the campaign support social equity causes and we were humbled to learn that Eli chose to support Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). We recently caught up with Eli and learned more about his experience with the campaign, his Native American heritage, and why he’s passionate about helping Native American communities. He also shared why he feels Native Americans are underrepresented across North America. Today, we’re sharing part one of our two-part Q&A series with Eli:
Eli Ankou Interview, Part I
PWNA: Is this your first time participating in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign?
ELI: No, it is not my first time. Last year, I did a commemoration to U.S. Navy Seals that resonated a lot. This year, I went into a more personal matter. Being Native American myself. I was trying to find a good organization that I believed served a good cause and would give me a sense of purpose.
PWNA: Do you have a military background yourself?
EA: I do not but I have a few friends who are in the military and I know how much sacrifice it takes for them to be in that position, so I wanted to show my respect.
PWNA: So, you had a positive experience with the cleats campaign last year?
ELI: Oh, yes, it was a good experience. There was a lot of positive feedback with that particular cause and the cleats. It was definitely good overall.
PWNA: You mentioned your family has ties to the Ojibway. Can you tell us a little more about this?
ELI: My family is from northern Ontario, Canada (near the French River). My grandmother is from the Dokis First Nation (traditionally known as Kikendawt), and she is Ojibway. My mother always raised us to cherish and embrace our culture. Growing up, there was a lot of implementation of the culture into my day-to-day life, and we would go to pow wows pretty much all the time — it was part of who we were.
(Did you know? Dokis Bay is part of the greater Ojibwe Nation. The reservation community has about 250 residents and roughly 90 homes and is part of the Voyageur route for the week-long cycling tour from Ottawa to Quebec City. Dokis Bay is also home to the important hydro Okikendawt Project.)
PWNA: Are you a traditional dancer?
ELI: I am not a traditional dancer but did participate with my family members when the dancers took breaks from competitions at the powwows.
PWNA: You mentioned you were looking for a good Native American charity. What ultimately led you to choose Partnership With Native Americans?
ELI: I wanted to find an organization that supports Native American kids being active in their communities but that also does more to directly help communities in a material way, more tangible in terms of actual resources. I noticed PWNA supports youth and takes a tangible focus, as well as offering courses and education for sustained agriculture and traditional nutrition.
**Tune in tomorrow for the second part of our Q&A with Eli Ankou, where we’ll discuss more of Eli’s concerns with underrepresented Native American communities and his message to all North Americans.
As we begin to embark on our holiday celebrations and look toward the new year, it’s important to remember that the need for charitable donations is constant, not seasonal. That said, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the donations made during the holiday season as these contributions generally account for a significant portion of their annual charitable revenue. For donors, this is also the last opportunity to donate before the end of the calendar year if you’re planning to claim your charitable deductions on your tax returns.
With the help of your gifts so far, PWNA has been able to aid reservation communities in need throughout the Northern Plains and Southwest all year long. For the holidays, more than 18,000 children and nearly 10,000 Elders will be receiving stockings filled with essentials, making their holidays a little brighter. An equally vital holiday need being filled are the more than 1,700 holiday meals that will be provided to Native American communities with the help of our program partners. These are only a few of the special holiday moments made possible with the help of year-round and year-end contributions to PWNA and our programs.
In the spirit of the season, we hope you’ll remember the critical needs of those living in remote, geographically-isolated Native communities, not only during the holidays but all year long. Your support allows us to continue our work improving the lives of Native Americans and allows you to be among those who fund the one percent of all charitable giving that goes to support Native causes.
The holidays are here and communities of different cultures from around the world will be partaking in dozens of celebrations. Historically, indigenous people did not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. Yet, like other Americans of diverse cultures, many of today’s Native American families incorporate an array of Christmas celebrations and customs during this festive season.
Some Native Americans question the tradition of Thanksgiving, and others feel the Christian holidays have a checkered place in indigenous culture and instead enjoy their own celebrations this time of year. Many of us, however, appreciate the good spirit in the nature of Christmas and a lot of Native communities across the Northern Plains and Southwest participate in the holiday season.
In fact, approximately 110 reservation communities served by PWNA will receive gifts or meals this holiday season, brightening the holidays for nearly 30,000 Native American Elders, families and children. The programs in these communities offer nutrition support, health screenings, education services and more. As partners of PWNA, they’re able to enhance their services by distributing much-needed items provided to them by PWNA, such as food, blankets, toiletries and holiday stockings to help spread holiday cheer.
Winter weather can be cruel for many reservations and rural communities in general, but the holiday season is recognized as a time of coming together and giving, especially to those who need it most. Although not traditionally ours, after years of new tradition we’ve adopted the Christmas season as a time to join with our families and friends and share in our people and culture.
As part of our continued effort to inform readers of the news and culture in Native American communities across the country, we’ve compiled our favorite stories from the month of November, also American Indian Heritage Month. Stay up to date and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more headlines.
ASU holds panel and preview screening for Native American Heritage Month via Downtown Devil
- “In commemoration of Native American heritage month, ASU’s American Indian Social Work Student Association hosted a panel discussion and preview screening of the film “Blood Memory.” The film, an independent documentary and outreach project directed by Drew Nicholas, revisits the history of forced separation and the Indian Child Welfare Act during the American Indian Adoption Era. Jerry Dearly, a member of the Oglala Lakota… began the evening with a prayer. Afterwards, attendees were shown a preview of the never-before-seen movie, which followed the story of Sandy White Hawk, the founding director of the First Nations Repatriation Institute. Removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives at 18 months old, she was adopted by a Christian mission couple.”
Native American Farmers are growing a sustainable market via Civil Eats
- “Thirty miles south of Phoenix, green fields of alfalfa and pima cotton stretch toward a triple-digit sun. Hundreds of yellow butterflies dance above the purple flowers that dapple the tops of the young alfalfa stalks—to expert eyes, the flowers signal that the plants are heat-stressed and should be harvested soon. Gila River Farms near Sacaton has been growing alfalfa and high-end cotton—which is named after the Pima people who inhabited the Gila and Salt river valleys—for 50 years. That’s a long time by current standards but merely a flash considering that the roots of Arizona’s agriculture reach back thousands of years.”
Butler County school board votes to phase out ‘stereotyping’ Native American mascot via Cincinnati Enquirer
- “A Butler County school district that has spent more than a decade debating a controversial Native American mascot will alter its name. The Talawanda Board of Education voted 3-2 Monday night to change the district’s mascot name from “Braves” to “Brave” and phase out its associated imagery. The decision came more than five years after Native American students in the district first requested such action be taken, according to a report by the “Talawanda Branding Committee,” whose members studied the issue and presented findings to the school board…”
- “Fifth-graders at Brass Community School went right to the source for an immersive project last week on Native Americans. Instead of mimicking stereotypes often seen in old movies or television shows, the students learned how Native Americans [live] and [work] from experts in the field. Teacher Andrea Bell-Myers consulted with David O’Connor, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Native American coordinator, as well as the Indian Community School in Milwaukee and a pair of Brass teachers with Native American ancestry before undertaking the project.”
With so much going on this time of year, it’s easy to overlook the needs of those around us. Giving Tuesday, recognized on Nov. 27, marks the charitable start of the holiday season, following two of the busiest shopping days of the year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – as well as national Native American Heritage Day. Giving Tuesday reminds us to give back to others through charities, organizations and events this holiday season.
Nonprofit programs go to great lengths to provide humanitarian aid and fill the gaps not being met by the government or for-profit industry. They do everything from providing services to the disabled to giving shelter to the homeless to supporting education and food banks.
For PWNA, Giving Tuesday is a reminder of gratitude for caring donors and their support for Native American families in need. With less than one percent of charitable giving going toward Native causes, I join PWNA in encouraging you to remember Native Americans in your holiday giving this year. While there are many reasons to give back to Native peoples, here are three important ones:
- Education: Programs that support Native students, such as the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), are essential to ensuring Native youth have access to college funding so they can better their lives and improve the quality of life in their communities. Without scholarship funding, many Native students would be unable to attend college. In fact, lack of access to higher education is one of the biggest issues facing many Native communities today.
- Joblessness: Many reservation communities are small and remote and don’t have enough jobs for community members, so families face hard times. Those who find themselves in this situation are often unable to relocate yet are still in need of food, clothing and other basics and this is often more stressful around the holidays. PWNA has programs that provide aid in the form of food and clothing, as well as disaster relief, holiday stockings and supplies for animal care and rescue.
- Cultural Preservation: There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. (and many more not federally recognized), and some of them are at risk of losing their cultural Identity. Nonprofits such as PWNA and others provide supplies and resources to assist Native programs that are nurturing and preserving indigenous cultural traditions, history and languages. This is critical to keeping our history alive, strengthening our cultural identities, and promoting healthy Native communities.
This year, don’t let your holiday giving default to the usual suspects. Instead, we hope you’ll give to Native-serving charities such as PWNA that support the impoverished communities here in our own country. Participating in Giving Tuesday is the perfect time to remember Native Americans. You can make a gift today at www.nativepartnership.org/pwnagivingtuesday.
November celebrations embrace Native American Heritage Month, national Native American Heritage Day, Veteran’s Day and the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). For federal and military employees pledging your CFC support for charities in the coming year, and others interested in Native education, what a great way to remember Native Americans.
This month we’re recognizing Native American Heritage Month, and today we’re sharing this story on a Native American scholar assisted through the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of PWNA.
Originally from Chinle, Arizona, Alison Watson is Navajo. She attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, earning a B.S. in Biology, with minors in Chemistry and Anthropology. And today, Alison is pursuing her Ph.D. at University of Arizona.
She shared that a little sibling rivalry to see who can get their master’s first keeps her going. When she can’t make it home to see family, she remembers education and passing it on to her people is worth it.
In her words: “My dream of college would not have been possible without AIEF. Their scholarships helped me – I was not distracted by financial burdens at school – and this also helped my parents and siblings. I am so grateful for the past four years of AIEF support. Ahe’hee (thank you in Navajo). I hope you will remember Native students like me need and appreciate your support.”
PWNA applauds Alison Watson as a committed student and role model for Native American youth. For those of you participating in the Combined Federal Campaign, look for more on Alison and our AIEF video under CFC charity code 54766.
Last night, PBS aired the final installment of its newly released four-part docuseries, “Native America.” Timed around the celebration of American Indian Heritage Month, “Native America” uncovers research and studies centuries in the making and reminds us that pre-Columbus civilizations of indigenous Americans were some of the most advanced in human history.
The series is by veteran producer Julianna Brannum of the Comanche Nation and documentary filmmaker Gary Glassman who is known for his films with NOVA, Discovery Channel, History Channel and BBC. “Native America” is unlike many other documentaries as it explores America’s first peoples before European settlers arrive. Here are our four biggest takeaways from the series:
- Native Americans have long held a connection to the spiritual and the earth. Episode I, From Caves to Cosmos, explores who America’s First Peoples were and where they lived. Archeologists take viewers to New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon to learn more about the Hopi and their origin story.
- Native Americans inspired modern-day democracy. Episode II, Nature to Nations, visits the Pacific Northwest and upstate New York to map how Native American nations created some of the most sophisticated governments, evolving to democracies. This episode points out just how critical Native Americans were to the development of modern-day American democracy, inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy of the Haudenosaunee Nation.
- Native Americans built the first cities and pyramids. Episode III, Cities of the Sky, takes a closer look at how ancient Native Americans built their structures to align with the sun, moon and stars. The episode pays special attention to Cahokia, an ancient city discovered east of St. Louis, MI. Viewers may be surprised to know it was home to one of the largest pyramids in the world, older than the Egyptian pyramids.
- Native Americans used ancient traditions to combat conquest. Episode IV, New World Rising, highlights the Comanche empire across the Southwest and how they and their horses as allies resisted colonization. Ultimately, their practices in Native American foods, medicines and engineering were critical to their survival and today, they continue to preserve these ancestral beliefs and practices.
“Native America” is recommended to anyone who would like to learn more about the early and enduring contributions of indigenous people pre-America. The entire series is available for free online. For additional education, be sure to also catch PWNA’s short documentary on PBS that discusses food insecurity and a return to Native foods in tribal communities.
Last week, more than 110 million Americans cast ballots to elect new members of the United States Congress as part of the midterm election. Their votes resulted in many ‘firsts,’ including the first Native American women ever elected to Congress. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland are among the 35 newly elected women who will represent their districts in the House of Representatives. A record-breaking 102 women will be serving in the House next year.
Sharice is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and will represent the state of Kansas in Congress. She was raised by a single mother, who spent more than 20 years in the Army, and attended Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas. She also earned a law degree from Cornell Law School and served as a White House Fellow. Sharice is an expert on economic and community development in Native communities and has worked with tribes to create economic development programs, opportunities and initiatives.
Deb is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and will represent the state of New Mexico in Congress. Deb’s parents served in the military for many years. She earned a law degree from University of New Mexico Law School while raising her daughter as a single mother. As the first Chairwoman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, she governs business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico and advocates for policies that support earth-friendly business practices.
As an advocate for self-determination of the tribes, PWNA recognizes the historical significance of Deb and Sharice’s achievements. Earlier this year, PWNA launched its inaugural 4 Directions Development Program (4D) for Strong Native Women, helping to develop stronger female leaders throughout Indian Country, with support of the PepsiCo Foundation. Electing Native American leaders into Congress gives a voice to the unique barriers Native communities face, while also introducing a new perspective and solutions to address shared concerns across their districts.
Now more than ever, states across the U.S. are establishing and celebrating a Native American Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day, many of them in place of Columbus Day. On a national scale, November is a time for all of us to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month.
Designated by Congress in 1992, American Indian Heritage Month is recognized annually by federal agencies, nonprofits and other organizations to honor Native American culture and heritage.
This November, PWNA encourages you to participate in our #RememberNativeAmericans campaign and learn more about the myths vs. realities facing many tribes today. Many people believe the U.S. government meets the needs of Native Americans under the treaties — including free housing, healthcare, education, and food; freedom from taxes; and distribution of government checks every month. The reality is that many federal treaty obligations are unmet and almost always underfunded, and many Native families struggle economically.
Join us throughout November to learn more about funding for tribes and help spread the word. Take our Myth vs. Reality quiz to test your knowledge about Native history and the reservations. Take action by Nov. 22 and be entered for a chance to win a giveaway prize drawing.