The 562 Project: Seeing Native America Differently

October is National Arts & Humanities Month and a great time to check out some incredibly talented Native artists that have dedicated their life to their craft. Oral history and passing down our truth through the generations is a tradition among Native Americans. Art is another form of passing down truth, whether through photography, painting, pottery or other forms of expression and sharing.

Makita Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip), a Native photographer and author, has done so much in the spirit of educating those who view her work. Her collection – titled Project 562 – was done in honor of the 562 federally recognized tribes at the start of her journey. In 2012, she packed up her life in Washington and drove cross-country in an RV, traveling 600,000 miles and visiting more than 400 tribal nations. Her goal was to portray Native cultures and people as they are today.

Finally this year, she published her book titled 562 Project: Changing the Way We See Native America, a New York Times bestseller. In an article for The New York Times Wilbur states, “In the beginning, the work was very much about overcoming stereotypes of the leathered and feathered Indian. How do we help people to realize that Native America is complex, that everywhere we are is Native land, that there is a Native identity that is always around you, if you choose to listen and engage? It was certainly about that.”

What’s in the 562 Project?

In her collection, viewers will find stunning images of Native families and individuals. They range from a young boy of the Colville Tribe in Washington playing an electric guitar to Fawn Douglas (Las Vegas Paiute) wearing a traditional Jingle Dress in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that her grandfather helped fabricate. To us, Wilbur’s work is the epitome of the intersection between art and humanity. It’s also a great way to gain insights into the many cultures of Indigenous peoples.

Becoming More NativeAware™

One of our main goals at Partnership With Native Americans is to inform and guide people to become more NativeAware™. We are so thankful for those that do what they can to expand awareness through art and change the narrative. We encourage you all to explore Makita Wilbur’s “Project 562” and learn more about other artists who excel at their craft, such as Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (French-Cree, Shoshone and Salish) and Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota).

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How to Remember Native Americans This North Texas Giving Day

With North Texas Giving Day around the corner, we are reminded of the impact a strong community can have when everyone finds their passion, works together and gives with purpose. What are you passionate about?

At PWNA, we are passionate about helping Tribal communities become strong and self-sufficient. Unfortunately, few people are aware of the economic, educational and systemic challenges Native people face every day. But living with hardship has forced countless Native Americans to become resilient problem-solvers, and who better to address the issues than those actually facing them? That’s why we encourage your support for the Native students of North Texas!

Education is a cornerstone of economic mobility. Yet only 16% of Native Americans hold a college degree compared to 40% of their White peers. Our education services focus on retention of Native students and provide them with scholarships, welcome packs, spring care packs, laptops, mentoring and holiday care packages.

No student should miss out on college. Every student deserves access to education that helps them become catalysts for change and a brighter future. This September 21, we invite you to join us in helping Native students become the next generation of leaders. To help change a life, visit PWNA’s North Texas Giving Day page and donate.

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What is Food Sovereignty and Why is it Important to Tribes?

Put simply, food sovereignty is the right of a community to identify and control how their food is produced and distributed, and this includes the quantity and quality of what they are consuming. Often, people think food sovereignty is the assurance we have enough food to meet our physical needs, but it goes far beyond that. In fact, the food sovereignty movement dates back many years between farmers, fishermen, Indigenous peoples and those most impacted by the ongoing struggles between control over land, sea and livestock. September is Hunger Action Month, giving us the perfect platform to shed light on why food sovereignty is so important to tribes.

Factors behind food insecurity for tribes

Twenty-three percent (23%) of Native American families suffer from food insecurity today – the highest rate of any group in the U.S. This is due to many factors like climate change, droughts, natural disasters, a lack of government responsibility and more, but something often overlooked is the lack of food sovereignty for Tribes on remote reservations.

For most people, going to a grocery store and picking out your favorite items is a mundane task. You have endless options for flavors, calorie count, gluten-free, fresh or frozen, and more – all to say, the choice is yours. But, for many Native Americans, the nearest grocery store is an hour or more away; tribal lands are often food deserts devoid of healthy, fresh produce; and stressed budgets leave them turning to foods that provide volume over nutritional quality. It is because of this lack of control over our food system that nutrition-related health issues like diabetes run rampant among Native peoples. It is also why many Tribal communities are turning to gardening as a solution.

Moving tribal food sovereignty from concept to reality

Alongside Hunger Action Month, September is also National Emergency Preparedness Month. Earlier this year, PWNA partnered with Feeding America to launch the Natives Prepared Project, which will help recover traditional foodways and help tribes prepare for natural disasters, food access during disasters, and other hurdles that get in the way of providing a healthy diet to their families.  

This initiative has shown us the complex intricacies of working in Tribal communities, innovative solutions they are creating and the level of impact that adequate funding can provide in moving concept to reality. Feeding America is leading the way with their financial support, and the outcomes of the Natives Prepared Project will be truly transformative. I am hopeful other organizations will follow their lead and forge future partnerships for the betterment, advancement and deployment of food sovereignty initiatives in Indian Country.

To learn more about Native American food sovereignty or donate to help recover healthy, traditional food ways, please click here.

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Oppenheimer Overlooks Native Americans

Native Americans have been on the frontline of U.S. history from the beginning. This country is so intertwined with Native issues that stories can hardly be told without a thread of impact to Indian Country. But “Oppenheimer” missed the opportunity.

Native American thought leader on "Oppenheimer"

I like Cillian Murphy as an actor and am sure he helped “Oppenheimer” become one of the top grossing WWII biopic films domestically. It’s a boost the film industry needs amid their writer and actor strikes. Unfortunately, the film leaves out some greater truths, the American legacy of developing the first atomic weapon and the role of Native Americans.

The impact of mining for enough uranium to create the atomic bomb is well documented. In fact, the movie was released just five days after the 44th anniversary of the Church Rock uranium spill. That one spill poured 94 million gallons of radioactive waste into the Pureco River. Radioactivity was 7,000 times above the level deemed safe for drinking water. This substantially impacted Arizona, New Mexico and 14 areas around Church Rock – a chapter of the Navajo Nation – and is still poisoning Navajo lands 44 years later.

Uranium Mining on Native American Lands

Few people realize just how much uranium mining has been done on Indian lands. Even today, tribal citizens have a high incidence of radioactive exposure, health/birth defects, and cancer correlated to mining site contamination. Since the 1940’s, the mining companies and Federal government have done little to clean up, protect or compensate Tribal communities from exposure to the tailings left behind.

The Yakima, Colville, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, Kalispell, Umatilla, Klickitat, Havasupai, Paiute, Navajo, Hopi, Western Shoshone, Oglala Lakota and Cherokee all have been harmed by mining. It has a long-lasting impact on the environment, the ecosystem and Native families.

Every Native Family Has a Story

It’s rare to find a Native family that mining hasn’t impacted. For my family, it’s my wife’s second cousin, Bobby McKelvey (Cherokee). He was in Utah during the original atomic bomb testing by J. Robert Oppenheimer. After having served our country in the Navy, Bobby developed brain cancer. He received the limited medical treatment available and was sent home to die. Bobby was only 23.

When sharing their Hollywood story, my hope is that the makers of “Oppenheimer” can find space for some Native American context and help America become more Native Aware™.

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Real Native History Won’t Be Taught in Schools This Year

Children across the country are heading back to school early this year. They’ll see their friends, sport new clothes and backpacks, meet new teachers and learn new subjects. But one thing most kids won’t learn is real Native American history. They will learn history from a non-Native perspective, and the history that shaped the conditions facing tribes today will be omitted.

Just ask your kids this: Why did the U.S. government establish Indian reservations? Most likely, they won’t know the answer… that the U.S. wanted to rid the country of its “Indian problem” and open Native lands to settlers. So, President Andrew Jackson signed The Indian Removal Act in 1830. This ushered in a forced displacement of tribes from their ancestral homelands – far away to regions “reserved” only for Indians – thus, the term reservations. The tribes relocated peacefully to protect their women and children. The problem is, the 500+ treaties they signed were then broken by the U.S. government. The settlers kept expanding westward, so the government took most of the reservation lands too, relocating the tribes once again to even less-desirable lands. Overall, the land once “reserved” for tribes shrunk to just 2.3% of the land originally promised by the United States.  

Here’s another question for your kids: How did the U.S. decide where to locate the reservations? The answer… the U.S. put reservations in areas it regarded as unfit for settlers – unsuitable for agriculture and isolated from towns, transportation and the growing economy. These barren reservation lands play a major role in the food insecurity that affects 1 in 4 Native families today.

Act Now:  Take our History Quiz to unravel misconceptions about
the “free ride” and funding for Native Americans.

Speaking of schools:  What happened with the Indian boarding schools? The U.S. government ran Indian boarding schools under the motto “Kill the Indian, Save the man.” In short, they wanted Native kids to be like them. The U.S. government forcibly removed children from their families, and when families refused, food rations were withheld. Boarding school leaders abused Native children, forbidding them from speaking their language or wearing traditional clothing, cutting off their braids and using them for slave labor. If you’ve followed the news these past two years, you know many of these kids were never seen by their families again, and many graves have been discovered at Indian boarding schools.

Here’s one last question for your kids: If you were to visit a reservation today, what would you see? They might say teepees or Indians with long hair or even ponies. Some of that still exists, but reservations today are both traditional and modern communities. So, you would see proud people focusing on family and preserving their culture and traditions, which are unique to each tribe. There are 574 tribes with federal recognition in the U.S. and hundreds more that are state-recognized or not recognized at all. At the same time, in the reservation communities PWNA serves, poverty is the norm. It’s visibly difficult to see. But symptoms like these make it clear: a lack of infrastructure (clean drinking water, internet), lack of access (jobs, grocery stores, retail shopping), and modest or substandard homes.

Without local stores, many Native kids have a tough time getting school supplies too, and the first day of school will look different for them. So, as you send your kids off to school this month, instill in them a willingness to become more NativeAware™. To support Native kids for back to school, please donate today.  

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Increasing Food Security with Olo for Good & Tides Foundation

The need for access to healthy food and clean drinking water on remote reservations cannot be overstated. Thanks to a generous gift of $150,000 from Olo For Good (Olo) and Tides Foundation (Tides), PWNA will increase food security in marginalized reservation communities across the U.S.

The defining characteristic of food insecurity is reduced food intake and disruption of normal eating patterns due to lack of money and other resources. This happens periodically to 23% of Native American families. With water insecurity, the overriding issue is the absence of adequate government funding to make good on treaty obligations. This leaves about 10% of Native Americans without access to safe tap water, hauling water to their homes and rationing it for daily use.

About Olo and Tides

Olo is part of the Pledge 1% movement, committing one percent of their time, product and equity to sustainable social impact. Olo first teamed up with PWNA in 2022 to distribute fresh produce and ancestral foods on the reservations. These traditional foods like bison, mutton, squash, corn and beans are healthy and preserve a cultural connection. Tides Foundation partners to help nonprofits accelerate the pace of social change and social justice. All of us at PWNA are ever grateful for their care and support to improve quality of life in Indian Country.

Act Now:  Help PWNA deliver more food and water to the reservations and build skills for self-reliance.

Using the Gift

PWNA will use their gift for immediate relief and skill-building. After we distribute ancestral foods to residents, Native chefs will host demonstrations using similar foods. This will leave behind the knowledge and skills to prepare healthy traditional meals and embrace food as medicine. Funding some food-related Community Investment Projects (CIPs) will also create a sustainable impact in Tribal communities. Projects such as food preservation training and gardening increase access to healthy foods and help address health disparities like diabetes.

Native Americans are in a constant battle against food insecurity, so we are carefully selecting the communities to be served.

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Protect Your Pets This Summer With Water and Fire Safety

There’s a reason why July is National Pet Hydration Awareness Month. For the United States, July is the hottest month overall. For most states (except Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas) July is when summer temperatures start to peak, humidity is highest, and the temptation to be outdoors comes with the risk of not only sunburn but dehydration and overhydration.

It’s only common sense to keep plenty of water available for pets, whether indoors or outdoors. They also need clean water and clean water bowls, and pet owners need to keep an eye out for any warning signs of dehydration and overhydration. If your dog demonstrates these symptoms, they may be dehydrated:

  • Lethargic with lower energy levels
  • Dry-looking eyes
  • Dry, tacky nose and gums
  • Panting or loss of appetite
  • Loss of skin elasticity (Pinch the skin between the shoulders or on the back of the neck together; if it springs back into place, your pet is well-hydrated.)

“If your dog has any of the symptoms of dehydration listed above, persistent vomiting or you suspect heatstroke, take [them] to the vet immediately; this is considered a medical emergency,” according to Dr. Jerry Klein of the American Kennel Club (AKC). The vet can help build up fluids and prevent further loss.

Too much water is also a risk. If your four-legends can’t get enough of your pool or garden hose, they may be ingesting too much water and suffering from water intoxication. In this case, you may notice:

  • Bloating
  • Salivating excessively
  • Glazed eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures or even a coma

National Pet Hydration Awareness Month was started to ensure the safety of domestic animals, but hydration is a particular concern in the remote Tribal communities PWNA serves. Some communities have an overpopulation of stray animals – and strays need hydration just as much as household pets. Yet access to running water is not always a given on the reservations. For instance, 30-percent of Navajo residents must haul water to their homes. Other basics that are not a given on the reservations include air conditioning and local veterinary service. That’s why PWNA’s Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) program supports animal caregivers with essential supplies and services like food, bowls, spay/neuter procedures and vaccinations.  

Act Now:  Subscribe to our blog by July 31st for a free emergency sticker like the one shown here, and give to RAR to help dogs and cats on the reservations.

July 15 is also National Pet Fire Safety Day. Be sure your family emergency plan includes your furry friends in case a fire occurs. As the American Human Society reports, more than half a million pets are impacted by house fires every year, with 1,000 fires started by pets themselves by chewing on loose wires, pulling lamp cords, or disrupting electric plugs. Just make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your pets safe.

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Tackling Water Insecurity in Tribal Communities

Do you take clean water for granted? If we asked the average person on any given day, they would say ‘no’. This is largely because most Americans do not have a water issue; however, that is not the case for Indian Country. Most Americans do not have to think about where the water to cook, drink, do laundry, bathe, water plants, animals or livestock comes from. Access to clean water is a basic human right, and yet, up to 48% of households on Native American reservations do not have this precious resource. For many Native people, this means traveling many miles just to access water and haul it to their home.

More recently, the Water is Life movement, or mni wiconi, brought the importance of water to the forefront. There have been legal challenges, protests and social movements around the use of water for decades. Water is sacred and growing in scarcity, which will continue to be a concern.

Heather Tanana (Diné), a research professor with the University of Utah law school’s Stegner Center and a member of the Navajo Nation Bar, noted in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that only one in every three Navajo homes has running water. In eastern Arizona, 75% of people on the Hopi Reservation rely on water that is contaminated with excessive levels of arsenic. Drought, competition and decades-long water litigation are adding to the challenge.

Living without water access is hard. People are forced to deal with the time, effort, inconvenience and added cost of hauling water for use at home. They have to think about their water needs in advance – and then ration it so they don’t run out at an inopportune time. Imagine trying to drink your 64 ounces of water every day under these conditions.

Native families without running water also face the risk associated with using rainwater. In addition, the lack of clean water is also directly linked to the COVID-19 fatalities across Indigenous communities, especially for the Navajo.

Living without ready access to water is unacceptable and only highlights the core inequities and systemic racism that still exists in this country. A 2019 report on EPA data called “Watered Down Justice” confirmed there is unequal access to safe drinking water, and this affects communities of color the most. In Feb. of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that “tribes have right to as much water as they need to establish a permanent homeland, and those rights stretch back at least as long as any given reservation has existed.”

In honor of National Hydration Day on June 23, we encourage you to learn more about water insecurity and to hold government officials accountable for providing this basic human right to all Americans.

Take Action Now: Read “Watered Down Justice” to learn more about water inequity, and give the gift of clean drinking water to those who need it most: Native Americans.  

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Revitalizing Traditional Native Foodways and Health

On the heels of World Hunger Day I’m thinking about Indigenous health and food insecurity, which is a precursor to hunger. Native Americans pass down information through the generations by word of mouth. Elders teach community members how to prepare wild game and fish, forage for edible plants or use them for medicine, and how to raise and preserve food.

But did you know that the displacement of tribes during U.S. colonization and the westward expansion completely disrupted traditional Native foodways? The tribes were relocated to remote and often barren lands with limited agricultural promise. In addition, settlers killed off the bison to near extinction, so the tribes could no longer subsist as hunters and gatherers. Instead, they were suddenly dependent upon government-furnished foods that were high in fat, sugar and starch – and along with this, diabetes became prevalent in Tribal communities for the first time ever.

This may sound like something that happened long ago, but the impact persists today. A low-income area with a third of the population living more than 10 miles from the nearest grocery store is considered a low-access rural food desert by the USDA – and that’s exactly what we see on so many reservations. The norm is to be within a mile of the grocery store, but only 26% of Native communities are (compared to 59% nationwide). In addition, outside investment in reservation communities and business is low, so jobs are scarce.

The end result? One in four (23.5%) Native American families is facing food insecurity.  Not only does food insecurity impact school readiness among preschool children, but it helps fuel diabetes. American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) adults are nearly three times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. AIAN youth aged 10-19 have the second highest incidence rate of Type 2 diabetes in the U.S.  So, you can see how the disruption of the 1800s still impacts tribes today.

Take Action:  Download our fact sheet to learn more about gardening as a solution to food insecurity.

Fortunately, Tribal communities are rallying around their Elders, historians, foragers and ranchers to revitalize traditional Native foodways. They are sharing ancestral foods and knowledge tied to their cultures and the concept that Food is Medicine for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual strength. Tribal communities are implementing intergenerational gardens, drying and preserving food in traditional ways, foraging for locally available foods like their ancestors did, and incorporating fresh produce and bison back into their diets. Professionals who serve congregate meals in Tribal communities are also seeking healthy nutrition training.

PWNA is pleased to support all these efforts to improve Native foodways and health. You can help too by donating to our Northern Plains Reservation Aid program.

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May 19 is Native Nonprofit Day: You Can Help Build a Brighter Future

I shared earlier this year about how the continued need and challenges in remote Tribal communities go beyond the giving season and November, which is Native American Heritage Month. Coming up on May 19 is one more way to remember Native Americans – it’s Native Nonprofit Day!

2023 is the second annual Native Nonprofit Day hosted by the Native Ways Federation and serves two aims: increasing support for Native-led nonprofits and helping America understand why #giveNative is so important.

Last year, PWNA saw corporations and foundations stepping up corporate social responsibility for Native causes, such as Google, General Motors, Boeing, Levi Strauss, Synchrony Bank and Olo for Good. This investment in Indian Country is a step in the right direction as businesses and individuals learn how rural Tribal communities are facing the lowest social equity in the country.  

Overall, less than 1% of all U.S. charitable giving goes to Native causes (four-tenths of one percent to be exact) – even as 1 in 4 Native families are facing food insecurity and only 16% of Native Americans hold a college degree, compared to the 40% of Whites that do. For funding to be fair and relevant, non-Native organizations need to be more NativeAware®.

In this recent Public Television (PTV) short, I explain some of the barriers that limit Native giving, ranging from staffing to cultural norms and business misperceptions. To learn more, I encourage you to visit our PTV landing page.

This Native Nonprofit Day, do something different. Take the time to learn about the life-changing work of PWNA or other Native nonprofits on the forefront of critical issues such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and their fight to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act or the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and their fight for Missing and Murdered Indian Women (MMIW). Participate in our Bingo learning game, pledge to be more NativeAware® and donate to support Native causes.

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