#LandBack After 350 Years for the Rappahannock Tribe

One of the greatest initiatives in play right now for Tribal communities is the grassroots #LandBack movement, with Native citizens and allies advocating for the return of lands wrongfully taken from the tribes. Also helping the cause, the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations established after the Cobell settlement of 2009 provided funding to consolidate fractionated tribal lands and return land ownership to rightful parties. In my region, one group benefiting from the #LandBack movement is the Rappahannock Tribe.

Jerry Fortune, Rappahannock Tribe

After working nearly 100 years for federal recognition that was finally secured in 2018, the Rappahannocks recently celebrated another historic win. This time, it’s the reacquisition of 465 acres of their sacred ancestral homelands, thanks to a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

The Rappahannocks lived along the recently reacquired Fones Cliffs in at least three villages —Wecuppom, Matchopick and Pissacoac— before European settlers seized the land some 350 years ago. One of the most important places to the tribe, Fones Cliffs are a four-mile stretch along the eastern side of the Rappahannock River, about 37 miles south of Fredericksburg and about 50 miles from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. The tribe can trace their history to this area decades before Captain John Smith arrived on their shores in 1607.

“My people have lived here since the beginning,” said Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson. “Rappahannocks would have been able to look down both sides of the river here and see potential enemies or guests coming before they ever got here. And so, this was a very strategic place for them to live, for many reasons.” Now centuries later, they’re looking for artifacts from the three villages once located there. “It’s a race against time, development and climate change.”

Chief Richardson said, “We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the Tribe. With eagles being prayer messengers, this area where they gather has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual importance.” The tribe plans to build walking trails along the river and a replica of a 16th-century village where tribal members can educate the public about their history.

Native land buyback is no small feat for any tribe. PWNA president & CEO Joshua Arce discusses the complicated process of land buyback to regain possession of land the government previously took from the tribes, often breaking treaties in the process and then giving it to non-Native landowners.

“We just want to be back here,” says Chief Richardson. “And we want our children to be back here and to learn about the cliffs. We’re not trying to take everybody’s land up. We’re not interested in that. We just want our portion. A little equity goes around a long way.” We couldn’t agree more.

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Summer Care Packages Help Native Elders Combat Harsh Southwest Realities

The scorching desert sun, substandard housing without air conditioning and a lack of safe drinking water are just a few of the hazardous conditions faced by Native American Elders living on rural reservation lands each summer.

Life on remote reservations can be harsh. Jobs are scarce and grocery stores and health care are often hours away. During the Southwest summers, severe heat, drought and fires mean many cannot leave their homes for months at a time.

Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) supports reservations that deal with frequent environmental disasters such as floods, blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. Wildfires such as the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires recently making their way toward Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico spread at an alarming and dangerous rate. Some reservation communities also experience acute or chronic contaminated-water emergencies.

In addition, 35-85% of Native Americans living on the reservations PWNA serves are jobless, and Elders often care for their grandchildren — struggling to meet their own needs and the needs of little ones.

In the face of these conditions, PWNA is preparing emergency shipments of Summer Care Packages. Filled to the brim with necessities like first aid supplies, personal care items, baby supplies, batteries, water and nonperishable food, these packages can be a lifeline for Native American Elders.  

These Summer Care Packages are part of PWNA’s Emergency Services offerings. PWNA provides other seasonal services for Native Elders and is quick to respond with disaster relief for the tribes in and beyond our normal service area. You can donate here to help ensure Native Elders can withstand the harsh realities of summer in the Southwest.

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Olo for Good Donates $150,000 for PWNA to Distribute Ancestral Foods

Olo for Good was launched in 2021 by parent company Olo, a leading open SaaS platform for restaurants, to integrate social impact and responsibility into their business. With Olo for Good, they joined the Pledge 1% movement, committing one percent of their time, product and equity to initiatives that foster sustainable contributions in communities where their employees live, work and serve.

As part of their 2022 Pledge 1% commitment, an Olo employee nominated PWNA and we received a generous grant of $150,000 from the Olo for Good Fund, a Donor-Advised Fund of Tides Foundation, to support food sovereignty and safety in Native communities. PWNA will use this grant in two ways – to support our first-ever ancestral foods distribution and to distribute Watts of Love portable solar lights, both to Tribal communities in the Northern Plains and Southwest regions of the U.S.

Native Americans suffer from the highest rates of food insecurity, poverty, diet-related diseases and other challenges due to historic and present-day systemic and institutional inequities. One out of every four Indigenous families experiences food insecurity, compared to one in nine Americans overall.

While it is imperative to improve food access, it is also important to explore complementary solutions, especially those that promote food sovereignty for Native Americans. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods as well as the right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Tribal communities have begun to revisit solutions rooted in food sovereignty as an answer to food insecurity

Among Native Americans, there is a strong desire for stewardship of cultural resources to increase access to traditional foods, as well as strengthen skills for self-reliance, including support for home food production. For many Native Americans, food sovereignty is the ultimate long-term solution to eliminate food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Their recommendation is that anyone working with tribes strive to support the Native food sovereignty movement by increasing funding for the purchase of traditional, locally sourced foods like bison, wild rice, salmon, catfish and blue cornmeal.

Thanks to this grant from the Olo for Good fund, PWNA will be able to purchase Native ancestral foods from Native producers and distribute them to the Native communities for the first time in our organization’s history. Alongside PWNA’s Native-led, peer-to-peer ancestral foods training that teaches individuals how to prepare traditional Indigenous meals, this ancestral foods distribution will complement food sovereignty efforts in the Tribal communities PWNA serves.

PWNA will also use a small portion of the grant to purchase and distribute portable solar lights from Watts of Love. Often, Native homes lack sufficient electricity and lighting infrastructure, increasing the use of costly solutions and decreasing the amount of time available to tribal citizens for daily activities. Insufficient lighting also increases the danger of walking outside after dark. The portable solar lights PWNA plans to distribute will address all these issues of savings, safety and productivity. The Watts of Love portable solar lights can also support emergency response efforts on the reservations, affording a bright “strobe” light effect for easier rescues and helping emergency responders mobilize more efficiently at night.

This generous funding will truly support Native priorities. PWNA is humbled and grateful for Olo’s support and dedication to advancing meaningful aspects of racial and ethnic equity and inclusion, while also decreasing food insecurity and increasing safety in diverse communities.

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The First Ever Native Nonprofit Day is May 20: Become More NativeAware

This May 20, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) joins other Native nonprofits to promote Native Nonprofit Day. Organized through the Native Ways Federation, Native Nonprofit Day is aimed at raising awareness of the importance of supporting Native causes and reducing the funding inequities that Native nonprofits face.

Did you know that less than 1% of all charitable giving in the U.S. supports Native causes – even while Native Americans face some of the greatest inequities in America? And why is this? In part, it’s because foundations and corporations lack Native representation within their grant or corporate social responsibility groups. They also lack knowledge about working in Indian Country, are concerned about navigating cultural sensitivity and don’t always believe Native-led nonprofits can deliver on grant initiatives.

After more than 30 years of working in Indian Country, PWNA knows Native-led nonprofits can deliver on large and small grants. They are meeting their missions every day. We also know:

  • For funding to be fair and relevant, non-Native organizations need to be more NativeAware™.
  • Native-led organizations have the solutions to the issues our communities are facing. We know our strengths and are best positioned to help our people.

Native-led nonprofits maintain at least 51% Native Americans on their Board and leadership team. PWNA, which is Native-led and Native-serving, has 100% Native American representation on its Board as well as Native senior executives. We focus on immediate relief and long-term solutions in underserved reservation communities… issues such as food insecurity, safe drinking water and education barriers… and we serve as an intermediary to connect outside resources to Tribal communities for greater impact.

On this first ever Native Nonprofit Day, we are encouraging foundations, individuals and other allies to learn about the groundbreaking work in the Tribal communities PWNA serves, as well as those served by American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), Native American Rights Fund and other Native-led nonprofits.  

The Native Nonprofit Day giving campaign began on May 1 and ends on May 20. Please sign up for emails to become more NativeAware™ and donate to support Native causes.

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Help Ease Food Insecurity with Food & Water for Tribal Communities

One of the worst feelings is uncertainty about whether you can put food on the table for your family. Communities that are facing geographic isolation, limited availability of jobs, and now supply chain issues behind the soaring food prices are feeling more challenged than ever.

PWNA’s Food & Water services help improve food access, bringing immediate relief for Native American Elders, families and children. We assist dozens of tribal food program partners to help address nutritional needs for thousands of people year-round, and especially Native American Elders, by:

  • Supplying food boxes to food pantries
  • Providing staple foods to Elderly Nutrition Centers and soup kitchens preparing hot meals for Elders
  • Providing breakfast foods for Native Elders, such as eggs, fruit, cereal, milk, oats and fruit
  • Distributing emergency food boxes to Elders
  • Delivering bottled water with most food deliveries
  • Supplying community-wide meals during major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • Supporting gardening through tilling and training (aka our Project Grow service)

We are sensitive to the fact that, even pre-pandemic, low food security was a factor for one in four Native American households. This means not enough food quality, variety, or desirability of dietary intake for a healthy lifestyle. Add to this out-of-control food prices, the sparse grocery stores on some reservations, and the limited availability of food on convenience store shelves and it is a lot to bear.

Coinciding with the lack of access to healthy food is the high rate of nutrition-related disease such as diabetes and obesity, even among youth. Contaminated drinking water is also an issue year-round in many of the communities that Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) serves.

Despite the many food banks that operate within reservation areas, a study by America’s Second Harvest shows that most lack an adequate supply of food to meet demand.

PWNA is committed to improving food access and supporting food sovereignty for Native American communities whose food supply was disrupted by the westward expansion and reservation system. Please take a moment to donate today to support these vital food services, because no one should have to go hungry or worry about food.

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2020 Census, Native Americans Undercounted, a Need for Real Numbers

The 2020 census undercounted minorities across the country once again, including Native Americans. Tribal citizens living on remote and geographically isolated reservations continued to have the highest net undercount rate among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups. This oversight is in line with a longstanding trend of undercounting minorities in the census, while overcounting people who identify as White.

The final census count determines crucial factors, such as seats in Congress, election maps for local and state representatives and the critical allocation of more than $900 billion in annual federal spending for the next decade, including $5.6 billion for tribal programs.

After the 2010 census and a 4.6% undercount of Native Americans, the tribes lost millions in annual dollars that could have shored up social programs and eased education barriers and the digital divide. Now, they are facing another 10 years of underpayments as they face the highest rate of poverty in the country.

This census undercount continues an unfortunate tradition of informing funding decisions based on false data that disadvantages Native American communities and jeopardizes:

  • Native social programs such as energy and food assistance
  • Native education
  • Reservation roads and maintenance
  • Care for Native Elders
  • Congressional representation

Communities are trying to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic and are also in need of support around the three infrastructure needs: water, electricity, and internet. Many reservations across the country still lack these basic needs, and false census numbers may obscure this urgent issue.

The pandemic surely contributed to the miscount, as people I talked with on reservations were nervous about the concept of an outsider in a mask asking them for personal information. Even under the best circumstances, people in rural and remote communities are the hardest to count. The timing of the census, with COVID-19 and the election, made this task even more difficult in 2020. Another challenge to census counting is the volume of multi-generational households on the reservations; some members of the family in the household may be tribal citizens while others may be non-Native or may identify as Native but not be eligible for tribal enrollment.

The census must be a true guide to our country, and every community deserves to be counted fully. PWNA stands with minority groups across the country to say the census results must be revised to include those missed in the 2020 count. We need remedies, real numbers to support real solutions to the issues facing Native families on the reservations and beyond. If nothing else, allocated funds should be incremented to offset the estimated undercount by the U.S. Census Bureau. Even 45 members of the House are calling on Census to address the undercount. There can be no action without true representation.

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Answering the Call When Disaster Strikes on the Reservations

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we all must be ready for anything! This is easier said than done for some families, such as Native Americans living in rural reservation communities. These tribal communities are impacted significantly when any kind of disaster happens, be it weather emergency or pandemic, because they’re facing geographic isolation and continuous lack of access to even the necessities. On top of that, when something major happens, Native communities face a longer recovery period – months to years – than other communities across America because they start from a poverty threshold.

In 2021, Hurricane Ida endangered Native Americans living in southern Louisiana as it destroyed their homes, disrupted their culture and left many without the financial means to recover. Because of your past generosity, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) had its warehouses stocked and quickly transported three separate deliveries to mitigate the impact, including one shipment with over $590,000 worth of emergency supplies through our Native American Aid (NAA) program.  

Also in 2021, we responded to a water shortage impacting the Northern Cheyenne in Montana and two wildfires impacting the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Hays, Montana. As the coronavirus spread, PWNA and NAA provided more than $1.9 million in COVID relief, bringing nonperishable food, water, PPE and other essentials to thousands of members of the Northern Plains tribes. Today, we continue to receive requests from our tribal partners for COVID relief.

The increased frequency and severity of natural disasters such as tornadoes, blizzards and wildfires are leaving Indigenous citizens without access to food, water and electricity. Having a 3-day emergency kit of extra food, water, medications and batteries does little to shore up families in need. So having our warehouses stocked and ready is crucial as a first responder for the reservations, but we need your help to do this. A donation ahead of time can make all the difference when the next disaster strikes.  

Who knows when the next fire, flood or pandemic will happen? We do know this: To answer the call, we must prepare before it happens! We’ll need to distribute at least 350,000 pounds of emergency supplies by this time next year, and we’re calling on you to help us be ready for what’s to come. Please donate today.  

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Let’s Replace Lost Wages with Pay Equity for Native Women

Native Women Pay Gap & Equity

By Laura Schad | Publish date: March 22, 2022

For most of my career, I have worked in the nonprofit arena serving and supporting tribal communities. When I returned to South Dakota in the early 1990s, I was aware of the state’s high proportion of women working multiple jobs to support their families. But another factor that I and other Native women in the workforce face is the pay gap – more like a gorge – between our annual earnings and the earnings of white males in similar roles.

Laura Schad, PWNA

Here’s a 50-year perspective: “In 1973, full-time working women earned a median of 56.6 cents to every dollar men earned.” This overall gender pay gap has improved to 82 cents for most women, but for Indigenous women. the pay gap is still 60 cents on the dollar. This translates to less than a 5-cent increase over the past 50 years – or one (1) penny for each decade worked since the early seventies. In addition, according to the 2015-2019 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census, there are still some Native women in the U.S. who fall below the 1973 marker of 56.6 cents.

Even at pay gap of 60 cents on a dollar, lost wages for Native women adds up to $25,000 per year – every year. Over a career spanning 40 years (two generations), Native women suffer $1 million in lost wages. And, to earn what their male counterparts earn in 12 months, Indigenous women would have to work an extra 20 months. How is this racial and social equity?

An extra $25,000 a year from equal pay rates would mean significant life changes for Native women and their extended families. The impact of equal pay could be generational – just as the impact of poverty has been. The purchasing power of $25K could fuel quality child development services so children enter school with a level playing field. It could help pay rent and buy healthy groceries and quality health care. Dreaming bigger, an additional $2083 a month would allow Native women to work toward wealth generation …save money, build credit and buy their own home.

Native women in rural areas are already facing higher food costs, gas prices and longer drives to work, not to mention limited healthy food choices. If Native women were paid on the scale that white men are paid, there would be no need for predatory lenders or waiting for a tax refund to buy an overpriced vehicle that will need repairs soon after it is driven off the lot. $25,000 a year could also mean no need for a second job just to make ends meet, which takes Native women away from their families and communities.

Time will only tell how COVID may have impacted the earning potential of Native women, but it is safe to say that women of color helped keep this country running through childcare, healthcare, and other front-line positions – and faced the spike in burnout and unemployment rates.

Beth Redbird, an assistant professor of sociology shared her research on what drives Native American poverty. “One of the things that we also know about jobs is there’s been this declining relationship between working and a job’s ability to help you get out of poverty,” Redbird explained. In fact, her research indicates that employment is the main factor driving poverty.

Beginning in 2022, the Census Bureau has committed to reporting Native income and poverty data in its annual reports. These demographics will begin to fill the information gap that could better inform public policy and steer resources to combat pay inequities. It will take the collective work of supportive federal policies and tribes exerting their sovereignty to create sustaining, equitable resources that address the horrendous pay gap inflicted on Indigenous women.

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What are you Eating for Breakfast?

The fond memory of waking up to the smell of smoke from a recently lit wood stove was a sign that my mother, grandmother or elder auntie would soon be cooking breakfast. I grew up in Southern Arizona in a small Native American Yaqui Village. Most of our neighbors had wood stoves, and the smoke from the burning wood permeated most of our community. Breakfast was a luxury for many of us; if we didn’t have breakfast at home, we relied on the free breakfast or lunch provided at school for our first nutritious meal of the day. Truth be told, the school breakfast motivated me, my siblings and fellow tribal members to be at school early.

Breakfast at home often consisted of oatmeal, eggs from our chickens and sometimes toast. A breakfast treat would be rice pudding made with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins or Atole, an ancestral dish. One of its health benefits is magnesium, a vital nutrient. “Atole is perhaps best known as a traditional Mexican beverage made from masa (cornmeal), water, brown sugar, sweet spices and sometimes chocolate or fruit.” Atole is also known as “a pre-Hispanic drink made from cornmeal and water or milk. It’s said to have been traditionally used in sacred Aztec ceremonies.”

Fun fact, 91% of Americans today eat breakfast for dinner. If you’re not one of the “Brinner” crowd, try it – you might like it!

As we recently celebrated National Hot Breakfast Month, I recalled the monthly food resources we received – powdered eggs, powdered milk, cheese, rice, raisins and corn flakes – from the commodity food program now known as FDPIR. “The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provides USDA foods to income-eligible households living on Indian reservations and to Native American households residing in designated areas near reservations or in Oklahoma.”

Today, I work for Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) serving some of the most remote and economically challenged tribal communities in the country. Our mission is to serve immediate needs and support long-term solutions, and one our priorities is improving food security. For instance:

  • PWNA’s Breakfast-in-a-Bag service, offered through its Northern Plains Reservation Aid program, assists Elders who are most in need of nutritious foods, especially during the third week of the month when their social security funds start to run out. PWNA-provided breakfast groceries can be picked up at a local grocery store on the Rosebud Reservation and end skipping breakfast to make ends meet. In 2021, Elders picked up more than 450 grocery bags with 10,000+ pounds of breakfast foods, a $10,500 investment in Native health and food security.
  • Additional investments in community gardens, ancestral food training and produce distributions are other ways PWNA is addressing the food insecurity facing Native American Elders, families and children.

Our overarching goal is to increase food resources so that every Elder, adult and child has access to a hot breakfast or a healthy meal every day. Your donation during National Hot Breakfast month and beyond will support of our Breakfast-in-a-Bag service and help eligible Elders start the day with a healthy meal in their own kitchen.

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Reservation Animal Rescue Made Possible by You

Reservation life is complex for many Native Americans, as they navigate through food and water shortages, poverty and a general lack of resources. The same can be said for the animals. If you ever get the chance to visit a reservation, there is one thing that cannot go unnoticed – the alarming number of stray cats and dogs roaming the community. In fact, in the Navajo nation alone, one estimate cites 250,000 stray dogs. It is heartbreaking to see dogs and cats on the side of the road in danger of being hit by a vehicle, not being able to have a good meal, and not having access to veterinary care.

Indian reservations are often animal resource deserts, defined as entire communities with no veterinarians, pet supply stores, and animal welfare infrastructure. Simply put, these animals need help.

For hundreds of years, animals have been faithfully serving the Native people and remain loyal to this day. Early Native Americans used dogs to help men hunt for food, pull sleds, assist women with daily physical labors and help keep the children entertained. For Indigenous people then and now, dogs are not just pets but members of the family and tribe. They want to care for the strays, but day-to-day realities make it difficult. That is why Partnership With Native Americans and its Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) program work to improve animal welfare and give reservation animals a fighting chance.

RAR is committed to supporting Native communities in their efforts to become healthier and safer through a multi-pronged approach to animal welfare. At the heart of their work is partnering with reservation shelters, veterinary clinics and animal welfare groups who rescue hungry or injured stray animals and stop the spread of disease.

A RAR donation made by you can ensure the continued delivery of essential pet supplies such as food and bedding, vaccinations and spay/neuter services, the supplies that foster families need to care for their new house guests and education on proper pet care. In 2021, RAR was able to help more than 2,700 animals, and with your help can do even more. Man’s best friend has never turned their back on us – and thanks to you, we can return the favor.

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