Native American voices are continuing to participate in national conversations surrounding ongoing social injustices and the global health pandemic. We’re sharing a compilation of news from the month of July that celebrates the positive momentum and addresses where there’s still room for change. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
- “The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation, a decision that will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases. The court’s decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state. ‘Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,’ Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.”
- “One of the latest victims of COVID-19 in the Valley is a Native American man. He is now being honored for a life devoted to standing up for his culture, the environment, and future generations. Rance Sneed, 48, was an artist and activist who spent nearly 100 days with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, protesting a pipeline cutting through their Sovereign lands. ‘As natives all across the continent, around the world, indigenous people, we are taught that Mother Earth is everything. Rance understood that as a very key part of his culture. Eminent domain was forced upon Standing Rock Sioux on their treaty land. It was about cultural existence and tribal sovereignty,’ said Keytha Fixico, a friend who spent months in Standing Rock with Sneed.
- “The last few weeks have been historic for Native Americans. First, a major Supreme Court ruling declared a significant part of eastern Oklahoma is under Native jurisdiction. And earlier this week, Washington’s NFL team dropped its name and logo, which was long seen as racist. Native American journalist Vincent Schilling, who is also an associate editor for Indian Country Today, says this sea change offers hope in now tackling some of the systemic problems in their community such as police brutality. This year’s racial justice protests have brought visibility and awareness to Native communities, who have been fighting for change for years, he says. The national attention is “unprecedented” in the two decades Schilling has been a journalist, he says.”
It’s the question on every parent’s mind – when and how is my child going back to school? The answer varies across states, communities and districts as school officials are working to navigate the safest course of action for their students. And while the immediate plan is unclear, one thing is certain: education for every child is critical.
The average cost of school supplies per child in the U.S. is $789 this year, and part of the increase is factoring in PPE for students, such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Many parents are also investing in laptops and tablets to support distance learning. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of Native American children on the reservations are living in impoverished or low-income households and needs like these present barriers to education.
PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program has provided school supplies to Pre-K through grade 12 students across the Southwest and Northern Plains for decades – as part of its annual Backpack Drive. This year is no exception and PWNA is hoping to deliver supplies to at least 15,000 Native American students.
While unemployment continues to rise across the U.S., it’s still nowhere near the unemployment rates within the communities PWNA serves (35-85%, depending on the reservation). Incomes are often restricted for Native American families and, for many, even basic school supplies are a luxury that can’t always be afforded. Not to mention the challenges to physically access school supplies given the remoteness of some reservation communities and the current travel restrictions in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
One PWNA partner and teacher, Deborah from the Northern Plains, recalls a grandmother who called a week before school started last year. She was concerned her five grandchildren could not start school on time as she could not afford their school supplies. When Deborah assured her that the children would not have to wait, thanks to the AIEF school supplies, she was so relieved.
With support from caring donors, PWNA hopes to bring much-needed relief to families like these who so often must choose between feeding their families and shopping for back to school. To learn more and contribute to our Backpack Drive, visit www.PWNA4hope.org.
PWNA was recently invited to participate in the United Nations Association’s (UNA) ‘Coffee Chat’ series to discuss the relationship between poverty, food sovereignty and education. The discussion is an extension of the UN’s sustainable development goal (SDG) number 1 to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.
We joined a virtual panel of experts from across the globe, including representatives from Bread for the City, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN Development Programme. We had the honor of bringing a Native American voice to the issue, offering perspective on the historical impact of colonization and the resulting cycle of poverty within Indian Country today.
Each panelist spoke to how COVID-19 has impacted their respective work. I shared that Native American communities are disproportionately affected by national disasters, and this global health pandemic is no exception. Many tribal communities have shut down their businesses and restricted their borders even as they continue facing unique challenges in fighting the spread of the virus, including high rates of poverty and food insecurity, and limited access to education and healthcare.
Nearly 1 in 4 Native American households experience low food security, compared to 1 in 9 Americans overall. Native peoples were stripped of their resources, natural food systems and lifestyles centuries ago and continue to struggle with food access today. In discussing how to address food insecurity, we shared how PWNA is focused on supporting both immediate relief and long-term solutions.
Our partnerships with major food organizations, such as Feeding America, Feed The Children and in-kind and retail suppliers, help us ensure we have an adequate supply of food and clean water to support tribes in need. Nutrition education is also vital, and while our in-person training sessions are currently on hold, I shared how we’ve transitioned our curriculum online, launching a Train-the-Trainer (T3) video series that features recipes from Native American chefs and healthy eating habits with traditional foods that are locally available. I also shared some of our partners’ upcoming initiatives around sustainable food sourcing, such as community gardens, canning and dehydration.
Access to Education
Access to education (or lack thereof) is directly linked to poverty in America, and the systems that create barriers to prosperity need to change so that everyone can succeed, not just specific racial groups. We discussed some of the severe challenges for Native Americans, rooted in a history defined by active colonization and control, and how PWNA has worked to combat this with programs that increase access to quality education for all ages.
I also shared a personal story of when I first entered grade school. I remember thinking school was meant for upsetting the viewpoints of students like me… because the history we were taught was inaccurate at best and directly contradicted the reality I was living. The educational system should be built on equality and trust among tribal nations, states and the federal government, not from a position of oppression. And while increased access to education at all levels will not solely address the conditions that perpetuate poverty, it is a critical factor.
The response from my fellow panelists and the audience was overwhelmingly positive and they appreciated the perspective we were able to bring. Many were unaware of how U.S. history has impacted poverty, food insecurity and education for Native Americans today. We hope to continue participating in these important conversations and serving as a voice for Native communities to help create change for a brighter future.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and Partnership With Native Americans is working with organizations to ensure they’re providing these supplies to Native American communities in the Northern Plains and Southwest.
Global PPE is providing PPE, medical supplies, equipment, and technology to underserved communities in the U.S. and is working to bring innovative solutions to industries most impacted by COVID-19. The company is committed to creating rapid and sustainable supplies and recently donated 10,000 KN95 masks to PWNA.
We spoke with Sanjay Puri, chief executive officer of Global PPE, to discuss more about their mission to help at-risk communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you tell us about Global-PPE and how you’re addressing shortages of personal protective equipment in Native American communities during the coronavirus pandemic?
Global PPE was established to provide much needed medical supplies to underserved communities during COVID-19 and beyond. We work with quality, ethical suppliers and provide communities with reliable supplies in the face of broken production and supply chains and the most underserved communities being overlooked in the pandemic.
Why did Global-PPE decide to help Native Americans during the pandemic?
Our mission is to help those who are underserved, and Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Unfortunately, they were not getting the help they needed quickly enough, so we decided to step in and provide critical supplies.
Why did you choose PWNA to distribute your products to the reservations in need?
We wanted to make sure we worked with credible organizations that are making an immediate impact and PWNA is doing a lot of good work to help Native American communities year-round. PWNA felt like the right organization for Global-PPE to work with as they can make sure the people who need our products the most receive them.
Why do you feel the 10,000 masks donated to PWNA are perfect for Native Elders?
Native Americans on reservations have limited access to healthcare and lack the stores and resources to purchase these masks on their own. Yet, these masks can slow the spread of COVID-19 and provide the immediate protection Native Elders need to stay safe.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? The U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and it is unacceptable to see one of our most vulnerable communities so threatened by COVID-19 because of a lack of medical supplies. We all need to do our part to make sure that this does continue to happen.
Partnership With Native Americans is working with several new organizations and individuals who are helping to support our COVID-19 relief efforts for Native Americans tribes. With high infection rates now in many tribal communities, nutrition is more important than ever to boost immune systems, especially among Elders.
Kate Farms, a plant-based, organic medical nutrition company recently provided 10,000 meal replacement shakes to PWNA for Elders of Navajo and other Southwest tribes impacted by COVID-19, as part of its 250,000-meal commitment to serving those most in need. We spoke with John Hommeyer, Chief Experience Officer at Kate Farms, to discuss more about their nutritional products and the positive impact they hope to make for communities in need.
Can you tell us more about Kate Farms and the power of food for better health?
Kate Farms was founded on the value of bringing nutrition to those most at risk, thanks to loving parents who were determined to save their daughter Kate who was born with cerebral palsy. Kate was failing to thrive because she could not tolerate the available tube-feeding formulas, so out of desperation, her parents developed a plant-based formula without any common allergens. Kate, who is a thriving 13-year old now, is the perfect example of how the power of food, and more importantly nutrition, leads to better health and in turn improves quality of life.
At Kate Farms, we believe good nutrition is medicine and our meal replacement shakes help restore and support health, deliver necessary nutrients and vitamins and boost overall immunity. In fact, Kate Farms is the no. 1 recommended plant-based beverage prescribed to deliver vital medical nutrition to people with chronic diseases and the general population. Now, Kate Farms is continuing our mission to deliver nutrition to those most in need from coast to coast.
Why did Kate Farms decide to help Native Americans during the pandemic?
We feel compelled to act in these tough times – it’s who we are at Kate Farms. With the advent of COVID-19, we know that those most-at risk are seniors, and even prior to this pandemic we understood the food insecurities facing the Native American communities. This is why we wanted to distribute our plant-based meal replacement shakes to Elders of the Navajo Nation and other Southwest tribes impacted by COVID-19, as part of our commitment to serve 250,000 meals to those most in need.
Why did you choose PWNA to distribute your products to the reservations in need?
We are grateful for our relationship with Partnership With Native Americans and for the chance to continue our mission to deliver high quality, plant-based medical nutrition. We looked for partners who had the infrastructure and experience to quickly and efficiently deliver food, so it made perfect sense to work with PWNA and put our nutritional meals directly in the hands of those who can ensure they reach Native communities, and more specifically, Native Elders. It’s a privilege to work with an organization that has dedicated its full force to improving the lives of Native Americans.
What makes these meal replacement shakes ideal for Native American Elders?
Kate Farms produces plant-based, organic and clinically-proven nutritional formulas with none of the major allergens – such as soy, dairy and corn – that many traditional formulas contain. Kate Farms is made of easily digestible yellow pea protein, prebiotics from organic agave inulin and a clinically effective phytonutrient blend that delivers antioxidants. Our products taste great and are good for those with diabetes and a low glycemic index. Kate Farms is on formulary with many of the leading adult hospital systems and provides delicious nutrients to our senior community across the country.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We are fortunate to have the opportunity to make sure those most at-risk are getting the nutrition they need through Kate Farms. We are focused on three main populations during COVID-19: seniors, front-line healthcare workers, and those without access to quality healthcare and nutrition. And we are so inspired by the efforts of so many volunteers who are right there with us in helping those in need. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Kate Farms is donating more than 250,000 complete meals to those most at risk, which is equivalent to $1 million dollars in plant-based formulas. Our donation supports the pandemic relief efforts of PWNA, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, Meals on Wheels and The Campaign Against Hunger in Brooklyn, with the goal of getting nutrition directly into the hands of those impacted, including the elderly.
Our nation is experiencing a pivotal moment in history as people across the country stand up against the injustices that communities of color continue to endure. We’re sharing a compilation of news from the month of June around the related challenges Native Americans are facing today, from coronavirus to the 2020 presidential election. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
- “Federal and state health agencies are refusing to give Native American tribes and organizations representing them access to data showing how the coronavirus is spreading around their lands, potentially widening health disparities and frustrating tribal leaders already ill-equipped to contain the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has turned down tribal epidemiologists’ requests for data that it’s making freely available to states. Authorities in Michigan and Massachusetts since early spring have also resisted handing over information on testing and confirmed cases, citing privacy concerns, and refused to strike agreements with tribes on contact tracing or other surveillance, eight tribal leaders and health experts told POLITICO. In some instances, officials questioned tribes’ legal standing as sovereign entities.”
- “As the coronavirus has ravaged the country, killing 100,000 Americans and leaving 40 million without jobs, states are beginning to consider voting by mail as a safer alternative to in-person voting. However, while voting by mail may make it easier for some voters to cast their ballots, it isn’t a universal solution. For Native Americans living on reservations, implementing vote-by-mail policies could actually create barriers to voting. Many Native Americans living on reservations have ‘nontraditional addresses,’ meaning that they do not receive mail to their houses but instead get it from a P.O. box. Natalie Landreth, senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said that it was more likely for people living on tribal lands to have ‘descriptive addresses’ like ‘last house on the left,’ instead of a specific address like ‘123 Main Street.’”
- “The U.S. is home to 574 federally recognized tribes with approximately 6.9 million Native Americans and Alaska Native citizens. But despite their population size and their vast and thriving communities, Natives often suffer problems silently, invisibly, without the benefit of public outcry or media attention. Their problems can no longer remain in the dark: American Indians and Alaska Natives are facing a crisis of their own going missing or being murdered. Our government is finally beginning to tackle the issue. The next step is for all Americans to join in on the efforts to end this ongoing tragedy.”
- “Native American tribal nations are imposing stricter lockdown and social-distancing measures than their neighboring states, creating tensions with both governors and the federal government. Many Native American leaders are worried that the recent surge in cases could disproportionately impact tribal members, just as they did in April and May. In response, some tribal governments have exercised their sovereignty to reinstate lockdowns and travel bans as neighboring states move in the opposite direction. ‘It’s a greater challenge for us to deal with knowing that just right across the borders, everyone else is doing things different,’ Cheyenne River Sioux chairman Harold Frazier told The Hill.”
- “Nestlé is rebranding its Red Skins and Chicos sweets, saying that their controversial names — which feature offensive racial overtones — are ‘out of step’ with the company’s values. The products, which are sold in Australia, have prompted complaints for several years. Allen’s, the Nestlé (NSRGF) brand that produces the sweets, said in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday that the decision to rename the products was made to avoid marginalizing its friends, neighbors and colleagues.”
The term “pow wow” comes from the Algonquian native language group and most closely translates to “meeting.” Pow wows were originally a way for traders to gather and sell goods, and in doing so, they often employed Native American dancers. However, while today’s pow wows still play a role in local economies, they have become popular among tribes for other reasons.
Pow wows serve as a reminder of the beauty in our traditions and cultures. Dancing is a form of prayer and a way of life for many tribes. I was taught that dancing is the highest form of prayer. It’s also inspired by different sources, such as hunting and gathering, camping, tracking, respecting animals and their worth, and more. All these dances hold different meanings for those who dance and pow wows serve as a cultural celebration that brings levity to hard times and connects us with past and future generations through tradition.
Unfortunately, pow wows are currently a cause for concern as tribal communities continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and worry about the risk to Native American health. This year, we’ve had to ask ourselves a hard question: Are pow wows, sun dances and other traditional gatherings more important than the health of our communities?
Many tribes are canceling pow wows, cultural ceremonies and other events to protect the very lives of those who celebrate them. And as tribes continue to be impacted by the spread of COVID-19, the lack of celebration and continued risk for Elders is taking a heavy toll on traditional customs and culture.
The Navajo Nation, for example, has the highest per capita infection rate in the country (more than 7,800 as of June 20). With so few sources of cultural knowledge across the 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., any loss of Elders, spiritual leaders and practicing community members means a loss of culture for their tribes. The coronavirus certainly has impacted us all, but for these communities where fewer remember their oral history and traditions, every loss comes with a significant cost.
While Native communities are taking steps to social distance, it’s hard not to miss partaking in our pow wows, sun dances and inipi ceremonies. However, we must sacrifice these traditions to protect our loved ones and our ancestral ways for the greater good of our people.
I hope everyone is staying safe – and not complacent – as we become adjusted to the new normal. Too much is at risk and we must stay vigilant to protect ourselves and each other in these trying times.
Father’s Day is June 21, and we’re recognizing the critical importance of Ates (Lakota for Fathers) in the development of young minds and hearts. Fathers have a hand in teaching their children life skills, guiding smart life choices and, in early life, providing a sense of safety. They teach us both by what they do as well as what they do not do. Even fathers who are absent from their children’s lives teach us vital life lessons, though sometimes difficult, and children who grow up without a father or father figure are at higher risk of high school dropout, addiction, incarceration, homelessness, and the list goes on.
Surely, one of the most resonant questions for future fathers everywhere is, “Will I be a good father?” Children do not come with a reference manual, nor does fatherhood. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t resources available to help guide new fathers in the right direction.
One such resource comes from Albert Pooley, a Hopi and Navajo father and grandfather who has helped many Native American fathers discover their strengths. Pooley realized social programs often fall short of the real help that is needed, and in 2002 he founded The Native American Fathers and Families Association (NAFFA) to help Native fathers who are struggling.
When we look to our fathers for help, we often forget that many times they are alone with their own doubts – even those who are in the home. At the heart of the NAFFA philosophy is the wisdom that families are sacred, and that while many families often see the father as the problem, these fathers can also be the solution to the family’s problems (i.e, the “white sheep” of the family).
Through their “Fathers are Sacred” program, NAFFA inspires self-motivation and encouragement and provides culturally relevant support to give fathers the tools they need to help their children succeed in life. NAFFA facilitators and programs offer fathers ample opportunities to grow and learn from the experiences of others.
All fathers have great influence over their children and therefore the world. This Father’s Day, we recognize fathers everywhere for the gifts you bring and sacrifices you make for our families. Our very connection to you holds the promise of life.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone in our country, including Native Americans living in remote, under-resourced and often impoverished reservation communities. Families and businesses have adapted to social distancing, working and schooling remotely, and communicating with co-workers, friends and family primarily through a digital screen.
COVID-19 may have changed the way we work and socialize, but it did not change the need to address the year-round food insecurity that exists for many Native American communities. With travel restrictions in place both on and off the reservations, many of our previously scheduled group trainings and food demonstrations with our tribal partners and T3 (Train the Trainer) participants were postponed or canceled.
However, we consulted with several Native American chefs, nutritionists and practitioners on the best ways to reformat the T3 training sessions so that tribal members could continue to learn traditional methods of meal preparation and food preservation, even in the midst of a global pandemic. The solution was to develop an online video series that allows tribal members to stay connected while at home, learn new cooking skills and attempt recipes as demonstrated in the videos.
Facilitators are recording videos from their homes that we are publishing on YouTube. The first four videos focusing on “food as medicine” include lessons on no-waste cooking, cooking with wild onions, making Elderberry drops and practicing self-care while sheltering at home. More videos will be released this summer.
In addition to the online training, PWNA is sending boxes of produce with recipes and nutritional information so that participants can practice their cooking and food preservation skills training. We’re also encouraging tribal members to submit their own videos, whether it’s cooking with methods learned from the online training courses or sharing their own healthy recipes with traditional ingredients. Several T3 participants have already submitted content, including videos on best use of spices, chili sauce recipes, salsa recipes and a cornbread recipe using blue corn meal.
PWNA is also furthering its T3 service by investing in more capacity building projects to support gardening, small farming and food sovereignty initiatives. We’re providing funds for seeds and remote technical assistance for reservation community-based projects that include online training in gardening, farming and project management.
We are thankful for our dedicated partners throughout Indian Country and the support of Newman’s Own Foundation and LDS Charities as their contributions allow us to continue providing critical food and nutrition education services, even amid the pandemic.