Recently in Native News

Continuing with our practice of keeping you apprised of Native news and relevant articles, please enjoy our favorite stories on Native life from the month of April. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Climate Change In Louisiana Changes Diets Of Native Americans via NPR

  • “Native American tribes in Louisiana have a deep attachment to place and that means trying to stay on the land, even as it becomes harder to grow gardens, even as shrimping is dwindling and crabbing is dwindling. There are people who are just trying to stick it out and to brainstorm about more innovative ways of staying self-sufficient.”

Commissioner Starts to Press Cleveland Indians About Logo via The New York Times

  • “Among those who think it is time for the club to decisively move away from the logo is the Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, who in continuing discussions with the team’s ownership is beginning to apply a little bit of pressure on the club to come up with a plan of action.”

Native American Tribes Fear End of Federal Heating Help via U.S. News

  • “Tribal officials in states with harsh winters fear what would happen without the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP. Ending it, as Trump’s budget blueprint would do, could disproportionately affect Native Americans, backers of the program say.”

Native American Culture Week ends with activities, performances via The State Hornet

  • “Native American Culture Week at Sacramento State came to a close on Friday with its final event, “Go Native,” an immersive celebration of Native American culture showcased through song, dance, art and history.”

Champion for Change Awarded Truman Scholarship via Center for Native American Youth

  • “Rory Taylor (Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma), a Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) Champion for Change, has just been named a recipient of the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship award. The Truman Scholarship is a highly competitive program designed for college juniors who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in public service.”
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Rain Dance, Correcting the Myth

As a Lakota, I always found it stereotypical when asked about the rain dance. In all my life, I had never heard of any rain dance taught in Lakota culture. Why? Because, we don’t practice it. The assumption of the practice still persists, however, and it’s worth investigating where this idea originated.

It was only recently, for instance, that I learned the rain dance is actually a fairly common practice among southern tribes. These tribes typically reside in dry climates, where water is essential to life, making it something of a cornerstone in those cultures. Rain, specifically water, is important to sustaining life for all communities, but for some this precious resource is scarce.

“Amani.” Rain.

One of the tribes that practices the rain dance still today is the Ohlone, located in a small town in the southern central part of California. And in a small town, it is said, “when you call a rain dance, word gets around.” In Ohlone culture, the dance is greatly respected, with pure intent and high significance. After a three-year drought, they attributed the returning rain to their dances.

“Magazu.” Rain.

To the Lakota, the Wakinyans or thunder-beings, were considered messengers of the coming spring, and were thought to bring the rain from the West. But to the Lakota, rain can mean a few things. The Wakinyans can bring rain and renew the land, or bring strong storms and destroy the land. In either scenario, the Lakota viewed rain as a signal of new growth to follow, meaning the time to start planting was near.

Still, weather was never the best signal of a new season on the plains. More than rain, the Lakota relied on a lunar calendar based on the moon cycle, with 12 distinct moons throughout the year. Typically, the first rains came close to the Moon of Fattening, around the month of April. The next was the Moon of Planting, in May, where planting and farming began for the summer. Lakota plants, consisting mostly of berries, corn and some fruits, were harvested a few months later in August.

In contrast to the Ohlone, who practiced the dance fairly often, I don’t recall stories of bad drought in which a rain dance was ever used by the Lakota. Sometimes, it’s too easy to view all native communities as sharing a single culture, with the same beliefs and traditions. This just isn’t the case.

Hopefully, we can continue to inform and correct these generalizations and stereotypes so all native cultures can be respected and distinguished. The rain dance is hardly the only misconception that exists about Indian peoples. By pausing to consider where ideas like this originate, one can begin to appreciate and understand the myriad cultural traditions and histories of the many native tribes around the country.

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Gardens as a Solution to Combat Food Insecurity

Before choosing to eat healthy, one must have access to healthy foods, and today, families on at least 60 reservations across the U.S. struggle with uncertain access to sufficient and proper nutrition, in short “food insecurity.”

Lack of local access to or affordability of healthy food is an unfortunate reality for one in four Native American families. In fact, these families are 400 percent more likely to report not having enough to eat, compared with other U.S. households. And although the U.S. government provides commodities to help feed low-income Native families, as they do for other low-income Americans, these foods are often sorely lacking in nutritional value.

Unsurprisingly, this lack of healthy nutrition has led to a wide array of health issues among all age groups. In fact, Native Americans have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country, and are nearly twice as likely to die from diabetes as other Americans.

With support from individual and organizational donors, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) addresses food insecurity across 12 states. Aimed at supporting healthier communities and building brighter futures, PWNA’s food solutions focus on accessibility to healthy food, as well as nutrition training, garden support and garden training.

PWNA’s Project Grow tackles the problem at the root, empowering individuals and reservation communities to access healthier foods through gardening. Just as gardening yields its bounty of healthy food for years to come, so too do the efforts undertaken by PWNA and tribal communities to address long-term solutions surrounding nutritional health. Through support and training on how to plant and raise fresh produce, communities are taking control of their own food sources. Many of PWNA’s reservation partners are requesting healthy cooking classes and training on food canning and preservation.

Using its mobile training units, PWNA connects Native American chefs and local cooks who collaborate on introducing fresh produce and healthier recipes to remote reservation communities. Educational demonstrations further show residents how to cook healthier recipes utilizing locally available foods.

Tribal communities are also integrating their own traditions and culture into these garden projects, encouraging members to get involved and stay engaged in the project of building sustainable food sources that improve lives. By energizing the community with resources and education, PWNA supports community-led solutions with impact for years to come.

Through all these efforts, PWNA and its reservation partners are motivating and equipping tribal citizens with knowledge and healthy nutrition habits that will trickle down to the next generations. These initiatives support a return to a healthier, more traditional diet that is free of processed foods. As individuals adopt these tactics, entire communities benefit from a shared, sustainable solution that alleviates the compound effects of food insecurity.

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World Health Day and Health Care in Tribal Communities

World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO (World Health Organization) in 1948. Annually, a theme highlights a priority area of public health and provides opportunities for every community to engage in activities that can lead to better health.

In PWNA’s service area, the main source of health care is Indian Health Service (I.H.S.), and in a previous blog on Healthcare for Native Americans, we discussed the treaty obligations of the U.S. and how the I.H.S. remains grossly underfunded. A 2016 I.H.S. fact sheet indicates their per capita health care expenditure rests at $3,688 for Native Americans, whereas the health expenditure for the U.S. population is $9,523. In addition, there are just 500 Indian health facilities serving the 567 federally recognized tribes with 2.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native members.

As a nation, America recognizes the importance of accessible, quality health care, and for those of us residing in urban areas, a plethora of urgent care clinics, specialty physicians and full-service hospitals exist. In Rapid City, South Dakota, a town of 70,000 people, urgent care centers are sprouting up in every corner and, within a two-mile radius, I have a choice of two different urgent care centers. The National Institute for Health Care Reform reports nearly 9,000 of these centers exist across the U.S., yet very few are within reach of tribal communities.

For the remote and geographically-isolated populations PWNA serves, our Program Partners and others working directly with tribal members are the link connecting important information and resources to individuals challenged with scarce access to health facilities. So many residents, particularly the homebound, rely on the Community Health Representative (CHR) or laypersons to observe any potential health issues and to do so during the shortest of visits. For instance, they may rely on the person delivering their daily meals, or even the driver picking them up for an appointment. Early detection and intervention is critical for disease prevention, and is especially critical in our rural communities.

PWNA’s most frequently requested service, Healthy Living, supports preventative healthcare and other care providers working within tribal communities. Healthy Living helps these Program Partners engage and motivate community members to learn more about preventing diseases and making healthy choices. Through this service we support on average about 500 partners on about 50 reservations, who are offering health classes, conducting home visits and assisting people with appointments.

One by one, tribal communities are fighting health disparities with whatever resources they have available. For instance, on the San Carlos Reservation the CHR program and the Elderly Feeding Center act as PWNA’s health partners. Staff from both agencies work together to help residents like Matthew, an 81-year-old Elder living in the community of Bylas, Arizona. Partially blind and living alone, Matthew struggles with high blood pressure and needs frequent visits for vital sign checks and medication. Although previous referrals for Matthew to have a full-time caregiver were declined, his deteriorating eye condition only increases his need for care.

Rosalie, a CHR assisting Matthew along with her colleague Susie, has served as a CHR for 42 years, almost as long as the program has existed.

“I know the whole Bylas community and they know me. I talk to them in Apache and it’s good that I speak to them that way because some don’t speak English,” Rosalie says.

Veronica delivers Matthew’s meals from the Senior Center (supported by PWNA’s Food service), and says, “I love knowing that I’ve contributed to the Elders in some form.”

In recognition of World Health Day, PWNA honors those dedicated individuals like Rosalie, Susie and Veronica, and the many programs throughout Indian country that work hard to combat the alarming health disparities in our nation’s tribal communities.

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Recently in Native News

Continuing with our practice of keeping you apprised of Native news and relevant articles, take a look at some of the stories that piqued our interest year to date. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Women of Standing Rock aren’t backing down via USA Today

  • “As thousands of Native Americans brought the Dakota Access pipeline protests to the Trump International Hotel’s front door on Friday, indigenous women were there, leading the way, just as they have been for generations. The Native Nations Rise march in Washington, D.C., is a continuation of a year-long battle between the Standing Rock Sioux and environmentalists against the government and pipeline corporations. Protesters held signs including, “Honor Our Treaties,” “Water is Life,” “Stand With Standing Rock” — and “Indigenous Women Rise.””

Seminole Patchwork: Admiration And Appropriation via NPR

  • “Native American symbols have long caught the eye of non-Native designers, who are inspired by the bold graphics of artisanal Native American patterns. Imitation and inspiration, though, raise the question of how to credit the source — and whose work is being represented. In Florida, one group of young Seminole seamstresses confronted one of the biggest names in fashion: Donna Karan. Jessica Osceola is a direct descendant of the 19th century Seminole leader, Osceola, an activist, college professor and artist.”

Educators, advocate celebrate signing of American Indian education bill via U.S. News

  • “The recent signing of a bill that will help educate future generations about. House Bill 76, known as the Indian Education For All bill, was signed late last week by Gov. Matt Mead. It instructs state educators to consult with Wyoming’s native population, including the Northern Arapaho Wyoming’s native population was hailed as a “momentous occasion” brought on by years of work by advocates and Eastern Shoshone tribes, and create education materials that will be made available for use by the state’s 48 school districts.”

For Navajo Team, a Season of Change and Challenge via The New York Times

  • “These Navajo teenagers are practitioners of “rez ball,” a pell-mell, pass-cut-and-shoot style of hoops. They deeply desire a state championship. They also are perched on that precarious cliff wall between adolescence and manhood, and that brings other questions and yearnings. The seniors study college catalogs and wonder if they should leave their starkly beautiful land of family and clans, a reservation that is bigger than West Virginia. Hope and fear jostle.”
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Food Justice: Native People Taking Action to Restore Ancestral Practices and Ways of Life

For thousands of years, before the countries of Canada, United States, Mexico, and South America ever existed, millions of indigenous people inhabited and developed complex societies and systems on this continent. Native people lived in harmony with their environment, which sustained them spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. For so many Native nations, food was embedded in all aspects of life – ceremony, family, community, medicine, language and well-being.

Today in the United States there are 567 federally-recognized Native nations and 334 reservations located in 35 states, each with their own language, customs, ancestry, traditions and foods. As a trusted partner and resource to Indian country, Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA) is investing in Native communities’ initiatives to increase access to healthier foods, build community gardens and develop the skills to prepare nutritious meals. Through these partnerships, PWNA has learned about the growing food justice movement in reservation communities it serves in the Southwest and Northern Plains.

What is food justice? According to one definition, “’Food Justice’ is communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food … fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals.”

About a year ago, PWNA supported a reservation-based project focused on building an Ancestral Garden. The Ancestral Garden project was developed to engage Native youth and build on tribal community knowledge of ancestral foods, the impact of these foods at a holistic level (spiritual, mental, physical and emotional), and the connection of the land to the people and the people to the land – a clear example of Native food justice.

Teaching youth from a tribal perspective – including stories, the knowledge of food, the role of food in the community and its impact on individuals – and sharing the stories and the names of the foods in the Native language is at the heart of the Ancestral Garden project. With continued support from PWNA, preparations are underway to enter into a second phase of the project that will reach even more youth.

Recently, PWNA sponsored a healthy food session with a Native chef who teaches Native cuisine along with the food justice paradigm. The session opened with a lecture on the history of Native foods and the importance of this history and its impact on the well-being of individuals and communities. The Native participants at the training, guided by the chef, spent most of the time preparing and tasting healthy, local Native foods, and it was unanimous: Native foods are healthy and delicious!!!

This Native cuisine session was held at the tribal communities’ diabetes prevention program, fitting for such an event since Native American people have the highest diabetes rate of any ethnic group in the U.S. The Native chef included in her lecture how this life-endangering issue (diabetes) transpired – a result of a people being stripped of their way of life, forced onto reservations and given commodities such as lard, sugar, flour and other processed foods. A tidbit shared by the Native chef is that fry bread is not an ancestral or traditional food – it is considered a survival and oppression food. When the people were put on reservations and not allowed to practice their ways of life, including hunting, gathering and growing food, the processed food given was all that was available – eat it or die. Thus, fry bread was born out of need.

Native food justice is about embracing food as holistic, as medicine – restorative and life-changing – and more than the physical experience of shopping, dicing and eating. Food justice is good for all.

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Help Mitigate the Challenges Native American Students Face

Attaining a post-secondary education is a rewarding goal for anyone, but holds even more meaning for Native American students. Only 70 percent of Native American high school students earn their diplomas, compared to a national average of 82 percent. Only 13 percent of Native American students earn a college degree, facing a number of challenges that the average student does not encounter.

Many Native students do not even consider college, believing that college is not an option, but rather a dream out of reach. The majority of Native American students considering college today are also often the first in their families to do so. Additionally, contrary to public perception, a college education is not free for Native Americans.

All of these factors are why we created the American Indian Education Fund program, taking action to ensure Native American students can get the support they need to accomplish their goals for post-secondary education, service and self-sufficiency. Specifically, PWNA and AIEF services focus on motivating students to consider college, and helping students pay for college and stay in college until graduation.

More than 200 college students are assisted each year through AIEF scholarships and supplies, as well as emergency funds to offset unexpected expenses – from vehicle repairs to emergency travel home – that can challenge a student’s ability to stay in college once they’ve started. Additionally, AIEF’s challenge grants service encourages partner colleges to raise scholarships specifically for Native students, motivating them with matching grants up to $20,000. The AIEF program increases both college access and retention for Native American students.

One such scholar that persevered in school is D’Aryn, who was awarded an AIEF scholarship in 2014 as a freshman at Black Hills State University. In her junior year, she was awarded a second AIEF scholarship, easing the financial load needed to complete her biology/pre-pharmacy degree. In recent years, D’Aryn endured significant losses, including two grandmothers and a cousin. Even in her grief, D’Aryn remains steadfast so she can help others with health issues, knowing that she can serve her people as “someone they can confide in.” Soon to be the first member of her immediate family to graduate college, once her degree is obtained, D’Aryn plans to apply for pharmacy school and pursue a career serving her tribal community as a pharmacist.

“Getting scholarships means everything to me and my family,” says D’Aryn. “Being a first-generation college student makes it that much more rewarding when I receive scholarship funding. The AIEF scholarship is different because they don’t just give you money to pay for school; they actually care about how you are doing.”

In addition to her scholarship, D’Aryn receives a giant holiday stocking filled with various necessities for school, signed birthday cards, care packages of snacks, books and toiletries and calls from AIEF staff and volunteers.

Help us keep hopes high for Native American students. Together, we can show them college is a realistic and attainable goal, no matter what obstacles they face, and there are people who care and want to help. Whether you donate to the AIEF scholarship fund or secure gift-in-kind donations to provide necessities like books and supplies for students, you are making an impact and helping to nudge that 13 percent a little higher. Learn more and donate today!

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Access to Healthy Food on the Reservations

“Put your best fork forward” now because March is National Nutrition Month (NNM). An education program offered yearly by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this year’s theme is a reminder that every bite counts, and that small shifts in our diet can make a big difference.

For some people, though, this is easier said than done – not everyone has access to proper nutrition. Many Native Americans, for instance, are plagued by diseases presented through poor diets, most specifically diabetes in all ages and obesity in children. Diabetes rates of the Native population are more than double that of the white population, and many Native families grapple with affording a wide enough variety of food to get the nutrition they need. This reality is widely referred to as food insecurity, affecting 1 in 4 Native families, and is not helped by many of the food commodities provided to members of federally recognized tribes by the U.S. government, under their treaty obligations. Generally high in fats and carbs, and for that point, sugars, these elements help contribute to the obesity and diabetes in Indian country.

PWNA supports Native American partners who are taking the lead on healthy diets and nutrition education in their tribal communities, working to improve native diets, health and wellness – important aims, especially for those who lack regular access to proper nutrition. One of PWNA’s recent innovations includes the use of a mobile unit for training on nutrition (MUTN), enabling collaboration with Native chefs and local cooks to introduce fresh produce and bring healthier twists on traditional foods to remote reservation communities.

These collaborative community investment projects include community gardens; healthy cooking classes; training on canning, preservation and a return to traditional diets. PWNA’s mobile unit for training on nutrition is used during fresh produce distributions to demonstrate new ways to use produce and incorporate it into family meals. And all of these activities help support a return to a traditional, indigenous diet, and reduce reliance on processed foods.

Role models making healthier food choices today also teach Native youth to make better choices and avoid the diseases that affect indigenous peoples everywhere. Of course, while these are positive strides, there still remains the need for more access to fresh produce in many remote communities. Later this month, we will be talking more about the impact of community gardens and food as medicine and food justice.

How you can help spread the word:

  • Tell your friends and family about realities on the reservations such as food insecurity, health disparities and lack of local jobs. Visit and to learn more.
  • Help feed Native American families by buying Native-made or Native-sold goods and services. Seek out Native offerings online and locally through artisans and vendors at pow wows, museums, etc.
  • Write to your local news station asking for more coverage about food challenges on the reservations and how to help.
  • Raise awareness of reservation realities by sending a letter to your local grocer to help address immediate needs on the reservations.


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Native Art, and Native Artists Making Headlines

From quillwork to beadwork, painting and pottery, art is a cornerstone of Native American life. Even today, traditional work is still prominent in many tribes. Yet even more common are the innovative contemporary forms of the older craft styles, with every tribe showing a flair that’s representative of their region or life experience. The more organic paintings of coastal tribes, for instance, differ greatly from the more geometric drawings and quillwork of Plains tribes. This distinctiveness is part of what makes the artwork so attractive and allows Native artists to represent many things in different ways.

Native art by youth of Tohono O’dham Nation

For many families, their artwork is also their trade and livelihood. Native art vendors participate in events across the U.S., many selling fantastic handmade wares ranging from jewelry to baskets, pottery and decorative potpourri for the home. It’s easy to find Native artists at many large gatherings, be it powwows, art festivals, or even some city events and markets where vendors can set up a booth.

The largest event in the world that features Native artists is the Santa Fe Indian Market. Here you can find everything from paintings to quillwork and beadwork, pottery and baskets, rugs and blankets, and other mediums. In 2015, more than 1,000 craft makers and artists were represented at the market, promoting “contemporary growth and evolution” of Native styles from all tribes. Dallin Maybee, Chief Operating Officer of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), shares, “[The Santa Fe Indian Market] is a place to embrace diversity, creativity, living traditions and a warm sense of family.”

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in New Mexico also offers products created by Native artists, some of them students or alumni of their college. You can explore and purchase authentic Native Arts at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), part of the Smithsonian family in Washington, D.C., and in shops such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Prairie Edge in Rapid City, S.D., and the gift shop at the nearby Crazy Horse memorial museum. Many of their items are Native-made, though some are not, so buyer beware.

On the Beyond Buckskin blog, they provide a list of artists to help you buy Native. We add to this a shout out to some Native artists recently making headlines through their unique offerings, among them, Frank Buffalo Hyde (Nez Perce), Wendy Red Star (Crow), George Longfish (Seneca/Tuscarora), Shonto Begay (Diné), and to indigenous artists like Jared Yazzie (Navajo), Nani Chacon (Navajo/Chicana) and Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa/Choctaw), who are currently being featured in a “Native re-appropriations” exhibit.

At the end of the day, it is always the consumer’s choice about what to buy and where to shop. If you do shop retail, research what you are buying. Look for the artist’s “hallmark” stamp on Native jewelry, or request a written guarantee or certification from the vendor to confirm authenticity of Native art and crafts. The money lost to “Native knockoffs” takes away from hardworking artists who depend on their commendable and unique skill set to earn a living. When you buy Native, you help support Native families, and you help encourage the demand for Native artwork so this craftsmanship isn’t lost to the passing of generations.

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International Mother Language Day and the Importance of Native Language

Today, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates International Mother Language Day (IMLD), under the theme “Toward Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.” IMLD is recognized annually on Feb. 21 and strives to foster sustainable development by providing learners access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages.

This year, UNESCO noted, “It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.”

Additionally, UNESCO cites these advantages to multilingual education:

  • Multilingual education increases access, while promoting equal opportunities for those speaking minority and/or indigenous languages – especially girls and women
  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning, with a focus on understanding and creativity
  • It reinforces cognitive learning, leading to positive outcomes in the learner’s life
  • It encourages genuine communication from the beginning
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, harmonizing global and local points of view

At PWNA, we understand the importance of Native languages and the preservation of related history, culture and education, especially related to the Native Americans we serve. The San Felipe Pueblo, for example, is home to 3,300 people, many of whom have retained and speak the Keresan language. Located in the picturesque pueblos of New Mexico, this community both honors and utilizes its mother language.

In addition to many of the tribal communities we serve, we have seen the importance of Native language discussed in the media, and we recommend learning more through these stories:

What do you consider your mother language? How has it helped you learn and grow?

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