Professional truck drivers are often overlooked as a vital part of the U.S. economy and infrastructure. Without their services, we would be limited in our ability to access even the essentials such as food and health products, not to mention limited in our choices and our ability to operate businesses beyond the local reach of customers. And for many Native Americans living in remote reservation communities, truck drivers are often the bridge between limited goods and no goods at all.
This week, we’re taking a moment to recognize National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (Sept. 9-15) in honor of the 3.5 million professional men and women who safely deliver critical goods and resources over our nation’s highways. PWNA specifically thanks the many drivers who make serving our program partners on remote tribal lands possible. We are proud of our drivers and know their commitment enables us to continue to be a reliable resource to our partners on the reservations.
Truck drivers are the ambassadors and front line of service in PWNA’s quest to improve the lives of 250,000 Native Americans, annually. Each week, we deploy a fleet of tractor trailers and box trucks from our warehouses in Phoenix, Arizona and Rapid City, South Dakota to deliver supplies to tribal communities spanning a 12-state region.
Truck drivers often start their day before sunrise with loading times as early as 4 a.m. to ensure they’re on the road in time to complete deliveries while adhering to the 11-hour delivery window allotted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
PWNA drivers travel more than 200,000 miles throughout the year in rugged terrain and fueling their deliveries can cost as much as $95,000. Deliveries continue throughout the winter months, and some reservation roads are unpaved, adding wear and tear to the vehicles and limiting the number of providers who can reach these areas.
“Waking up to bad weather is always a challenge when you drive a truck for PWNA,” recalls Jim Perry, one of PWNA’s drivers for the Southwest.
The need for supplies and services only heightens when weather and road conditions change, and the supplies PWNA drivers transport make all the difference for those tribal communities that may be otherwise left without access to needed supplies.
Like all PWNA drivers, Jim knows the importance of his deliveries. “Regardless of inclement weather, PWNA is a consistent resource to the tribes and my work is at the heart of our mission — getting critical products to those in need.”
And despite the long hours and variables, our drivers such as Jim keep their spirits high. “It’s simple. I’m proud to drive for PWNA because I’m part of something that is good.”
September is National Preparedness Month and we all are reminded of the importance of taking the time to be prepared before disaster strikes. Whether it’s a flood, an earthquake or a tornado, disasters happen, and preparation is critical in minimizing damage and keeping communities safe.
This is especially true for remote tribal communities. The physical environment on many reservations can give rise to environmental disasters such as floods, forest fires, blizzards, ice storms, and more. Some communities also experience acute or chronic contaminated-water emergencies. In the most geographically-isolated communities, word of disaster travels slowly to, and sometimes never reaches, mainstream news or the general public.
As a first responder, PWNA is quick to get disaster aid to reservations in our 12-state service area, from the Northern Plains to the Southwest. We also evaluate requests from tribes beyond our service area on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, PWNA assists homeless shelters on reservations, along with shelters for the elderly, disabled, veterans, children and others. PWNA’s emergency services benefit tens of thousands of people a year.
As an active member of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), PWNA has access to the most reputable disaster relief and emergency response organizations in the U.S. We also actively participate in state VOAD groups in South Dakota, Montana and Arizona and are an honorary member of the Mountain West VOAD, which serves Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico — states that are home to many of the 60 reservations we serve.
Most recently, PWNA was awarded a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies to help local leaders be better prepared to assist their tribal communities and displaced residents, specifically on the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Crow Creek reservations in South Dakota. With the support from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, PWNA will advance emergency preparedness efforts in these Native American communities through training, collaboration and access to resources. Specific objectives include:
- Expanding projects underway on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations
- Extending preparedness projects to Crow Creek Reservation in the Northern Plains
- Developing an emergency preparedness model curriculum and resource guide based on key success factors relevant to tribal communities
- Developing a cultural sensitivity curriculum – “Working in Indian Country” – to train other organizations interested in providing disaster and emergency services to tribes
- Addressing training needs of Native American case managers and disaster recovery teams to assist with long-term recovery efforts in tribal communities
As part of our continued effort to inform readers of the news and culture of Native American communities across the country, Partnership With Native Americans has compiled our favorite stories from the month of August. Stay up to date and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more headlines.
Sharice Davids says she is honored by support and party nomination for Congress via Indian Country Today
- “I am honored and deeply motivated by the support I received from across this district. Thank you to my fellow Democrats in this race for their passion and for engaging in a spirited and important debate about the future of this district and this country. To my supporters: you knocked on doors, made phone calls, donated what you could, and got your friends, neighbors, and family members to the polls.”
Wisconsin man sings Native American song for NASCAR via The Star Tribune
- “Scenes from a life: The 7-year-old had just moved to Madison with his family. His teacher introduced him to his class. It was the 1960s. ‘This is Billy. He’s from an Indian reservation. So, I’d like you all to talk a little slower.’ His reaction was instant hate, and when kids teased him for his mohawk-style haircut, he lashed out violently. He spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. Some years later, a group of young men from the Bad River Reservation in northern Wisconsin crammed themselves into a Volkswagen to visit nearby Ashland. People stared, and more than once, they called out an ugly, oft-repeated racial slur. Experiences such as this reinforced what Billy Bob Grahn was taught growing up on the reservation: Don’t show who you are when you’re out in white society. Flash forward several decades and many stories later.”
Nature through a cultural lens via Portland Tribune
- “A class of roughly 50 Native American students gathered at the Tryon Creek State Natural Area last week for a day of hiking, outdoor exploration and learning. It was the first visit in a new Cultural Ecology program hosted by the Friends of Tryon Creek (FOTC) in collaboration with the Native American Youth And (NAYA) Family Center and the Grand Ronde Cultural Lifeways Community. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the State Parks Foundation are also partners on the project.”
Beyond the reservation: NABI focuses on education as well as basketball via Cronkite News
- “As Samantha Quigley tears down another rebound, she sees more than a basketball. In her hands is something beyond an object that she can dribble around defenders and put through a hoop with ease. It’s a ticket to a better life. ‘Basketball is, like, the only key to go a long way if you’re a native,’ said Quigley, the starting forward for the Navajo Nation Elite. ‘Basketball taught me a lot and it can help me get off the reservation.’ She’s one of the hundreds of Native American youth who played in this year’s Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI).”
The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans, focuses on three integrated aspects to ensure scholar success: the students, the scholarship selection committee and the objective and subjective review process for scholarship selection. The combined result is that 90-95 percent of AIEF students complete the academic year for which they are awarded.
Did you know our AIEF Scholarship Selection Committee is made up of all volunteers? These individuals come from all four directions and represent the very best in education and Native advocacy. Members of the committee carefully review more than 100 applications before convening for the annual selection process. One member, Dr. Sandra ‘Sandi’ Jacobson, who held the honor of longest-serving committee member, recently retired from her AIEF duties.
With a deep interest in Native American education and development of future leaders, Dr. Jacobson began as an AIEF donor and was quickly recruited to serve on our selection committee. A native of Minnesota and long-time resident of California, she traveled the western U.S. exploring the back-country, rural and tribal communities, and worked closely with nonprofits and government entities to implement environmental projects in Southern California. Dr. Jacobson holds a doctorate in genetics from the University of Colorado, and a unique perspective that will be missed during our annual scholarship reviews.
In considering her AIEF service, fellow AIEF committee member JoJo DuCharme said, “Sandi brought a definite perspective that most of us did not have. Her professional background was much different than most of ours and added another ‘dimension’ to the selection process.”
“Sandi’s STEM background really guided us in looking at how a student’s academic goals could tie into helping tribes and communities with environmental needs and opportunities, too,” added Bob Sobotta, another committee member.
Dr. Jacobson enjoyed remaining in touch with the AIEF committee and staff throughout the years, as they shared an understanding of how important the selection process is to a student’s future. Yet, the students – their words and their stories – kept her most engaged in the committee. “The student narrative is the most important for me,” said Dr. Jacobson. “Students who are most candid and have compelling stories backed by community service earn the highest scores.”
Dr. Jacobson also offered advice to younger students. “Do community service, take on leadership roles and reach out as a mentor. Do this within Native American organizations on the reservation, in school and with your family.”
At her final AIEF Selection Committee meeting, Dr. Jacobson reflected upon her years of service and emphasized that education is foundational for fulfilling personal capabilities, developing tolerance and hope, and cultivating leadership qualities. “Giving Native American students, particularly those who are nontraditional or from reservations with limited resources, a chance to take the next step in their education is crucial for empowering tribal communities,” said Dr. Jacobson.
In closing, Dr. Jacobson reiterated her commitment to the scholars. “It has been an honor to work with the American Indian Education Fund. This long-term commitment reflects my belief in the power of education to open up new paths for students and train visionary new leaders. It’s not about me, it’s about the students.”
From all of us at PWNA, Wopila Tanka, Dr. Jacobson! Your commitment to Native education and students will impact generations of AIEF scholars, their families and their communities in the years to come.
Spirit Animal, Animal Guide, Spirit Helper. These terms are used among different cultures to describe spirits of benevolent nature, usually helping someone during a hard time. These spirits can bring strength, insight, and even a sense or feeling to someone who needs it.
In pop culture, however, the concept is interpreted loosely and often references something one identifies with or traits they need or possess. In fact, many online sources today will help you identify your spirit animal or find it within yourself. Unfortunately, sites like these often perpetuate the misunderstandings of a Spirit Helper and how various indigenous cultures perceive them.
This is my personal opinion on the topic, and I can only speak to it from what I’ve been taught. However, it is one more viewpoint you can build upon, and I hope it will increase understanding and encourage more learning about indigenous cultures before trying to find an animal spirit through a journey of self-discovery.
In my teachings, a Spirit Helper isn’t something you choose or identify with but rather something that comes to you in your time of need. Perhaps the animal represents something that holds a certain value, such as strength in a bull or agility in a dragonfly. Lakota culture, it’s from these spirits that we tend to associate values with certain animals. However, that’s not all they bring.
Spirit Helpers are not a novelty. They hold a special place and represent a larger spiritual culture within a tribe. Many people don’t take the time to really understand this, and the adapted understanding and misappropriation is concerning and often offensive to Native cultures.
Spirituality in many indigenous cultures is about a relationship to everything around you – the plants and animals that provide food, the land that provides a home, and the weather that makes living possible. These elements are highly respected because they enable us to live. Our spirituality is strongly tied to the value and respect we hold for the earth. Adapting a concept such as spirits to personalization is like cherry-picking indigenous beliefs, although most likely unintentional.
For many tribes, all creatures are viewed as sacred, and certain animals often appear in stories and legends. For more information, you can check out several articles published by tribes that mention how animals are generally regarded:
- Cherokee Nation – The Traditional Belief System
- Seminole Tribe of Florida – Who We Are: Medicine
- First People of North America and Canada – Turtle Island
- Nanticoke and Lenape Confederation – Creation Stories
It’s probably no surprise the back-to-school shopping season is second only to Christmas, and this is likely true for households contributing to the $82.8 billion dollar back-to-school business.
For the 2018 school year, “families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $684.79 each” on school supplies, backpacks, clothing and other back to school items, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. The realization of this expense for even one student makes the provision of school supplies by PWNA and its American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program all the more relevant and imperative, as the school year quickly approaches.
As a giving partner of TOMS, PWNA annually provides TOMS shoes – and now socks donated by Bombas – to ensure students living in low-income households in rural and geographically isolated areas have access to basic items and are equipped and confident returning to school. With about 35 percent of back-to-school spending allocated to shoes and clothing, these resources are particularly important to families with financial limitations.
Schools and youth-serving organizations work with PWNA in tribal communities where poverty rates are higher for families than for their surrounding non-Native neighbors. Kym, a Family Service Manager of a Head Start program serving over 300 preschoolers shared the challenges faced by her community.
“There are parents who do not send their kids to school because they don’t have shoes, or their footwear is inappropriate – they may only have sandals because those are less expensive,” said Kym. “The poverty is so bad here. More than 38 percent of our students under age 18 live in poverty, and these [TOMS] are new! The students need shoes, and these are really good quality.”
A teacher in this same program explained, “You should see the happiness on their faces. It’s like Christmas time and it’s a big deal because these shoes are new, not hand-me-downs.’
Weeks before the school parking lots are jammed with busloads of bustling students, PWNA program partners are working meticulously to register students and offer outside resources to help equip their students for the coming school year. Gymnasiums, cafeterias, staff meeting rooms and even hallways are often transformed into personal shopping areas for the students. Supplies such as TOMS shoes and Bombas socks are on offer with nearby seating and sizing charts to get just the right fit. The commonly used “toe test,” typically administered by an adult, can easily supersede the sizing chart to ensure there is some room to grow.
Weeks before school parking lots are jammed with busloads of bustling students, PWNA program partners are working meticulously to register students and offer outside resources to help equip their students for the coming school year. Gymnasiums, cafeterias, staff meeting rooms and even hallways are often transformed into personal shopping areas for students. Supplies such as TOMS shoes and Bombas socks are distributed with nearby seating and sizing charts to get students the right fit. The commonly used “toe test,” typically administered by an adult, can easily supersede the sizing chart to ensure there is some room to grow.
I have attended many of these TOMS and Bombas distributions and seeing students being fitted for a new pair of shoes by their parents or grandparents never gets old. Children walk, skip, run and hopscotch their way out the door with something new to call their own. And the larger the family, the greater the financial impact.
One single mother in Nebraska had three school-aged children and an infant. Imagine being a single parent tasked with equipping three children at an average cost of $685 each…that’s over $2,000! I also asked one father what it would cost to purchase shoes and socks for his six children and he flatly replied, “I don’t even want to think about it.”
But, we all have to think about this reality. When families are too proud to send their kids to school because they don’t have the supplies they need, or when a child is being teased for the duct tape that keeps their hand-me-down shoes together, it’s hindering a child’s educational experience. We have to come together as a community to help families connect with helpful supplies and resources – such our TOMS and Bombas distributions and our annual Backpack Drive – so that children become confident learners who grow into caring adults.
A good book can be hard to find, even more so one that’s Native-focused. When I was young and would get into trouble, my dad wouldn’t ground me. Instead, he’d often give me a topic to research or a book to read – always on Lakota culture – and have me write a short paper on what I learned. So, I have a couple of recommended books you might consider diving into this summer, an old favorite and a new release.
“Black Elk Speaks” by John Neihardt is one of the first books I ever read and what I consider a cornerstone of Native works. Written in 1932 and sometimes referred to as a spiritual autobiography, the book is a recounting of conversations and interviews with Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man. Black Elk lived through an incredibly transforming period for Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century.
There are few easily accessible recordings, written or otherwise, of these past generations and their stories. I remember reading the Black Elk story and feeling like I was being told a story by my own grandfather – like I was sitting right in front of him listening. The events seem to have happened so long ago, yet only a handful of generations have passed since they occurred. The “retelling” creates a personal experience that brings more weight than most word-of-mouth stories. I’ve yet to find anyone who didn’t appreciate Black Elk’s recounting of these events, so if you haven’t already, I recommend you read “Black Elk Speaks.”
A good friend of mine recently recommended “There There” by Tommy Orange, a creative writing instructor at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This book was released last month and is already a New York Times Best Seller. “There There” follows Native Americans in California struggling with various challenges, and Orange uses traditional storytelling to hook readers in, before leading into more complex themes of the modern urban Indian.
The book goes beyond Native history and perceptions and into how we reconcile the past with the themes of today. Orange offered his perspective on telling these stories in a recent interview. I’m only a couple of chapters into it, but so far, it’s one of the better modern works of Indian life I’ve come across.
It’s more common to find romanticized versions of Native history and stories. These recommendations offer both a historical and modern theme that gives insight into present-day Native life. Happy Reading!
The new school year is right around the corner and that means students and parents all over the country are gathering up their supplies. Back-to-school shopping is typically a highly anticipated activity that arms students with pencils, backpacks and other critical supplies. Equally important, it brings excitement for the year ahead. Sadly though, many Native American students and families can’t afford to complete this essential task.
A lack of resources at home and within tribal communities contributes to this reality. Consider the following statistics – today, 35 percent of Native American children live below the poverty line, making it almost impossible for their families to shoulder the financial investment of back-to-school season. As a parent, what would you do when facing a choice between food and pencils? Backpacks or shoes? Additionally, some reservations are so remote they simply do not have stores that carry backpacks and classroom supplies.
Securing the basic supplies needed for school can make all the difference in a child’s life – from having a successful school year to increasing their chances of graduating high school to making the next step toward college. Education is one of the most important cornerstones of self-sufficiency and quality of life in Native communities, and that starts with creating a positive, nurturing, fulfilling environment for young students.
The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), helps school partners tackle this issue by providing school supplies for K-12 students. In 2017, with your help, PWNA assisted more than 25,000 students through its annual Backpack Drive by delivering backpacks and school supplies to students across Indian Country.
This year’s Backpack Drive is once again an opportunity for you to support and encourage K-12 Native students and ensure a positive start to their school year. Please join our efforts to help provide backpacks, pencils, binders and more to those most in need. With your help today, many parents won’t have to face those difficult spending choices this year. Your donation will make the all the difference for a Native student and their family.
The Purple Heart is America’s oldest military merit, originally created as the “Badge of Military Merit” more than 235 years ago to honor a soldier’s “singularly meritorious action.” The Order of the Purple Heart was established in 1932 and throughout history, more than 1.8 million brave soldiers have been awarded the Purple Heart in recognition of their sacrifices in combat and resilience as prisoners of war.
Indigenous peoples have contributed a high rate of representation to the armed forces and other branches for as long as the U.S. military has existed. Today, there are more than 31,000 Native Americans on active duty, and 140,000 American Indian veterans, many of which hold the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and/or Congressional Medal of Honor.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 19 percent of Native Americans serve in the military — a higher rate than any other minority in America. One could attribute it to our own war-torn history, or the need to defend our homes and protect our people, or to honor our “peace and friendship” accords with the U.S. despite its many broken promises to Native communities. In some cases, the military can also offer an escape from joblessness or an uncertain future, and fulfill a need for purpose and contribution.
In the past, we introduced Lawrence Wright Jr, a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is now furthering his contribution to the defense of our country by pursuing a Master’s in Emergency Management and Homeland Security (with the support of our AIEF scholarship program). Despite incurring numerous injuries while on duty, Lawrence was not discouraged and today is motivated to make something of himself that he may honor his fellow Marines who sacrificed their lives in Iraq. Lawrence shared in a recent update that he completed his Emergency Management studies last month and will be starting law school at A
Service in the military is a special kind of duty and giving. When all is said and done, those who are recipients of the Purple Heart are honored because they truly have given all they have — body and mind — to fight for their country. As Purple Heart Appreciation Day approaches on August 7, we honor all combat veterans and recipients who hold this badge of military merit, and remember their sacrifices for all of us.