Can I Visit the Reservations

Flathead Range

Each summer, PWNA receives calls from people wondering whether they can visit a reservation, or if they need permission, or the best time to visit. Many Native American reservations and communities welcome visits and generously share education about their culture and history and area.

At the same time, most Americans have never visited a reservation, and all American Indian reservations, villages, and pueblos operate under their own government and may have different rules for visitors.

So, summer is a good time to re-run our tips on visiting the reservations and share some general etiquette and protocol, the most basic of them being to exercise common courtesy.


Tips for Visiting the Reservations:

  • All communities contain a diversity of tribal members who practice varying degrees of tradition. Also, while some reservations may have characteristics similar to another, each is home to tribes that have distinct cultures and histories. Therefore, what is acceptable in one community or at one event may not be appropriate at another.
  • Show respect to the people and the rules. Treat the residents with courtesy and observe the signs that have been put in place to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the land and people. Pay close attention to posted traffic and road signs and do not litter.
  • Be aware of which places are public and which are private or restricted. If you are unsure, do not enter.
  • Do not pick up artifacts or ruins such as pieces of pottery.  This would be inappropriate and Native American remains and artifacts are protected by tribal law and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
  • If you are fortunate enough to be in attendance at a dance or ceremonial event, dress in a modest, kempt, and appropriate manner. Avoid excessive talking, questioning, and applause. Be a respectful observer.  Check in advance whether photography is allowed. If not, by all means respect that rule.
  • Be a polite and attentive listener.
  • If food or a meal is offered to you, be polite and accept it.
  • Alcohol is not permitted on many reservations.
  • Do some research before your trip. Knowing more about the culture, history, and traditions of the people who live on the reservation you plan to visit will enhance your experience and help you avoid mistakes in etiquette. Many tribes have information for visitors on their websites, including a tourism page, a calendar of events that are open to the public, and rules of etiquette or protocol.
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Recently in Native News

Partnership With Native Americans has compiled our favorite stories on Native life from across the country during the month of July. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Native American artists call for an end to counterfeits via PBS News

  • “Native American artists are requesting the federal government strengthen a 1990 law that prohibits the sale of counterfeit tribal art, in an attempt to stop the flood of fakes that jeopardize their livelihood. In a hearing on Friday, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich heard from seven panelists, a mix of government officials and Native artists, who spoke of a need for the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to be revisited.”

Exhibit Explores Ways Native Americans Approach Health via NPR

  • “The Sequoyah National Research Center, a Native American archive and gallery on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is unveiling a new exhibit Tuesday. Entitled “Native Voices,” it examines the diverse and holistic ways many Native Americans approach illness and health.”

Native Americans Challenge Government Over Fate Of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears via Huffington Post

  • “Native American tribes and activists have joined forces in a complaint against the U.S. government’s decision to take grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park off the endangered species list. In a lawsuit filed in Montana late June, a collection of more than 16 tribes, clans and leaders asked a federal judge to block a new policy that would allow trophy hunters to kill the bears. The suit alleges that lifting endangered species protections from these animals would violate Native American religious beliefs.”

Will global warming change Native American religious practices? via The Conversation

  • “As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices. Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.”

Native broadcast workshop has 21 students from four tribes via Navajo-Hopi Observer

  • “Twenty-one Native American high school students from 10 high schools and four tribes received training in mass media while attending the 6th annual Andy Harvey Native American Broadcast workshop June 18-24 in Flagstaff. The project concluded with a screening of the students’ video projects. Toni DeAztlan Smith, assistant professor in the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University (NAU), said in a news release that participants stayed on the NAU campus while working at the NAU School of Communications Student Media Center newsroom alongside of NAU students and broadcast journalism professionals. The high school students produced multimedia audio stories about Flagstaff businesses using astrophotography.”
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Emerging Leaders Making a Difference Today

On July 7, PWNA held a celebration event to honor 13 graduates of our 4 Directions Development Program (4D). The graduates celebrated the completion of a 6-month long leadership development process, marked by graduates sharing how the program had already impacted their personal and professional lives. All the graduates spoke about many of the challenges they face working in the communities they serve, and in the face of this adversity, these emerging leaders seek to improve the quality of life and share a common belief that giving up is not an option.

4D recruits and trains “emerging leaders” working and living on tribal reservations in the Northern Plains and Southwest regions of the United States. We consider an emerging leader as someone who is already recognized as a local leader, someone others can go to for support, a trusted member of the community. An emerging leader is also someone who is willing to expand their knowledge base and learn new skills that will impact their personal and professional contributions to the lives of those around them.

Miranda Lente, Isleta and Acoma ancestry, joined the 4D cohort so that she could enhance her skills and ability to impact the lives of others. “The 4D training program description was different and interesting. I knew it would benefit my current or future career path,” Miranda noted.

Emerging leaders like Miranda seem to have a constitution for being of service to others. This quality may be steeped in a Native perspective of what a true leader is – one that has a balanced focus on serving others rather than solely for personal gain. For Miranda, the goal of personal and professional success is not only for her but the benefit of others. She credits her mother Karen for being a role model and mentor in helping her to develop this quality.

As a loan officer for Tiwa Lending Services, Isleta Pueblo, Miranda is helping members in her community learn about finances, credit, personal loans, and home purchase. The organization’s website explains that the purpose of Tiwa Lending Services is “to serve as a leader for Economic and Social development of financial excellence for Tribal Communities at large” and to provide “services to the people of Isleta Pueblo and Surrounding Communities seeking financial assistance through loans, financial education and home ownership by developing innovative products and services.” This seems to be a perfect job for Miranda and you can hear the excitement and good energy when she talks about her work. In 4D, Miranda achieved both her personal goal of improving her health and professional goal of Improving her networking skills.

PWNA launched the 4D capacity building service to provide ongoing support to emerging tribal leaders. Components include four two-day sessions focused on skills assessment, leadership training, professional and personal goal setting and individualized mentoring for 10-15 participants over a six-month period. Cohorts are hosted regionally to support participation from all tribes in our 12-state service area. To date, 135 Native leaders from 35 tribes in 6 states have graduated from 4D.

The 4 Directions Development Program is a good example of how Partnership With Native Americans is fulfilling its mission to serve immediate needs and support long-term solutions. 4D emerging leaders like Miranda are bound to have lasting impacts in the communities they serve and PWNA is honored to be of service to them.

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Back to School

Every year, high school students herald the end of the summer with a mad rush to stock up on school supplies for the coming year. Pencils, pens, and everything in between can contribute to a student’s success and future chances at taking the next step toward post-secondary education. However, many Native American students who live in remote or geographically-isolated reservations are not able to secure the basic supplies needed to do well in school.

For many Native students, a lack of school supplies often stems from a lack of resources at home and in their remote tribal community. Today, 35 percent of Native American children live below the poverty line, which often hinders back-to-school readiness. As schools within many reservation communities struggle with understaffing or inadequate funding, they are not always able to help students with school supplies and other needs, and for some communities, there is an absence of retail stores where school supplies can be purchased.

The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), helps school partners tackle this issue by providing school supplies to K-12 students. In 2016, PWNA was able to assist about 26,000 students at 70 reservation schools, through its annual Backpack Drive that delivers backpacks and school supplies to students across Indian Country.

The organization’s 2017 Backpack Drive begins July 17, and is an opportunity to support K-12 Native students again and ensure a positive start to their school year.

Juanita, a fifth-grade student from a pueblo in New Mexico, received school supplies from PWNA and was so happy that she sent a handwritten note of thanks to the organization, stating “I like the things you did for my school,” and asking, “Do you do this for other schools?”

Stories like Juanita’s illustrate the impact a small donation can have, and are why PWNA continues to support Native students. Please join us in our effort to ensure Native American students get the support they need to succeed in grades K-12, and accomplish their goals for college, service and self-sufficiency, by donating to the 2017 Backpack Drive.

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What Patriotism Means to Me, as a Native American

There was a time when I was asked what to do when the National Anthem played. As a child I had always done the pledge of allegiance at school. Yet, as I grew older I started looking into Native American history and it led me to question whether or not I should respect the symbol of a country that did such horrible acts to my people, and then I questioned my patriotism.

One day I asked my father about it because I noticed he always stood, or removed his headwear, and held respect for the American flag. He told me something along these lines, “At the battle of the Little Big Horn, we captured that flag. We claim that flag, it’s a symbol of our people now.”

His explanation lessened my questioning about respecting the flag, but I still had questions about strengthening my “patriotism” toward my people and my country. Many Natives hold cynical views toward our country, something I always wondered about. I’m a firm believer in middle grounds, that somehow I can respect my ancestors’ resistance and the greater U.S. of which I am now a citizen.

I came to a singular conclusion. While I don’t support or approve of the wrongdoings that happened or arguably are still happening, I believe in the solution that was once integral for my people. I don’t believe people are bad or that people should suffer, and so I work to set an example of cooperation within my new “tribe” — living today by the principles of my culture, in a world that still doesn’t necessarily understand or praise them.

As citizens of the U.S., we are Americans whether or not we are immigrants. Our old ways once said to take care of each other, and while I guarantee not everyone in a tribe saw eye to eye, they valued the importance of the tribe’s well-being and worked to find consensus out of differences. It is important to remember where we come from, but it also important to take into account that culture is different today and it will be different again in the future.

As a side note, this marks over a year I have been blogging for PWNA, and in one regard, it has been difficult, as sometimes it is easy to focus solely on the negatives in the issues we all face today. Instead, I keep my writing focused on the positive, the real, and the change that can happen if we apply ourselves to these problems, the solutions that will alleviate our problems, and the impact of cooperation with others outside of who we might define as “our people.”  I hope to continue to offer outlooks that can bring people together, indigenous and otherwise, and bridge the gap that has been built over centuries because, at the end of the day, we are all related.

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Recently in Native News

In keeping with our commitment to providing trending news and events concerning Native Americans, Partnership With Native Americans has compiled our favorite stories on Native life from the month of June. Stay up to date with more articles by following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Beating the Toughest Odds, New Graduate on the Pine Ridge Reservation Accepted to Seven Ivy League Colleges via Red Cloud Indian School

  • “More than 60 percent of children on the reservation (South Dakota’s Pine Ridge) live below the poverty line. Statewide, the high school graduation rate for Native American students is less than 50 percent. And life expectancy in Oglala Lakota County, where Pine Ridge Reservation sits, is the lowest in the United States. But this year, one Lakota student at Red Cloud Indian School defied the negative statistics that continue to plague young people on Pine Ridge. Not only is nineteen-year-old Jacob Rosales going to college this fall, but he was accepted into seven of the nation’s eight Ivy League universities.”

Oil Is Flowing Through the Dakota Access Pipeline via The Atlantic

  • “After months of protests, more than 750 arrests, and high-profile interventions by both the Obama and Trump administrations, the first part of the battle over the Dakota Access pipeline has ended. Oil is now flowing through the pipeline—and, crucially, beneath Lake Oahe in North Dakota, which is sacred to local Lakota and Dakota people and their only source of water.”

Senators Team Up to Combat Native American Veteran Homelessness via BBSNews

  • “Only 26 of the 567 federally recognized Native American tribes received HUD-VASH (S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers under the current Tribal HUD-VASH demonstration, yet Native Americans serve in the military at a higher percentage than any ethnic demographic in the United States. ‘No veteran, including tribal veterans, should face homelessness,’ Hoeven said. ‘This legislation will help ensure that Native Americans who courageously served our country have access to safe and quality housing’…”

Public art reminds us of Native Americans’ rich and troubled history via Greenville Journal

  • “Last month, in a ceremony punctuated by Native American dance and song, Greenville Water dedicated Prospect Green, a new park at the corner of West Washington and West Broad streets, and unveiled the centerpiece of the park, a ten-foot tall bronze sculpture of a Cherokee male, titled “Water Blessing,” by artist Doug Young.”

Blackfeet Researcher Leads Her Tribe Back to Traditional Foods via Resilience

  • “Well before white settlers colonized their land, Blackfeet Nation members used more than 200 types of plants for food and remedies. But forced assimilation and reliance on the U.S. government for food adversely shifted most nations’ diets from whole foods to industrialized processed foods and eroded tribal health. More than 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults are overweight or obese, and half of American Indian children are predicted to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes, according to the Indian Health Clinical Reporting system.”
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Organizations Supporting Native Education

This month, high school seniors around the country will celebrate the culmination of four years of hard work with a freshly printed diploma and well-earned toss of a tasseled mortarboard. Amid the celebrations, however, is the reality that many Native American students have trouble moving on to college.

Today, only 17 percent of American Indian students continue their education after high school, drastically lower than the 60% of greater U.S. population of high school students who attend college after graduation.

Improving graduation and post-secondary education rates begins with providing the tools needed to make school and learning a positive experience. The following organizations have made it their mission to help improve access to education for Native American youth.

  • supports K-12 educators and the teaching profession as a whole by providing lessons, teaching tools and coverage of pertinent K-12 education topics for their readers. The professional development resources they create and share are made “by teachers, for teachers.” TeachHub also puts an important focus on solutions for diversity and disparities impacting minority students.
  • Similarly, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) works to support the needs of Native students in the K-12 school system. They also work closely with Congress to ensure the Native Culture, Language and Access for Success (CLASS) Act is followed and applied in public education throughout the country. The Native CLASS Act recognizes the role of tribal governments as sovereign states in directing the education of Native students, and provides a number of provisions including increased tribal control over the education of tribal citizens, a formula grant program for language immersion schools, and comprehensive wraparound services for Native youth.
  • The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) provides a support network of tribal colleges that work to influence federal policies and build programs in American Indian education that are holistic and culturally supportive.

Organizations like TeachHub, NCAI and AIHEC help to build a national support system for Native students, just as PWNA and its American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program work to improve graduation rates and post-secondary educational opportunities for Native students nationwide.

AIEF provides literacy and school supplies to Native American students, as well as scholarships, grants and emergency funds that help Native students overcome the barriers to attending and completing post-secondary education.

Education is an important cornerstone for self-sufficiency and quality of life and should be accessible to all Americans to ensure bright futures for our children.

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Pocahontas: Fact & Fiction

On June 23, 1995, Disney released “Pocahontas” to theaters, earning mixed reviews from critics. This controversy was well founded, specifically in the portrayal of the historical events, which romanticize the story between the characters and alleviate the circumstances of Pocahontas quite a bit. For the 22nd anniversary of the Disney movie, and in keeping with PWNA’s aim to share more accurate knowledge of Native American history and culture, we’d like to share a slightly different story than the one with which you may be familiar.

For starters, Pocahontas was actually a nickname. Amonute, or Matoaka to some, was born sometime in the late 1500’s. Her mother, Wahunseneka, may have also shared the name Pocahontas; she died in childbirth.

Matoaka was Powhatan, and while the Disney story would say she was a young adult, she was likely closer to the age of 10 or 11 when the Jamestown settlement was established, according to the journal of Captain John Smith.

There are no personal accounts of Pocahontas leading up to the more popularized events of the early 1600’s, and of these events, most come from the journals of John Smith or John Rolfe.

Urban legend offers many accounts of Pocahontas saving the life of John Smith from execution, though this is still under debate, as it does not appear in Smith’s personal journal (at least not consistently). Nor was Pocahontas ever known to have had a romantic relationship with John Smith – one of the most widely held misconceptions.

More sure is the romantic relationship with John Rolfe. During the 1609 Anglo-Powhatan War, Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom and, while in captivity, Rolfe would explain he developed feelings for the girl. Reportedly, Rolfe had to write a particular governor citing his feelings, as well as the possibility of saving her soul through the conversion of Christianity, although some accounts show there may have been a different motive for the marriage.

Pocahontas and Rolfe married in 1614, when Pocahontas was roughly 17 years old. In 1616, the couple traveled to England, where Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized under the given name of Rebecca.

In England, it was said that her etiquette was well developed and her understanding of English culture grew. To some, Pocahontas was thought of as a “Tamed Savage of the West” and was often presented as a princess of her tribe, though the tribe had no such reference to her. On the journey back to Virginia, she fell ill and died on March 21, 1617. The cause of death is speculated to be pneumonia, tuberculosis or poisoning.

Over the years, her presentation as a symbol of a successful American Indian “Christian conversion” has likely contributed to the Pocahontas story being romanticized to the point of fiction, including Disney’s depiction. The real story of Pocahontas-Amonute-Matoaka-Rebecca is much more dramatic and possibly much darker than most people realize. To learn more of her story based on oral and written history from the tribe, visit:

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Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day

In a previous blog on World Health Day, I described the main source of health care in PWNA’s service area as Indian Health Service (I.H.S.), which serves Native male and female residents of tribal areas, but the delivery of preventative care stems largely from tribally operated wellness programs.

Health literacy and health education activities are also critical to disease prevention. Lower education levels are tied directly to lower health literacy, so health events and awareness activities are important to populations that are challenged by educational disparities.

PWNA supports hundreds of reservation-based program partners in getting health information to community members, and in recognition of Men’s Health Month, some of them are hosting Community Events to increase awareness of preventative care among the male members in their tribal communities.

Throughout the month of June, one of our partners through the Navajo Nation is conducting a health fair and screenings in eight different chapters, to ensure information on preventative care and health promotion is available. Area health providers will conduct sessions on health awareness, prevention and education, specifically focusing on the theme of “Educating our Native Men and Their Families.” Some topics to be covered include high blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, and hygiene. Printed materials will be distributed and available as takeaways, but having health care providers available to address any questions that arise from attendees is equally if not more important.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services, “non-print materials are important sources of health information” and information from health professionals is “one of the most important resources on health topics for all health literacy levels.”

The Tribal Health Department, a PWNA partner from the Gila River Indian Community, is also promoting men’s health by raising awareness in five of their communities. Some of their education will also include summer-related illnesses caused by ticks and mosquitoes.

Because the Native population is small (less than 2% of the U.S. population), many organizations do not track health, disparities, or other information on American Indians, let alone gender-specific data. But the Indian Health Service acknowledges:

“American Indian and Alaska Native people have long experienced lower health status when compared with other Americans. Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden exist perhaps because of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences. These are broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions.”

The statement holds true for Native males, as illustrated by just a few of the health challenges they face:

  • Suicide rates are nearly 50 percent higher for AI/AN people compared to non-Hispanic whites, and more frequent among AI/AN males and persons younger than age 25.
  • Pine Ridge has the lowest life expectancy (66.8 years) in the U.S., according to JAMA (2017).
  • Over 23% of Native men 18 years and older smoke cigarettes, per the CDC (2012-2014).

Our tribal community partners are working year-round to instill prevention and healthy lifestyles into the hearts and minds of Native Americans. PWNA is proud to support their collective efforts to recognize June as Men’s Health Month, and to give a shout out to father’s everywhere this Father’s Day.

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Nutrition and Health on Native American Reservations

A diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthful whole food is a privilege for many Americans; however, it remains elusive for many Native Americans, especially those living in geographically isolated areas. Insufficient access to fresh and healthy food options continues to be an issue on at least 60 reservations in the United states, and this grim fact has an inordinate impact on the long-term health outcomes of those residents. As a result, occurrences of nutrition-related disease are still high among Native Americans.

Lack of access to healthy food choices have directly impacted the rate of diabetes for Native Americans. Today, Native Americans suffer from the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country, and the mortality rate of diabetes among Native Americans is three times higher than that of all other races in the country, according to the federally operated Indian Health Service (IHS).

Additionally, the Office of Minority Health (part of Health and Human Services) reports that Native people have higher rates of several risk factors that can lead to heart disease, including two that are nutrition-related: obesity and high blood pressure. Food insecurity among Native Americans is also especially detrimental to younger generations, as the issue of childhood obesity continues to gain national attention. Obesity in children is a common symptom of food insecurity, which affects 1 in 4 American Indian families. Diabetes among American Indian teens has dramatically increased; between 1994 – 2004, diabetes cases rose 68 percent among Native youth ages 15 – 19.

Because of the pervasiveness of this problem, and the adverse effects that touch all members of the community, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) takes numerous approaches with reservation programs to combat food insecurity, including immediate relief and long-term solutions that support healthier communities.

These solutions include practical fixes, such as assisting the most vulnerable members of the community by delivering healthy food options on a regular basis. Programs like this solve an immediate need while shining a light on the areas where additional support is still necessary.

To learn more about what you can do to support PWNA’s efforts and help stave off the effects of insufficient nutrition for those dealing with food insecurity, please visit

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