Navajo Code Talkers Day: The Life and Legacy of Chester Nez

Navajo Code Talkers Day on Aug. 14th honors the veterans who encrypted their Native language to provide fast and secure phone and radio communications during World War II. Navajo Code Talkers were trained to transmit messages under intense conditions, and their unbreakable code is credited with helping the U.S. win the war.

The “original 29” Code Talkers began in 1942 and were unsung heroes until 2001 when they were awarded Congressional Gold Medals. These individuals were instrumental in shaping the campaigns of the second World War and we continue to honor their legacy today. About 400 other Navajos followed the original 29 to war.

Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez

Chester Nez was the last surviving member of the original 29. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the war as part of Recruit Training Platoon 382. After graduating from boot camp in San Diego, Nez and the rest of his platoon were tasked with creating the code for secure tactical communications. While code talkers from other nations also served in World War II, the Navajo language was selected because of its complex syntax and phonology.

Nez was born in Chi Chil’tah, New Mexico in 1921. Like so many other Native American children at the time, he was sent at age 8 to a boarding school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The school assigned his English name “Chester” and it was there he was recruited by the Marine Corps.

When Nez and his platoon went to Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomon Islands, they worked in teams of two to send and receive critical messages. From 1942 to 1945, Nez traveled to Bougainville, Guam, Angaur and Peleliu to assist with wartime communications. He was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to the U.S., where he later assisted with the Korean War effort.

Nez retired from the military as a corporal and went on to study commercial arts at the University of Kansas. He then spent 25 years working as a painter for the Veterans Administration hospital in Albuquerque before retiring in New Mexico. Nez published a memoir in 2011 titled Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII. In it, he recounts how he was once punished for speaking the same Native language that later helped assure victory for the U.S.

Nez passed away in 2014 at the age of 93. Today, we commemorate Chester Nez, and the rest of the Navajo Code Talkers who forever helped shape U.S. history. Learn more about the code talkers that followed from other tribes.

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Native American Undergraduate Students Awarded ‘Wes Studi AIEF Scholarship’

College students across the country are eager to begin the fall semester, whether in-person or online. For Native American students, however, attaining a postsecondary education comes with its own set of unique challenges.

The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of PWNA, helps foster education opportunities for American Indian and Alaskan Natives through scholarships, school supplies and encouragement. AIEF is one of the largest grantors of scholarships to Native Americans and invests about $1 million in education each year, including scholarships for many students who are the first generation in their families to attend college.  

This year, PWNA collaborated with legendary actor Wes Studi to grant two additional scholarships to Native American students from his home state. The Wes Studi AIEF Scholarship is intended for Native American students from Oklahoma who are attending a four-year university and pursuing a degree in the arts, business or communications.

This year’s scholarships were awarded to Hannah Westfall, a member of the Osage Nation who is studying film and media studies at the University of Oklahoma, and Kelly Kowis, a member of the Cherokee Nation who is studying business management at Northeastern State University. Both Kelly and Hannah were awarded $2,500 for the 2020-2021 school year and will also receive mentorship and support from AIEF, which can further impact their success.

Studi, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation raised in Oklahoma, has long advocated for the Native American community. In 2019, he partnered with PWNA to create a five-part PSA series on the widely held misconceptions about Native people, history and funding. Studi also initiated a birthday fundraiser on Facebook to raise the funds earmarked for these two scholarships.

“Native American youth today are the voice of future generations, and we are so proud to select Kelly and Hannah as our inaugural Wes Studi AIEF Scholarship recipients. They both aspire to heartfelt goals and while this school year may look different, we know they will remain dedicated to their studies and their communities.” – Wes Studi

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Vaccines for Healthy Animals and Reservation Communities

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, highlighting the importance of vaccinations for people to prevent serious and sometimes deadly diseases. With so much current focus on vaccines for people, animal caretakers recognize that pets are a part of the family too and their vaccines are equally important. PWNA’s Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) program provides grants to animal welfare partners, helping them extend no-cost and low-cost vaccine services to animals of the reservations and immunize rescue animals prior to adoption and rehoming.

ASPCA shares that vaccines can be broken into two categories: “core must-haves” and “non-core.” This differs depending on the type of animal and where it lives. Must-haves for dogs are rabies, parvovirus, distemper and canine hepatitis. Must-have for cats are rabies, feline distemper, feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. In some cases, a dog may get more than 15 vaccines and cats up to 10 vaccines in their first year of life. The price of these vaccines can add up quickly, costing anywhere from $100-$200 depending on the clinic and number of shots.

RAR grants help our animal welfare partners protect animals – and in turn communities – against preventable diseases. Nola and Chuck are serving the Omaha and Winnebago tribes in Nebraska through 12 Hills Dog Rescue. They’ve been a PWNA partner for several years, and a good portion of the RAR funding provided to them goes toward vaccinations and parasite prevention. Over one three-month period, they were able to do 41 immunizations at an average cost of about $22 per dog. That’s a lot of preventative medicine for animals waiting for their forever homes!

Unfortunately, many animals who find themselves with our RAR partners arrive with injuries and other critical health concerns. These issues must be treated before vaccines can be administered. One recent example is Phil, a six-week-old Pomeranian/Husky (Pomsky) mix. Phil was taken to 12 Hills by a Nebraska family and a veterinary assessment showed he had a severe bacterial infection in his face and feet. Two options were given: euthanasia or the long and costly road of treatment. Thankfully, they chose treatment, and Phil is now on the road to recovery!

A happy and playful Pomsky now 10 weeks old, Phil has received his first vaccinations and is ready for his forever home! According to 12 Hills, he is fine with cats and kids but not yet house-trained or neutered. Phil will weight 15-30 pounds when fully grown.

For more information on canine and feline immunizations, visit ASPCA.org or consult with your nearest veterinary clinic.

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Despite Classroom Uncertainties, School Supplies are Critical

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.

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Participating in the UN’s Global Conversation About Poverty

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.

COVID-19

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.

Food Insecurity

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.

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Global-PPE Donates Critical Personal Protective Equipment for Native Communities

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.

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Kate Farms Supports Food Security for Native Americans Amid Pandemic

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.

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Recently in Native News

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.

American Indian tribes thwarted in efforts to get coronavirus data via POLITICO

  • “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.”

Vote-by-mail systems could offer challenges for Native Americans via CBS News

  • “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.’”

Missing and murdered Native Americans: How to combat the worsening crisis in the U.S. via Fortune

  • “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 take tougher line on COVID-19 as states reopen via The Hill

  • “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 to change ‘out of step’ Red Skins and Chicos brands via CNN

  • “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.”
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Postponing Pow Wows and Other Traditions to Protect Native Health

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.

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