Storytelling in Native American Cultures

How did we record history before we understood writing? In most cultures, the only way we remembered the past was through passing on stories word-of-mouth from one generation to another. These stories teach us lessons, give us history, and help us remember where our traditions come from, and in Lakota culture, we hold that you must tell every story just as heard or it loses its meaning.

Storytelling remains an inherent part of many indigenous cultures today. Historic records within tribal cultures consisted of weavings, paintings, drawings, pottery and other artistic mediums, but the important part of reading these recordings is interpreting them the correct way. Most often, the records “visualize” rather than “narrate” the story or event, and this is where some people get the story confused.

For centuries, us Lakota have carried our past through oral tradition, as we call it. These stories tell the origin of entire nations, why animals looked or acted the way they did, and where or how entire cultural traditions originated.

However, it may be in part due to storytelling “as record” that much of our history has been lost, some stories never retold, others forgotten and some dying with the last person to remember them. In today’s culture, we often tell stories through video and audio recordings, instead of hearing it from one’s grandparent or friend. This makes history more easily spread and known, but it also takes away from the tradition of storytelling.

There is meaning in hearing a story that has come to you from generations of past relatives, and there is meaning in passing it on. Now, there are so few who still practice remembering stories with the skill and cadence and fanaticism of a storyteller.

Hearing these stories was always one of my favorite things as a kid. Knowing that I could tell a story or talk about it with someone else was always such a great part of meeting others. When we all have that part of our culture to draw on and connect through, storytelling still unites our tribes across the miles and borders.

If you want to learn more about Native American storytelling, watch “Dream Keeper.” The film features stories from many indigenous cultures and an almost all-Native cast, including Eddie Spears, August Schellenberg, Chaske Spencer, Gary Farmer, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Cardinal Tantoo, John Trudell and more.

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Supporting Strong Native Women as Emerging Leaders

This October, PWNA is launching its inaugural 4 Directions Development Program (4D) for Strong Native Women, supporting the development of strong female leaders throughout Indian Country. The cohort commences this week in Santa Fe, New Mexico with 12 women who will partake in training sessions through March 2019.

4D training is an ongoing long-term solutions service that PWNA piloted in 2012 to help develop emerging leaders in reservation communities we serve, proactive individuals seeking to increase their knowledge and skills as community leaders. As part of the program, participants engage in a six-month training that includes personal and professional development, self-identified goal-setting and mentorship. All 4D program costs, including meals, lodging and travel for training, are covered by PWNA.

This year, PWNA sought to establish the first 4D all-women cohort, made possible through a grant from the PepsiCo Foundation, which invests in partnerships and programs to support at least 1.5 million girls and women becoming more workforce ready in the coming years. In addition to funding, members of PepsiCo’s Native American employee resource workgroup (known as RISE) will volunteer as mentor-advisors for the 4D participants. Many RISE members also mentor student scholars of our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program.

Each of the female candidates participating in the inaugural cohort of 4D Strong Native Women applied for the program and upon selection, committed to attending all training sessions and completing all aspects of the program. Participants will attend their first session on Thursday, Oct. 11 where they’ll learn about leadership styles, traditional leadership, lateral violence and self-care. Additional areas of development to be addressed in future trainings include public speaking, grant writing and financial education. Program facilitators will also customize sessions based on any needs identified by individuals or the group.

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Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day

The second Monday of October is federally recognized as Columbus Day. Marked a national holiday in 1937, the day is set to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in the 15th Century. However, this ‘holiday’ has become the center of controversy in recent decades, asking individuals to question what really happened when Columbus ‘discovered’ America.

Columbus was an Italian explorer who set sail in 1492 determined to find a direct water route to Asia. Instead, he accidentally stumbled upon the Americas and was credited with ‘discovering’ the New World, which was already known and inhabited by hundreds of tribes. His voyages led to the eventual conquest and colonization of the Americas and brought displacement and suffering to many tribes, including enslavement, disease and the death of millions of Indigenous people.

For generations, U.S. history text books have revered Columbus as a hero. However, this is insensitive to those whose ancestors were here long before Columbus arrived, and for many Native people, this ‘holiday’ serves as a reminder of the loss and genocide he brought with him. To celebrate this seems to dismiss thousands of years of culture, history, thriving societies and contributions that originated solely with the Indigenous peoples on these shores, pre-Columbus.

Dozens of individual cities and states across the country have done away with Columbus Day, instead reclaiming the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. This newly recognized holiday celebrates the contributions, customs and traditions of Native Americans, reminding us they were here long before Columbus and the settlers they showed how to survive in the ‘New World.’

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Native History: The Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867

October marks a significant milestone in Native history – the anniversary of the US-Indian Conference of 1867 that culminated with the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty.

The “Medicine Lodge Treaty” commonly refers to the three treaties signed between the U.S. government and the Great Plains tribes that had settled in Medicine Lodge on the Kansas prairie, a sacred area to those tribes. The conference took place 70 miles south of Ft. Larned at the cusp of the Medicine Lodge River and Elm Creek, after a failed peace treaty earlier that spring. It is estimated that 5000-15,000 tribal members were in attendance.

The Medicine Lodge Treaty was intended to establish rules to end conflicts and bring peace to the region, albeit by relocating the tribes to reservations in Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma) and away from European settlers. For half a century before, Kansas, Nebraska and lands westward had been deemed unsuitable for settlers, so the U.S. had tried relocating all American Indians to one giant Great Plains reservation in an area known as the Great American Desert. However, Native Americans naturally began nomadically roaming the Plains beyond this unnatural boundary, and the U.S. found that threatening to further settlement, resulting in the Medicine Lodge peace talks.

The three separate treaties signed with five tribes at Medicine Lodge included one on Oct. 21, 1867 between the U.S. and the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache, and two a week later on Oct. 28, 1867 with the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe. The tribes ceded familiar lands and hunting grounds, in exchange for allotted reservation lands. They also unknowingly gave up their freedom to leave the reservation or practice their religion and traditions yet doing so was considered a breach of treaty.

Like so many times before and after, this only led to broken treaties with further reductions of land and freedoms. In the 1903 legal battle of Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (187 U.S. 553), Kiowan Chief Lone Wolf claimed defraudation of land due to misrepresentations by the interpreter and lack of required votes. Congress found the treaty was void because it was not ratified by the required three quarters of the male tribal members. Then President William McKinley stepped in and allowed whites entry and settlement on the disputed lands, and the Supreme Court closed any further appeals or arguments on the case.

If I can share one key point to remember, it is the lasting impact of the Medicine Lodge Treaty and all treaties. Apparently, there came a point when the U.S. government decided it was okay to dehumanize us and evict us from our homes through our lack of understanding, and when we came to understand, loopholes or acts of Congress were put forth and treaties were broken. Much of this is the root of mistrust and the challenges affecting Indigenous peoples today.

October also reminds us of several other unfortunate events in Native history:

  • On Oct. 5, 1813, Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chief widely regarded as a fighter for the rights of tribes, fell in battle, a casualty of the War of 1812.
  • On Oct. 5, 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe surrendered to the U.S. at Bear’s Paw near the Canadian border declaring, “from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
  • On Oct. 31, 1941, Mount Rushmore was completed with the figureheads of four presidents. The monument remains controversial to this day and is often seen as a mockery of the Black Hills sacred to the Lakota.
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Recently in Native News

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 September. Stay up to date and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more headlines.

 Sioux Falls’ first ever Native American Day Parade to bring traditional dancing, regalia downtown via Argus Leader

  • “One of the men responsible for getting Columbus Day changed to Native American Day in South Dakota will be honored during the first-ever Sioux Falls Native American Day Parade next month. Tim Giago, a prominent member of the South Dakota journalism and Native American community who was paramount in working with Gov. George S. Mickelson to make Native American Day a state holiday in 1990, will be the grand marshal of the 2018 Sioux Falls Native American Day Parade on Monday, Oct. 8. The parade, to start at 10 a.m. on 14th Street and Phillips Avenue and work its way north along the city’s traditional parade route, will highlight both modern and historical Native American cultures from South Dakota tribes, said parade organizer Richie Richards.”

Texas A&M receives grant to help repatriate Native American artifacts via The Eagle

  • “Texas A&M University has received a grant as part of a $1.64 million National Park Service effort to return ancestral remains and sacred objects to Native American tribes and organizations. ‘This is an opportunity to engage in good-faith collaboration and proactive engagement with Native American groups and tribes,’ said Heather Thakar, the project’s director. Thakar is an assistant professor of archaeology and the curator of the Anthropology Research Collections. ‘The ultimate goal is to facilitate consultation that increases successful repatriation to Native American groups,’ Thakar said.”

NCAIED Announces 2018 Native American “40 Under 40” Award Recipients via Native Times

  • “The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (The National Center) is pleased to announce its 2018 class of “Native American 40 Under 40” award recipients. Nominated by members of their communities, this prestigious award is bestowed to individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication and have made significant contributions in business and their community. The National Center is celebrating the 10th anniversary of these awards.”

Native American artist leads community art project via Methow Valley News

  • “A Native American (Kiowa-Choctaw) artist, Judd is known for art that combines iconic Native American images and lore with modern pop art. He works in a variety of art mediums from acrylics to Rubix cubes and specializes in engaging communities in collective art pieces. He is known for writing and directing award-winning movies and music videos. Judd’s visit to the Methow Valley is sponsored by Methow Arts, as part of a regional program that will take place during coming months called “Beyond the Frame,” which explores what it means to be native in North Central Washington.”
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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

 

Each year, Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) recognizes the contributions and celebrates the cultures of more than 57 million Latino Americans, accounting for 18 percent of the U.S. population. Notably, Sept. 15 marks the day of independence for five Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate independence days within the heritage time-frame.

The history and roots of Latino Americans are as diverse as their makeup. The 2010 Census Form asks those of Hispanic or Latino origin to identify as Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, according to the parts of the world from which their ancestors hail. Latinos today inherit their background from America’s indigenous peoples, as well as Spanish explorers and Africans who were brought to the “New World.”

Hispanic cultural traditions, values, beliefs, aspirations and life pursuits are at the heart of the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. I grew up in a small Native American village in Southern Arizona that was part of broader, culturally-rich community and fostered a deep appreciation for this diversity. We were surrounded by mostly Chicano neighborhoods, and often people identified members of my tribal community as Hispanic, Latino or Mexican. To us, this was not a slight. Many of our people spoke Spanish, as well as English and our Yaqui ancestral language. For as long as I can remember, our Hispanic neighbors have been present during our tribe’s ancestral ceremonies.

As we interacted, we introduced ourselves by way of name and community. Understanding one’s self and identity doesn’t separate us from others but rather helps us understand that the roots of our Hispanic brethren are interwoven with our Native history and ancestry. The sense of connectedness and pride in family, community, culture and self only contributes to the greater good for community and country.

In my view, the timing of celebrating our Hispanic ancestors in Sept. and Oct., and our Native heritage in Nov., is no coincidence. Dia de Los Muertos, a tradition honouring our ancestors and ancestry since time immemorial, is celebrated in festivals throughout Oct. and Nov. by both Hispanic and Native peoples in the U.S. and other countries. These celebrations are often known as Day of the Dead.

I’m honored to celebrate the countless contributions of the Hispanic peoples and I hope you will join me in championing these diverse cultures as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

P.S. We’d like to give a quick shout out to Steve at hispanicheritagemonth.org for sharing their digital image!

 

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National Truck Driver Appreciation Week

PWNA truck drivers deliver year-round to the reservations.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.”

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National Preparedness Month

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
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Recently in Native News

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).”
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Service to AIEF Scholars

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.

 

 

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