Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Native American Rights

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up on Jan. 21, we remember a man who not only fought for the civil rights of African Americans but also advocated for social equality of Native Americans.

Dr. King spent his life in pursuit of his goal that one day we may be judged not on the color of our skin but on the content of our character – and he championed equality for all people of color. Dr. King’s actions aided Native Americans more than most of us know. He specifically advocated for the desegregation of Native Americans and inspired much of the modern-day advocacy for Native rights, including water rights and tribal sovereignty. Many advocacy groups for tribes, such as the Native American Rights Fund, arose shortly after the era of Dr. King in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.

King’s passion and dedication ultimately led to his untimely death, but his message continues to resonate for those who seek and support fair and just opportunity for all, despite their ethnicity or background. In his famous letter written from a Birmingham jail cell in 1963, Dr. King reflected on the definition of injustice and morality and desire for equal rights for all the oppressed:

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. … We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.”

Dr. King’s words inspired a deeper focus on how the history of oppression has affected all “people of color” in America and his legacy lives on in those who continue to seek equality.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we encourage you to reflect on Dr. King’s work and what it means for us today. Celebrate his legacy through an act of kindness, a volunteer effort, or learning more about the rich history of his accomplishments and the movement that sparked so many of today’s American ideals.

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Poverty Awareness Month: Alleviating the Challenges Facing Native American Communities

More than 40 million people in the U.S. live in poverty – earning less than the federal official poverty threshold for a family of four ($24,000). January is Poverty Awareness Month and the month-long initiative raises awareness and calls attention to the reality of rising poverty in America.

Unfortunately, impoverishment is all too common in many Native American communities. In fact, two of the five poorest counties in the U.S. are located on Indian reservations and the highest poverty rate by ethnic group is found among Native Americans, accounting for 27.6 percent of national poverty overall.

Within the most geographically-isolated Native American communities, tribes experience a variety of social determinants that ultimately fuel poverty, from lack of job opportunities and education access to limitations involving transportation and infrastructure. Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) works year-round to offset the living conditions that accompany poverty, assisting reservation communities through its material services and long-term solutions.

Immediate relief through material services helps ensure access to basic necessities in Native communities, including safe drinking water, fresh produce, non-perishable food items and non-food items to alleviate financial stress in low-income households. Many families often must choose between spending on groceries or other life-impacting choices such as school supplies before a new school year or winter fuel to heat their home.

PWNA’s work is inspired by a vision of strong, self-sufficient Native American communities, and its services that support long-term outcomes are just as critical as those that address immediate needs. Through services focused on community investment, capacity building and higher education attainment, PWNA helps Native American community-based leaders work toward solutions that will more sustainably improve the quality of life in their communities.

Whether it’s providing a Senior Center with food to ensure hot meals to Elders, or funding scholarships to assist Native students with higher education, addressing poverty comes in many shapes and forms. This month, we reflect on the seriousness of the growing poverty in America and acknowledge that our work is critical to the Native communities we serve.

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2018 Year in Review

As we ring in the New Year, we’re taking a moment to reflect on an incredible year for Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). In 2018, we continued to support Native Americans in some of the most remote, impoverished reservations through a variety of programs and initiatives prioritized by our program partners and emerging leaders.

Last year, we launched our inaugural Strong Native Women 4 Directions program. This cohort is an extension of our 4 Directions Development Program, designed to support personal and professional development of emerging leaders in tribal communities. The women’s cohort was made possible through a grant from PepsiCo Foundation and we look forward to celebrating our inaugural graduates this March.

PWNA also had the opportunity to participate in the NFL’s 2018 #MyCauseMyCleats campaign, thanks to the generosity of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Eli Ankou. More than 800 NFL players took the field wearing custom cleats that reflected a worthy cause and Eli selected PWNA, honoring his indigenous ancestry and support for underrepresented Native American communities.

Lastly, PWNA was fortunate enough to once again conclude our year focusing on our annual holiday services, providing warm meals for Elders, families and children, and distributing holiday stockings and gift bags to celebrate children and Elders and help our partners spread holiday cheer in their communities.

We look forward to another year of championing a brighter future for Native American communities. For now, we wanted to share our readers’ favorite blog posts of 2018:

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Happy Holidays from PWNA: Remembering Christmas Pasts

Happy holidays! Please join us in remembering children on the reservations and Christmas pasts by watching our Native American holiday video. We hope you enjoy and share it with friends and family.

The music in the video is provided by Lumbee / Tuscarora recording artist Jana Mashonee. The beautiful lyrics are sung in Navajo by Jana, who generously granted PWNA permission to use her music. Jana’s album, “American Indian Christmas,” features 10 classic Christmas songs – including the one in this video – sung in 10 Native languages and accompanied by an orchestra of traditional Native instruments.

Jana is a nine-time Native American Music Awards winner and best pop-recording artist of 2013. Her music has been featured on Discovery Channel and Redbox and she’s previously performed at presidential inaugurations and Carnegie Hall.

Until next year, blessings from all of us at PWNA to all of you!

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Thank You and Happy Holidays

From all of us at PWNA, we’d like to wish you — our program partners, community project leaders, volunteers, donors and organizations who support our work — a happy holiday season. In working together year-round, we’re ensuring a better quality of life for those living in remote, and often forgotten, Native American communities.

Your support is critical to assist our partners in spreading holiday cheer at a time of year that can otherwise be stressful and lonely for some. Across 110 different reservation communities this year, our partners and their volunteers are busy preparing for community-wide meals, distributions of useful gifts and numerous Santa stops. Food and gifts are provided through Northern Plains Reservation Aid, Southwest Reservation Aid and other programs of PWNA.

Holiday meals offer partners a special opportunity to bring community members together and ensure Elders, families and children receive a warm, healthy meal free of financial stress and in the company of others. This year, PWNA will support holiday meals for tribes in the Southwest and Northern Plains, including:

  • Hopi in Moenkopi, AZ
  • White Mountain Apache in Fort Apache, AZ
  • Navajo in Fort Defiance, AZ, Cove, AZ and Shiprock, NM
  • Standing Rock Sioux in Cannonball, ND
  • Cheyenne River Sioux in Howes, SD
  • Northern Cheyenne in Busby, MT
  • Ponca in Norfolk, NE
  • Oglala Sioux in Porcupine, SD

Gift bag distributions are intended to help honor Native American Elders in individual communities. This year, we’re delivering gift bags with essential items for Navajo Elders in Bluff, UT and the remote community of Hogback, NM, as well as the Elders in Pueblo of Pojoaque, NM, the Oglala Elders in Porcupine, SD and Allen, SD, and the Northern Cheyenne Elders in Lame Deer, MT and Ashland, MT, among others.

Our holiday stocking distributions celebrate children and help our partners create positive events in their communities, while providing practical items for families. This year, PWNA will deliver holiday stockings for children in the San Carlos, Hopi, Navajo, Pine Ridge, and Omaha communities, and more. We will also deliver stockings for children on the Crow and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota, the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska, the Nambe and Santa Clara pueblos in New Mexico, and the Cocopah Reservation in Arizona, to name a few. Children in some of these communities will also delight in a visit from Santa as part of our Santa Stop service.

As part of our commitment to students who receive our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program scholarships, we provide them and their immediate family members with useful holiday gifts with the intent to remove any added stress for scholars and help them focus on successfully completing their first semester.

Our program partners, such as these, can best share how PWNA’s support can impact communities during the holidays:

“I can’t tell you how much our children appreciated the Christmas items you sent us. Many of the children would not have received anything if they had not received the stockings…They were really great. The children especially like the stuffed animals and the coloring books. Thank you very much.” – Mel (Pine Ridge)

“On behalf of our community, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to PWNA and to those who so generously donated the Christmas stockings to our community. Because of your time, effort, hard work and dedication to Native American communities, you have made our Christmas a joyous one to remember. Again, thank you very much.” – Joseph (Yankton)

PWNA is grateful for the many relationships and collaborations that help us brighten the holidays for tribal citizens and enable us to be one of the largest Native American-serving organizations in the U.S. The Native communities we serve have the highest need in the U.S. and everything we do is only possible through the generosity of individuals like you who care about others. We’re fortunate and humbled to have your support year-round and especially through your year-end giving.

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Q&A: NFL Lineman Eli Ankou discusses #MyCauseMyCleats campaign and why he feels Native Americans are underrepresented

Yesterday we shared part one of our two-part Q&A with Eli Ankou of the Jacksonville Jaguars and why he chose Partnership With Native Americans for the NFL’s #MyCauseMyCleats campaign. Today, we share more of our conversation focused on Native Americans, the social issues affecting reservation communities and what Eli would like to see us all do to raise up Native youth for a brighter future.

Eli Ankou Interview, Part II

PWNA: You mentioned you feel Native Americans are underrepresented in the U.S. Could you share more about this?

ELI: Across North America, they are kind of an underrepresented population in terms of music, sports, pop culture and other aspects. My Cause, My Cleats is one way to bring attention to social issues pertaining to Native American communities. Sports and entertainment are great ways to introduce more about the culture to a broader spectrum of people, and expressing our culture is a great way to connect with people.

PWNA: Are there particular social issues of concern to you?

ELI: It has to do with the lack of visibility, and I think the main issue for me is that there are so many problems that are simply not brought to the attention of the general public. I remember hearing a statistic on women disappearing from reservations, or problems with a lack of water. There are so many different issues and it would be good to give a voice to those issues.

PWNA: And relevant to this goal, is there a certain message you want to send people?

ELI:  I would tell the younger generation, the kids and the teenagers, that you hold the most power on social media, and it’s a great platform to let your voices be heard. Help us get a message out that Native American youth are capable of whatever they set their mind to — it only takes hard work. The more people who are on board with this, the better. We need to help Native communities get on their feet and then pass it on to help others.

PWNA: In other words, you’re asking the youth in this country — Native and non-Native — to help motivate and empower one another, and to raise awareness and resources to benefit Native communities?

ELI: Absolutely.

PWNA:  What are you personally doing to empower Native youth?

ELI:  I am planning on hosting a few football camps and inviting kids from local reservations. It doesn’t have to be tackle football but getting them out to play and gaining a sense that they can do something if they put their mind to it. I want to be able to reach as many kids as possible and look forward to working with PWNA to make this possible.

** We often hear that we need to get the attention of others in order to spread the word about the realities for many Native American communities. Yet, it’s not every day that someone as familiar to the general public as Eli Ankou is passionate enough to use their voice and help the message be heard. PWNA is sincerely honored that Eli believes in our mission and shares in his commitment to empower Native American youth and encourage the generations of tomorrow to help each other.

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Q&A: NFL Lineman Eli Ankou discusses #MyCauseMyCleats campaign and why he’s supporting PWNA

Two weeks ago, more than 800 NFL players took the field wearing custom cleats that reflected a cause important to them, as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign. From youth empowerment to cancer awareness, players chose to champion causes near and dear to them. For Eli Ankou (#54), a defensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars, that cause is supporting Native American communities.

Less than 6 percent of participating charities in the campaign support social equity causes and we were humbled to learn that Eli chose to support Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). We recently caught up with Eli and learned more about his experience with the campaign, his Native American heritage, and why he’s passionate about helping Native American communities. He also shared why he feels Native Americans are underrepresented across North America. Today, we’re sharing part one of our two-part Q&A series with Eli:

Eli Ankou Interview, Part I

PWNA: Is this your first time participating in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign?

ELI:  No, it is not my first time. Last year, I did a commemoration to U.S. Navy Seals that resonated a lot. This year, I went into a more personal matter. Being Native American myself. I was trying to find a good organization that I believed served a good cause and would give me a sense of purpose.

PWNA: Do you have a military background yourself?

EA:  I do not but I have a few friends who are in the military and I know how much sacrifice it takes for them to be in that position, so I wanted to show my respect.

PWNA: So, you had a positive experience with the cleats campaign last year?

ELI:  Oh, yes, it was a good experience. There was a lot of positive feedback with that particular cause and the cleats. It was definitely good overall.

PWNA: You mentioned your family has ties to the Ojibway. Can you tell us a little more about this?

ELI: My family is from northern Ontario, Canada (near the French River). My grandmother is from the Dokis First Nation (traditionally known as Kikendawt), and she is Ojibway. My mother always raised us to cherish and embrace our culture. Growing up, there was a lot of implementation of the culture into my day-to-day life, and we would go to pow wows pretty much all the time — it was part of who we were.

 (Did you know? Dokis Bay is part of the greater Ojibwe Nation. The reservation community has about 250 residents and roughly 90 homes and is part of the Voyageur route for the week-long cycling tour from Ottawa to Quebec City. Dokis Bay is also home to the important hydro Okikendawt Project.)

PWNA:  Are you a traditional dancer?

ELI:  I am not a traditional dancer but did participate with my family members when the dancers took breaks from competitions at the powwows.

PWNA: You mentioned you were looking for a good Native American charity. What ultimately led you to choose Partnership With Native Americans?

ELI:  I wanted to find an organization that supports Native American kids being active in their communities but that also does more to directly help communities in a material way, more tangible in terms of actual resources. I noticed PWNA supports youth and takes a tangible focus, as well as offering courses and education for sustained agriculture and traditional nutrition.

**Tune in tomorrow for the second part of our Q&A with Eli Ankou, where we’ll discuss more of Eli’s concerns with underrepresented Native American communities and his message to all North Americans.

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Celebrate the Season of Giving

As we begin to embark on our holiday celebrations and look toward the new year, it’s important to remember that the need for charitable donations is constant, not seasonal. That said, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on the donations made during the holiday season as these contributions generally account for a significant portion of their annual charitable revenue. For donors, this is also the last opportunity to donate before the end of the calendar year if you’re planning to claim your charitable deductions on your tax returns.

With the help of your gifts so far, PWNA has been able to aid reservation communities in need throughout the Northern Plains and Southwest all year long. For the holidays, more than 18,000 children and nearly 10,000 Elders will be receiving stockings filled with essentials, making their holidays a little brighter. An equally vital holiday need being filled are the more than 1,700 holiday meals that will be provided to Native American communities with the help of our program partners. These are only a few of the special holiday moments made possible with the help of year-round and year-end contributions to PWNA and our programs.

In the spirit of the season, we hope you’ll remember the critical needs of those living in remote, geographically-isolated Native communities, not only during the holidays but all year long. Your support allows us to continue our work improving the lives of Native Americans and allows you to be among those who fund the one percent of all charitable giving that goes to support Native causes.

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The Importance of BBB Accreditation

A recent article, “Give.org – The Benchmark for Giving,” reminded me of the importance of BBB accreditation to donors, as well as charities. Reporting since the 1920s, the work of the Better Business Bureau (now the BBB Wise Giving Alliance) is more vital today than ever before, bringing donors confidence in the age of online giving. With the holidays upon us, there’s no better time to remind everyone to look for the BBB seal before you select who you give to this holiday season.

It’s easy to feel lost in a sea of online charity ratings, each of them based upon a different premise and often unknown to donors. In the quest to help others, we can forget to ask the right questions, such as whether online charity ratings are truly reliable and based on a charity’s impact track record.

PWNA voluntarily meets the BBB’s 20 Standards of Charity Accountability, increasing donors’ trust in our work. As the “model for effective monitoring and review,” the BBB’s bi-annual process evaluates charities for sound governance, ethics and transparency so donors know the charities that display the BBB seal have been carefully vetted and found accountable.

Over the years, donors who’ve supported PWNA and our programs, including the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA), Southwest Reservation Aid (SWRA) and Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) and more have proactively asked about our BBB accreditation.

I’ve had the good fortune of supporting the BBB’s evaluations of PWNA and have seen how much our organization has learned by voluntarily participating in the accreditation process. In fact, it’s surprising to see that only a few hundred of the 1.1 million public charities in the U.S. make the BBB’s directory of accredited charities, including only five Native American-serving charities.

We recently shared our thoughts on how nonprofit programs help fill the humanitarian gaps not being met by government or for-profit industry, so it’s important to support the effective charities. This giving season, I encourage you to seek out charities with a BBB seal and a demonstrated history of impact. You can also check out PWNA’s BBB accreditation report and our latest annual report and impact report.

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Christmas Season in Native American Cultures

The holidays are here and communities of different cultures from around the world will be partaking in dozens of celebrations. Historically, indigenous people did not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. Yet, like other Americans of diverse cultures, many of today’s Native American families incorporate an array of Christmas celebrations and customs during this festive season.

Some Native Americans question the tradition of Thanksgiving, and others feel the Christian holidays have a checkered place in indigenous culture and instead enjoy their own celebrations this time of year. Many of us, however, appreciate the good spirit in the nature of Christmas and a lot of Native communities across the Northern Plains and Southwest participate in the holiday season.

In fact, approximately 110 reservation communities served by PWNA will receive gifts or meals this holiday season, brightening the holidays for nearly 30,000 Native American Elders, families and children. The programs in these communities offer nutrition support, health screenings, education services and more. As partners of PWNA, they’re able to enhance their services by distributing much-needed items provided to them by PWNA, such as food, blankets, toiletries and holiday stockings to help spread holiday cheer.

Winter weather can be cruel for many reservations and rural communities in general, but the holiday season is recognized as a time of coming together and giving, especially to those who need it most. Although not traditionally ours, after years of new tradition we’ve adopted the Christmas season as a time to join with our families and friends and share in our people and culture.

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