World Water Day: Water Scarcity for Indigenous Peoples

World Water Day was established to recognize the importance of fresh, drinkable water around the world. With so many communities – including entire countries – without a reliable source of water, this year’s theme of “leaving no one behind” sheds light on the issue and emphasizes water as a basic human right for all. Today, we are bringing attention to the exceptionally high scarcity of water that plagues American Indian reservations across the United States.

For decades, access to clean water has challenged residents of the Navajo Nation who routinely haul water for drinking, cooking and other household needs. Particularly due to mining, Navajo, as well as Hopi, lands have contaminated water sources with high amounts of uranium and arsenic. Environmental issues such as the 2015 EPA spill of three million gallons of wastewater in the Animas and San Juan rivers also impact clean water for indigenous communities.

Infrastructure in remote reservation communities is often outdated and funding for repairs and improvements is often unavailable. The exact number of reservation homes without water is not easy to find, though across the Navajo Nation one in five families hauls water, and stories such as those in Flint, Michigan and Kivalina are in abundance.

Infrastructure also causes water outages when winter hits. One winter day when I was about 9 or 10 years old, we accidentally turned off our dripping water, so the pipes in our 60-year-old home froze and broke. We were without running water for months, and a generous neighbor let us fill five-gallon buckets to use for laundry, cleaning and even bathing. This scenario is all too common in reservation homes and results from many factors, such as age of our homes, winter preparedness and a lack of skilled tradesmen.

When environmental issues like the EPA spill, or weather emergencies such as blizzards or tornados, impact access to water, PWNA disaster relief services include bottled water and other supplies for the reservations. Water is also included in deliveries that support food pantries, community health fairs and more. In 2018 alone, PWNA provided nearly 58,000 gallons of water to tribal communities in need.

Hopefully, aims like “leaving no one behind” and sustainable development will uplift these communities, though this can’t come quickly enough. Today, I hope you will take time to learn more about the water problems facing our communities and what you can do to help.

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Graduates Reflect on 4D Strong Native Women Program

Leadership is an integral part of strong, self-sufficient Native American communities. It takes a committed, compassionate and connected leader to help change a community for the better, and that’s exactly what our inaugural 4D Strong Native Women cohort graduates are gearing up to do.

At Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), our 4 Directions Development Program (4D) helps develop grassroots leaders in the tribal communities we serve. These emerging leaders are offered a unique opportunity to take part in a six-month training program that includes personal and professional development, setting of self-identified goals, and working work with an advisor-mentor, PWNA staff and other resources to reach those goals.

Last October, PWNA launched its first 4D Strong Native Women program, a special all-women cohort supported by PepsiCo Foundation that employs our 4D model but with a focus on roles and issues specific to Native American women leaders. These women represent a diverse cross-section of career, education, families and communities, including Mescalero Apache, Tonto Apache and Navajo nations, and Zuni, San Juan, San Ildefonso and Kewa (Santo Domingo) pueblos.

Participants Delana, an administrative service manager for the Zuni Senior Center, and Rosemary Reano, an employment and training center coordinator for the Santo Domingo Employment & Training Office, reflected on their experiences and shared how the 4D Strong Native Women cohort immediately impacted them and their communities. They also commented on the potential long-term impacts of participating in the program.

The first session explored “lateral violence” and this had an immediate impact on Delana, who said the training was a “real eye opener,” especially as she came to terms with acknowledging that the behavior was happening right in front of her. Now she can recognize lateral violence (i.e., overt or covert acts of verbal or nonverbal behavior directed toward others) in the workplace.

She also said the session on time management would have profound impact. “Time for myself and to think about myself – it never phased me how much we neglect ourselves worrying and doing things for work or for our children,” said Delana. “One change I have managed is to know when to go home and when to say no to have time for myself.”

Rosemary has enjoyed the new resources she was introduced to through the 4D program, so much so that she purchased her own set of books used during the training. “I look forward to using these books as tools to develop or motivate my participants in the Santo Domingo Employment & Training Program (assisting youth and adults),” said Rosemary.

The sessions on goal-setting and financial literacy significantly impacted Rosemary too, both personally and professionally. She shared how 4D is different than the college courses she has taken in the past, in that 4D is designed to incorporate culturally- and community-based tools. “If 4D were able to establish their own university, I would enroll!” Rosemary said. “The opportunities to be immersed in training like this are far and few. For anyone who has a desire to give back to their community, I would encourage them to be a part of PWNA’s 4D program.”

The inaugural 4D Strong Native Women cohort concludes this spring with eleven graduates.

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Women’s History Month: Honoring Native American Women

Native America has much to celebrate as March is Women’s History Month, recognizing the great contributions women have made to the U.S. International Women’s Day also falls on March 8, honoring balance through the quest for equality under this year’s theme, “Better the Balance, Better the world.”

PWNA partners with hundreds of professional Native women who are inspired to serve humanity and do so working in health, social services, community service and education programs. The proportion of women with college degrees in the labor force has almost quadrupled since 1970, and this includes Native women. PWNA’s scholarship program, the American Indian Education Fund, has supported many Native women in furthering their education and the ratio of female to male scholars for the 2018-19 academic year was 6 to 1.

With and without college degrees, Native American women are supporting their communities through traditions, culture and balancing of their personal and professional goals.

Karen Red Star (Wicahpi Luta Win), is a mother, grandmother, Elder and health educator on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She’s survived a gunshot wound, heart surgery, domestic violence, rheumatic fever and boarding school. She knows a healthy body and mind is paramount to a strong community and Karen models the behaviors she wants for her people. Sharing her grandmothers’ teachings, along with her own college education, help Karen to help others who are fighting for a better, more balanced life.

Elisia Manuel serves as Outreach Coordinator for Workforce in Action with the Gila River Indian Community of Arizona. She is married with three children whose joyful faces encouraged her to create the Phoenix-based nonprofit, Three Precious Miracles, where she serves alongside volunteers. Elisia shares, “I believe that we can help transcend trauma through active community linkages and culture for these children who are removed from their homes and placed into homes of other cultures. The purpose of [my] organization is to bridge the gap and provide resources and cultural engagement.” She created this important resource to benefit others, based on her experiences of adoption and love for her children, Telisia, Tecumseh, Jr. and Micah.

Karen and Elisia are just two such examples of the strong Native women PWNA is privileged to work with in the Northern Plains and Southwest. We applaud all our women partners who are working together to better the world.

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Recently in Native News

As 2019 starts to ramp up, we’re already seeing Native American news make national headlines. To ensure our readers stay informed of the news and culture in Native American communities across the country, we’ve compiled our favorite stories from the month of February. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Michelle Obama makes surprise visit to Gila River Indian Community students via AZ Central

  • “Michelle Obama surprised students of the Gila River Indian Community on Tuesday. The former first lady joined Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, who already was meeting with the students at the Huhugam Heritage Center on the reservation. The select handful of students was sitting around a table when the governor grinned and appeared shocked as Obama entered the room. Obama was in Phoenix for a stop on her book tour. She met with the students to hear their stories about life on the Gila River Reservation south of Phoenix.”

Medicaid expansion has changed the landscape for Native American health care via Independent Record

  • “Todd Wilson has seen first-hand the positive feedback loop that comes from having more people who seek care at Leo Pocha Memorial Clinic walk in the door with health insurance. In 2015, before Medicaid expansion in Montana started, about 80 percent of those who sought care through the Helena Indian Alliance facility did not have health insurance coverage. Montana has historically had one of the highest rates of uninsured American Indians, reaching nearly 43 percent in 2009 before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.”

Elizabeth Warren makes unannounced appearance at Native American luncheon in Washington via CNN Politics

  • “Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday made an unannounced appearance at a lunch on the sidelines of a major Native American conference in Washington. Her remarks came amid continued scrutiny of the Massachusetts senator’s past claims to Native ancestry. According to details provided by a campaign aide after Warren’s appearance at the National Indian Women Honor Luncheon, she introduced Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) chairwoman, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, a tribal leader and former senior advisor to the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs during the Obama administration. The senator was introduced by New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress last year.”

Native American rights groups are targeting six states to fight voter suppression in 2020 via Pacific Standard

  • “Native American rights advocates who went to bat against voter suppression and disenfranchisement in last year’s mid-term elections—and championed unprecedented voter turnout—are gearing up to renew their fight in key battleground states ahead of the already fraught 2020 presidential elections. ‘We are looking at mobilizing five, maybe six states’ with significant Native American populations and where there have been concerns over voter access and turnout, says OJ Semans, co-director of Four Directions voting rights advocacy group. Semans is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.”
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Disaster Preparedness on the Reservation: A True Story

PWNA encourages all Native American tribes and families to read this story as told to us by Elaine BearChild and heed her message as disaster can strike at any time, whether in the form of fire, flood or wind damage. We also invite you to take advantage of our Disaster Resources page; download the information provided, get a copy of “The Native Family Disaster Preparedness Handbook” and be proactive with your family and community to better ensure disaster preparedness on the reservations.

Elaine has lived on the Blackfeet Reservation lifelong. She went to school, always worked to support her family, maintained a home and helped her parents. But in Oct. 2016 her life started to change, dishing up first a surprise and then a disaster. She shared, “I lost the two most important people in my life, and my home burned to the ground. I lost everything I owned in the world and had no insurance to cover it.”

Late one evening, Elaine ventured outside to check on her father who was mending a fence. After calling out to him in the dark, she found him lying on the ground behind his truck unresponsive and not breathing, gone, his silence piercing. That was the beginning of a spiral that would last for a year and impact her life for much longer.

After her father passed, Elaine’s mother who was suffering with leukemia could not live alone. Elaine moved her mom into their mobile home, occupied by Elaine and her husband Richard, their son and two daughters and a pet dachshund. Yet by the next Oct. her mom was in hospice care 2.5 hours away in Great Falls, Mont. Elaine and her family stayed with her mother at hospice for the time she was there. But one Sunday afternoon, this changed too.

It was Elaine’s birthday and the thought of celebrating was far from her mind. They were at the hospice and a call came in that their trailer was on fire. The fire department had been called and both Heart Butte and Browning responded, but the trailer burned so quickly that only the frame was left and even it was bent from the heat. Virtually every little thing that Elaine owned was lost… her family photos, her children’s pictures, school awards, a new cook stove and washer/ dryer, a new kitchen table, their furniture and bedding, their clothing… everything was burned to ashes.

The family regrouped at the caregiver apartment they’d been staying in at the hospice, and Elaine elected to not cause undue stress by telling her mom about the fire. The next evening, her mom passed away peacefully. During the drive home, she found herself saying to her family, “We are going home, to a home that no longer exists.” 

Daunted by this life-changing disaster, the first 24 hours were a blur. Elaine shared, “Where do you even start when something like this happens?” They called the bank that held their mortgage, hopeful for relief through insurance, only to learn that the “mortgage insurance” did not include “homeowners insurance” or disaster mitigation and instead only protected mortgage payments. She had no way to recoup her financial losses, not to mention the lost treasures of her family’s history and children’s keepsakes.

A few months earlier, Elaine’s mom wanted all of them to move out of the trailer and into her home. They had been planning it, but suddenly now it was their shelter from the storm. Elaine and her family were very fortunate in this regard, at a bittersweet cost, and to this day it’s still hard for Elaine as everything in the home reminds her of her parents.

Along with the financial loss, the family home and sentimental treasures lost, and the total disruption of an organized family life, this all took a tremendous emotional toll on the whole family. Elaine shared that counseling helped, but she is still recovering… remembering yet another thing that burned in the fire, still buying things they previously had.

Elaine’s message to Native American families: “Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Find a way to purchase homeowner’s insurance — even if a small amount, it’s better than nothing when all is lost. Don’t count on mortgage insurance or FEMA for help. And think about storing at least some of your treasures offsite.”

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Celebrating Arizona’s Birthday and the Rich Native American History of the Grand Canyon State

As we gear up to gift to our loved ones cards and flowers this week, those of us in Arizona are also recognizing the state’s 107th birthday on Feb. 14. Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. Prior to that, the region was considered a territory of New Mexico.

Arizona, the Grand Canyon state and home to 22 federally recognized tribes

Today, Arizona is home to more than 7.2 million residents (according to the U.S. Census) and with more than 114,000 square miles, the communities are as diverse as the landscape. In fact, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized Native American tribes and the third-largest population of Native Americans in any state. The indigenous people in Arizona account for more than 10 percent of the more than 2.7 million Native Americans in the U.S.

Oraibi, a Hopi Indian village in Arizona, dating back to at least 1150 AD, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States. Other “old ones who were here before” Arizona statehood included the Hohokam, Anasazi and Mogollon, as well as:  

  • the Pima Indians
  • the Apache Indians
  • the Cocopah Indians
  • the Halchidhoma Indians
  • the Havasupai, Yavapai, and Hualapai tribes
  • the Jocome and Jano Indians
  • the Maricopa
  • the Mohave
  • the Navajo
  • the Southern Paiute
  • the Tohono O’odham (Papago)
  • the Yaqui
  • the Yuma
  • the Zuni

Many of these Native American reservations border the state’s major cities (Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma), so it’s not unusual that Native American customs and traditions have had a significant impact on Arizona culture. Whether it’s rows of custom turquoise jewelry at the annual Arizona Indian Festival or ancestral Native pottery displayed inside the Arizona State Museum, you don’t have to go far to find the Native American influence. Even the name “Arizona” derives from an Uto-Atzecan Indian word meaning “little spring” in the Tohono O’odham language.

This month, we encourage you to learn more about the history and heritage of Native Americans in Arizona. If you’re local, plan a weekend outing to the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archeological Park or day trip to the Hopi House near the Grand Canyon. You can also pick up a copy of Native Americans of Arizona or Traveling Indian Arizona to plan an authentic trip to the Grand Canyon State.  

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The Native American History of Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Phil, otherwise known as the “Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” is perhaps America’s most famous groundhog. Phil hails from Punxsutawney, Penn. and he has one job on one day every year – forecasting winter weather on what has become known as Groundhog Day.

Did you know the history of Groundhog Day is rooted in Native American culture? The town of Punxsutawney was originally settled and inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians (“the Original People”) for thousands of years, and the town’s name is derived from its traditional name Ponsutenink, meaning “Town of the Ponkis” (Ponki meaning sand fly).

The tradition of Groundhog Day was first held on Feb. 2, 1886 in Punxsutawney and had its origins in Candlemas – a traditional Christian festival where Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed to bring blessings to their household for the rest of the winter. In 1887, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club established Punxsutawney Phil as the official weather prophet. That same year, they also declared Punxsutawney the “weather capital of the world.”

Each summer since then, club members return to the area known as Gobbler’s Knob to partake in a ceremony in which Phil is given a secret elixir to prolong his life and youthful good looks. Phil is rumored to be “immortal” and now about 132 years old.

For more than a century, Phil has come out of his burrow to check how winter is going and more precisely when winter will end. As legend has it, if Phil sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if not, we will see an early spring.

As for the groundhog himself, he’s also known as ‘woodchuck’, possibly derived from the Algonquian word ‘wuchak’, the Narragansett word ‘ockqutchaun’ and/or the Cree word ‘otcheck’ (a member of the weasel family).The Wabanaki people even have Grandmother Woodchuck in their legends who teaches patience and wisdom.

This year, Phil’s predictions mean we’re in for an early spring. Personally, I was hoping for the cool spring breeze and escape from this winter’s howling cold in South Dakota!

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Recently in Native News

With the start of a new year, we remain committed to informing our readers of the news and culture in Native American communities across the country. As such, we’ve compiled our favorite stories from the month of January. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

‘If the water is rising, then so must we’: Indigenous Peoples March in Washington against global injustice via Common Dreams

  • “In an event described as “breathtaking, heartbreaking, strong, and beautiful,” representatives from native communities around the world came together in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the first-ever Indigenous Peoples March. Organized as a rebuke to the violence and injustices that Indigenous Peoples often face—from the murder of native girls and women to police brutality to having unceded tribal lands torn away by colonizing governments and fossil fuel corporations—the march kicked off Friday morning outside the U.S. Interior Department. “I think it’s a collective cry for help because we’re in a time of crisis that we have not seen in a very long time…”

Oklahoma museum exhibit honors Native American veterans via News on 6

  • “The Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska is hosting a special exhibit honoring Native Americans who have served in the military. In the past three years the museum has seen a more than 200% increase in visitors, thanks in part to the traffic the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile brings to town. But the new exhibit at the museum is sure to draw in crowds as well. As you walk up to the Osage Nation Museum you pass by a bronze statue of one of the tribe’s great warriors, Chief Claremore. Addie Roanhorse, the acting director of the Osage Nation Museum, says, “It gives us the platform to tell our own story.”

Bill would allow Native American students to wear regalia via Bismarck Tribune

  • “In 2015, Chelsea Schmitt and six other students successfully petitioned officials at Bismarck Public Schools to allow students to wear eagle feathers at their high school graduation ceremonies. The eagle feather — a symbol of strength and honor, and “not just a decoration” — is gifted to Native Americans when they reach a milestone in their lives, such as a graduation, Schmitt told a room full of lawmakers on Monday. “Like my Native American family members have in the past, I got to wear a piece of my culture, a piece of who I am, on a very important day in my life,” Schmitt said.”

Historic day in San Juan County as majority Native American Commission takes office via KUER 90.1

  • In an historic first, Native Americans hold the majority on the San Juan County Commission following a packed swearing in ceremony Monday [Jan. 7] in Monticello. People jammed the San Juan County Commission chambers as a judge administered the oath of office to a half-dozen county officials. Among them were incoming Democratic commissioners, Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy, both Navajo and supporters of the controversial Bears Ears National Monument. For years, Republicans have dominated San Juan County government. But now San Juan County is the first county in Utah to have a local governing majority of Native Americans.”
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Emergency Preparedness is Key for Disaster Mitigation and Recovery on the Reservations

Weather extremes and other environmental emergencies in recent years have intensified the need for tribal citizens to prepare in advance of disasters. This winter, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is helping communities better prepare when disaster strikes with the distribution of The Native Family Disaster Preparedness Handbook to reservation programs who are participating in our Emergency Preparedness service.

Written by Vincent B. Davis, Sean M. Scott et al., and published by Preparedness Matters, the handbook provides timely, relevant information about risks, options and practical steps Native American families can take to save lives and protect property – before, during and after disasters. The handbook serves as a reliable resource to guide disaster planning and recovery for culturally- and geographically-sensitive solutions on the reservations.

When disaster strikes, PWNA responds quickly with disaster relief for tribes in need of supplies for the homeless, elderly, persons with disabilities, veterans, children and others. Currently, through the support of grant funding from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, PWNA is also advancing emergency preparedness in Northern Plains tribal communities through training, networked collaboration and access to resources, such as the Disaster Preparedness Handbook.

While the often-advertised “emergency kit” can prepare you for immediate needs, it is only a starting point and many more factors must be considered to navigate your family or community from emergency to recovery. Reservation communities often do not have the same access as others to information and resources available to them, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, it’s important to realize the following:

  • FEMA is NOT an individual relief organization for homeowners. FEMA plays a critical role in addressing public damages through transportation, communications, logistics management, public safety and security, but its resources are limited and only available when certain conditions are met. Qualifying for individual assistance is more challenging, especially on a reservation, so don’t rely on FEMA coverage to be available in the event of a disaster.
  • FEMA does NOT fit the same way for tribal communities. Reservations are sovereign nations and not counties or states, yet the criteria set for FEMA aid is based on counties and states, so aid is typically skewed in favor of non-tribal populations. Additionally, individual aid is based on area-wide loss rather than individual property value and there’s a cap.
  • Homeowner’s insurance is critical. Oftentimes, tribal members live in homes owned by the tribe itself but uninsured, or homes conveyed to the member by the tribe, but residents are unaware that they must purchase insurance on their own for their dwelling and personal property. If a home is severely damaged, rendered unlivable, or destroyed and federal dollars are unavailable to rebuild, residents can be forced to live with relatives in overcrowded spaces, be relocated off the reservation entirely, or become homeless. The ripple effect can be catastrophic. Having adequate insurance can be a financial lifeline that not only will help you rebuild your life, but also pay for additional living expenses, food, clothing, furnishings, debris removal and many other costs.

For more information on FEMA and how you can better prepare ahead of a disaster, visit our Disaster Resources page. You can also download our FAQs, Disaster Facts for Homeowners and more to better understand FEMA and regulations to keep in mind as a homeowner.

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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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