“Throughout the United States, many Native American languages are struggling to survive… These languages preserve priceless cultural heritage, and some hold unexpected value — nuances in these languages convey unparalleled knowledge of the natural world.” – Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, The New York Times
In August of 2014, The New York Times published a short documentary film about the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, Marie Wilcox. Native to central California, the Wukchumni is a small tribe of some 200 members not recognized by the federal government as part of the larger Yokuts tribal group. (The Yokuts numbered almost 50,000 before European contact.) As the last fluent speaker, Ms. Wilcox took it upon herself to extensively document the Wukchumni language.
First, it began with remembering the Wukchumni words that Marie’s grandparents spoke in her youth. Then, her process evolved into writing individual words on the nearest piece of paper as memories came back to her. Soon, Marie was spending day and night “pecking” away at the keyboard of her computer one letter at a time until she finished her first draft of the Wukchumni dictionary – her work now used for weekly language classes by the tribe.
In what can only be described as a labor of love, Marie, with the help of her great-grandson, has gone on to record an audio version of the dictionary as well as Wukchumni tales in the Wukchumni language. Marie and her daughter are also working with other tribes to address language loss in their respective communities.
Pub at Marie’s Dictionary, Global Oneness Project
The journey that began some seven years ago to save the Wukchumni language reflects all that National Relief Charities has been discussing in our “Walking in Two Worlds” blog series. Marie Wilcox has taken the best elements of Western technology to preserve an indigenous language that has been almost completely lost to European colonization and Western expansion.
Elsewhere, states are working directly with tribes to use technology to preserve indigenous languages. In Montana, the state legislature launched the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program that granted $2 million last year to the eight tribes in the state. Under the pilot program, the Blackfeet Community College of the Blackfeet Nation developed both a website and mobile app to assist in preserving and teaching their language.
Interestingly, social media has also become a place of informal language preservation. Groups like Lakota Language for Beginners on Facebook encourages anyone interested in the Lakota language to join, learn, and speak. Most powerful are the dialogues that happen between fluent, intermediate, and beginning speakers. In just two years, the group has grown to almost 14,000 members.
Whether it is an oral dictionary, a mobile app, or a Facebook group, Native Americans are redefining what it means to be Native by using the digital resources of Western culture to preserve and share some of the oldest elements of indigenous culture.
Last Thursday, March 12, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission released the Open Internet Order in wake of the commission’s decision to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility. While the new rules are detailed in some 400 pages of the Open Internet Order, according to the FCC the “…rules are designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks.”
Regulating both fixed and mobile broadband service establishes an equal playing field where innovators can innovate, investors can invest, and consumers have choice and freedom. The three “Bright Line Rules” for an open Internet summarize that broadband providers cannot:
Block any legal content
Negatively affect any legal content
Give priority to certain kinds of legal Internet traffic or content “…in exchange for consideration of any kind…”
Undoubtedly, the Open Internet Order is a monumental victory for net neutrality. Equally important is what the FCC’s new ruling will mean for Indian country. An open Internet presents unlimited opportunity and possibility for rural Native American and other communities. The open Internet provides the means to build nations and economies, and they can do so while supporting green trends.
For example, one can earn a college degree from a leading university without ever leaving their community. A person can start an international business without stepping outside their home. Native languages can be preserved. American Indian musicians can publish their music to iTunes. Indigenous filmmakers can share their visions on YouTube. Tribal leaders can address issues in their communities through online crowd-funding.
Yet, none of this will happen without broadband/Internet access. While availability and advances in broadband technology redefine life across the United States, isolated Native American communities struggle to simply get online. What Internet may be available in rural communities is often slow and costly. On reservations with high rates of unemployment, paying for Internet access and computers may not be an option. Perhaps the new Open Internet Order will ensure equitable access by combining faster speeds with cheaper prices in Indian country, but that remains to be seen.
In the meantime, what does the FCC’s Open Internet Order mean to you? And, how do you think it will make a difference in Native American or other rural communities?
As Andrew mentioned in his February 24 blog post on walking in two worlds, “there is the world of contemporary time and place defined by the mainstream culture, and there is the world of indigenous culture, knowledge and understanding.” In addition to the individual experience, the two worlds intersect in the realm of new tools and technologies.
Integrating the best of both worlds is best reflected in two trends on the reservations: renewable energy and sustainable housing. And, in keeping with Native cultures, it is no surprise that both of these are green trends that respect the natural environment.
No stranger to green housing, the traditional Navajo Hogan in use for centuries is considered energy-efficient housing. Comprised of a wood structure with mud packed against it, a Hogan is cooled by natural air ventilation and water sprinkled on the dirt floor or heated via a fire pit (or stove today). The dense mass of the Hogan creates an ability to store heat and level out temperate fluctuations. Under our NRF home repair service, the Elders’ homes we repair of often contemporary hogans.
Straw bale house on the Hopi Reservation
Today, sustainable straw bale homes are also being built on the reservations. Red Feather Development builds straw bale houses in Native American communities throughout Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as part of the American Indian Sustainable Housing Initiative. NRC Program Partners have also shared about the straw bale homes on the Hopi Reservation.
With 90,000 Native American families homeless, straw bale homes are a significant and accessible means of housing. They are affordable, go up quickly, are environmentally friendly and made from natural materials that are locally available in remote communities. Some straw bale houses also incorporate solar panels to support hot water and floor heating, and systems to catch rainwater – a key factor for reservation communities with contaminated ground water.
Native Americans have also for centuries lived in harmony with the natural environment. If your land has rivers, you fish. If your land has pastures, your herd cattle or sheep or buffalo. So the current focus by tribes on renewable energy makes perfect sense – it’s a blend of new technologies meeting modern needs while protecting the environment and seven generations into the future. Renewable energy also bodes well for future economic development of the tribes. NRC offers the AIRC winter fuel service because running out of energy assistance budget mid-winter is an annual challenge for some of the reservations.
Now, on the Fort Berthold and Rosebud reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota, massive wind turbine projects are underway. These will provide key learning about the effectiveness of wind energy and possibly lead to a commercial scale of wind energy production. The Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin has a solar project to provide renewable energy for electricity and hot water needs, and the Manzanita Reservation in California has a hybrid wind-and-solar project in the works. These and the off-grid project by Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico are just a few of the leading edge renewable energy projects being led by the tribes today.
To me, the green trends on the reservation are a natural outgrowth of the way of life honored by Native Americans for centuries. At the same time, the lead that the tribes are taking in clean energy and sustainable housing is both hopeful and impressive. As always, there is much to learn from inherent Native wisdom.
When I think about the idea of “walking in two worlds,” I consider everything that encompasses. Does it mean that I am two people? Does it mean that I am a fragmented person? Perhaps it means both, or neither. At any rate, I had the honor of visiting with Leon Hale, an elderly man from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, who now lives in Rapid City, South Dakota. I met him at his home to discuss the concept of “living in two worlds” and what followed was an experience.
Leon Hale, Cheyenne River Sioux
Leon has health problems and we talked a bit about the dialysis he must have three times a week in order to stay alive. He told me about his heart surgery and shared stories about breaking bones in his legs and arms throughout his life. But, he never lost a sense of optimism about what it all meant. He smiled and was grateful to be “hanging tough,” still moving forward in his life and thankful for the dialysis machine that let him enjoy spending time with his grandkids and pass on the wisdom his grandfather offered to him. We then spoke about the weather and this sparked our deeper discussion of what it means to exist within two very different cultures.
Leon talked about the old ways and how he prays for Mother Earth when he goes to Bear Butte, a sacred site to the Lakota People. He told me he is sad when he thinks about the way the earth has been abused and is struggling to find its own balance again… how the wolves disappeared and now the mountain lions are not living the way they naturally would… how the factors in nature that once controlled the wildlife and the waterways and the forests are all out of balance or no longer exist. I saw in his words a man that understands where we, as Native Americans, come from – how we view the earth and the physical environment around us. I could see the concern in his eyes and his struggle with the way things are and the way they should be when he spoke about nature and our Mother Earth. Two worlds…
Leon then recalled from his youth the way his mother would cook wild game for dinner and the way you need to honor the animals when you take them for food… how hunting was a co-existent way to live with all the creatures of the earth… how hunting was never about sport or dominance over another species. Two worlds…
He spoke about his love for the Lakota language and how it gives him peace and comfort speaking with another Lakota… how he can remember, so clearly, the words of his grandfather and his grandmother… the words they spoke and the wisdom they offered him as he struggled with feeling comfort and peace at home. But, Leon also remembers having erasers thrown at him or rulers slapped over his hands at school for speaking his Lakota language, and the teachers being so forceful and cruel in their ways to change him into someone else. Leon had a special place along the river near his small country school, where he would hide among the bushes and plants and look at the sky and chase the squirrels. And he compared his school experience to the way the Lakota and his grandparents felt about learning and knowledge… about being aware of wisdom and that the language is where it starts… speaking your own language, the Lakota language that to this day gives Leon peace and comfort. He explained that the teaching and the use of language from his grandparents was like an eagle plume. It was sacred and he felt good and alive in what he was learning. Two worlds…
And yet, as Leon reflected over his life, he told me the one thing he would change if he could go back would be to get an education. He said the teachers are much different today than they were in his time… that he has met his grandkids’ teachers and they seem eager to help his grandkids learn… eager to teach them what they need to know in order to exist and succeed in today’s world. But, Leon also understands the importance of teaching his grandkids what his grandfather taught him… to “learn to face the future”… to ‘learn the ways of the others.” I see this as an imperative for Leon, who wants his grandchildren to have it easier than he did… to not struggle as much he did with the idea that he was a Native American being pushed into a world that did not coincide with his own culture.
As I sat and listened to Leon muse about all of these things and more, I realized something. He is living in two worlds still. He knows we cannot go back to the way things were supposed to be… the way they were for millennia before this continent changed populations. And, he knows he can indeed look back to how we existed before and carry that into this new way of living… to sit in a circle and talk as a family… to see it can be a cultural struggle to get an education, yet education can help you succeed in the mainstream world. He knows that each culture offers something new and unique. Two worlds…
As I left Leon’s home, he thanked me in Lakota, and I promised I’d return to hear what he could tell me about anything he wanted to talk about… I left feeling that a person can be two things… that I can be two things. I can be a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, descended from and existing because of my ancestors and what they did for me so many generations in the past. I can also be an American citizen that offers his culture to those around him and accepts theirs with understanding and a willingness to face the future… a future that isn’t grim because of how history turned out… rather, a future that is forged one day at a time and can be exactly what I strive to make of it. I can live in two worlds by looking back and looking forward.
Last week we kicked off our “Walking in Two Worlds” blog series by talking about maintaining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance in everyday life. Maintaining this kind of balance is critical for Native Americans living one life in two worlds. There is the world of contemporary time and place defined by the mainstream culture, and there is the world of indigenous culture, knowledge and understanding. As I mentioned last week, sometimes the two worlds contradict; sometimes they complement one another.
This week, Mary Mitchell, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a senior at Black Hills State University (BHSU), shares her experience of “walking in two worlds.”
Before moving to Spearfish, South Dakota, to attend college, Mary spent her entire life in the community of Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Growing up Mary spent her time volunteering in her community and getting involved in school sports. Being so active and present helped Mary build an empowering network. Through this and her large, supportive, close-knit family, Mary grew up knowing who she was – a young Lakota woman.
When Mary left Eagle Butte, she left nervous, sad and one of only a handful ever to have left the reservation for college. Her life was becoming one that would be spent in two worlds.
Thankfully, Mary wouldn’t have to go it alone. The Bridge Program offered by BHSU’s Center for American Indian Studies gave Mary the opportunity before the start of her first semester to transition into life away from home, while getting connected with other first-time Native American college students. (The Center for American Indian Studies is a long-time Program Partner of National Relief Charities and its American Indian Education Foundation.)
Connection, Mary says, is at the heart of her ability to maintain balance while “walking in two worlds.” After participating in the Bridge Program her freshman year, Mary went on to mentor other Native American students entering the Bridge. She also now serves as President of the Lakota Omniciye student organization at BHSU. Lakota Omniciye addresses the needs of Native students and coordinates the school’s annual “American Indian Awareness Week” and its “Lakota Omniciye Wacipi.” The wacipi (powwow) brings in about 3,000 guests from South Dakota and the surrounding states of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Bringing Native American culture to campus is just one of the ways Mary stays connected with her roots. She continues to be active in Eagle Butte, volunteering with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School. Mary also keeps close to her family on Cheyenne River through letters and phone calls throughout the school year.
When Mary faces difficulty keeping her balance while “walking in two worlds,” she remembers the lessons of her Aunt Ione shared at a very early age: As a young Lakota woman, her life is in the service of her people. Mary humbly carries this knowledge in all that she does, be it volunteering in the community or representing Native Americans at Black Hills State University.
What does it mean for a Native American to “walk in two worlds” and does it apply to other cultures in the U.S.? Well, before I can answer this question, I first need to talk about balance.
I’m going to break myself down to four equally important aspects: There is the physical part, the mental part, the emotional and the spiritual. You are the same. Together, these aspects form the circle of our being, and no one aspect is more important than the other.
But, a circle requires all of its points (or aspects) to be equi-distant from its center point – and in that center point is you, the individual. Thus, we experience the most balance as individuals when we cultivate all four of our aspects. When we neglect one aspect or focus primarily on another, we become unbalanced.
Of course, we bump up against the real challenge of staying in balance as we go about our day-to-day lives. In this contemporary world, there seems little time to focus on the core aspects of self. With this in mind, consider people like Native Americans who must stay in balance while “walking in two worlds.”
Minorities in the United States know that two worlds exist in this country. There is the world of the dominant culture, and in my case the world of indigenous culture. One is very new. The other is very old. One culture landed here hundreds of years ago. The other originated here thousands of years ago, if not longer. Often, one contradicts the other, and sometimes they complement each other.
Regardless, this leaves Native Americans no choice but to walk in both worlds. We have the history of forced assimilation, but we also have a rich history of adaptation to the dominant culture. It is through this adaptation to the best parts of the dominant culture that Native peoples have been able to make a positive impact in their communities. Yet, balancing this requires a strong knowledge and ability to navigate both cultures, a constant striving to maintain an indigenous identity while also coursing the mainstream.
Over the next few weeks, National Relief Charities will feature stories of Native Americans living in two worlds or adapting to the use of technologies prevalent in the dominant culture. Check in next week to learn what living in two worlds means for a Native American college student. In the meantime, leave us a comment below if you have an experience of living in two worlds you would like to share.
So you are a junior in high school and getting ready to go to college. You want to be sure you are prepared or, at least as prepared as you can be, but you are not sure how to get started. You also know that choosing to attend college is exciting but can also be stressful. I am here to let you know that, with a little planning and a lot of support from family, counselors and others, you can keep it exciting and minimize the stress.
Over my past almost 9 years with National Relief Charities, I have worked with literally thousands of Native American students… answering questions, listening to concerns, and providing helpful guidance that made their college application process easier. I had the additional joy of working each year with the students whom we awarded scholarships through our AIEF program. Here are 10 things Native or non-Native students must do to get ready for college:
March-August: You want to be researching colleges in your junior year and deciding which ones you may want to attend. As you research, be sure to jot down whether they require the SAT or ACT test.
March-August: You should know that that some colleges have application fees, but you can apply ahead of time for a fee waiver. You should do this in your junior year well before you submit a college application. The timing varies by school, so early on check into application fees and processing time for fee waivers.
September: You want to register for the SAT or ACT test, or sometimes both, in September of your senior year in high school. The test(s) you take depend on the admission requirements for each college to which you will apply. And when you register, be sure to indicate which schools you want to receive your test scores.
October: You actually take the SAT or the ACT tests in October of your senior year. You may also want to register for the winter test at this point. In my experience, some students have found it helpful to take the SAT or ACT test(s) twice.
October-November: You want to start working on your scholarship applications now. Give yourself plenty of time to complete each scholarship application so as not to impede your funding. The people reviewing the applications can tell when an essay was written last minute.
November: By this time, you want to be mailing applications to any college you are considering attending. You should also have your school counselor send each college your high school transcript up to that point. (The transcript must come from the school, not the student.)
December: You want to retake the SAT or ACT test and have the new scores sent to your target colleges. Make a note of your test dates and arrange transportation ahead of time.
December-January: This is the time to contact your tribal education office to find out whether you are eligible for a tribal scholarship and how to apply.
January: Depending on your financial situation, you want to start searching for other scholarships. Consider Native American scholarships and others for which you meet the eligibility criteria. As you identify suitable scholarships, be sure to jot down the deadlines so that you do not miss an opportunity for funding.
January: You also want to apply for FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid) in January of your senior year. Online is the quickest way to apply for FAFSA, but if you need to apply by mail, ask your school counselor for a FAFSA form.
By February 1 of your senior year in high school, you should have all of these steps done.
For additional information, check out our AIEF college guide with detailed information for high school seniors, families and counselors. And, be sure to get an AIEF scholarship application online. They are simple to complete and the deadline is April 4, 2015, so you have plenty of time to write your essay and gather the required materials that need to accompany your application.
I wish you all the very best in this and the coming academic years and in all that you do. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our AIEF program at (866) 866-8642. We are happy to assist in any way we can.
How could it be that in 2014 a woman on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota froze to death when the state has grown from the seventh to the third largest of U.S. crude oil producers?
While the death of Debbie Dogskin and the oil boom in North Dakota may seem unrelated, consider the thousands of flares accompanying oil wells across North Dakota. As each one of those flares burn, natural gas is released and often uncaptured alongside the crude oil below. Part of that uncaptured gas is propane. When Debbie Dogskin was found on February 4 last year, she was housesitting for a friend and the home’s propane tank was empty.
At the time, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was under a state of emergency as a national propane shortage had skyrocketed the price of propane to more than $3.50 per gallon. A year earlier, the average price of propane in North Dakota was $1.55 per gallon. According to the Associated Press, some 5,000 homes on Standing Rock rely on propane for winter heating. Many of the people occupying those homes live on fixed incomes.
When this was happening, I was living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota and the same thing was happening there. Propane shortages and the loss of propane in domestic oil production, combined with off-reservation propane vendors often requiring a minimum order of 100 gallons for deliveries, made a basic human necessity like staying warm unattainable for many of the people of Rosebud.
Although many of you may be surprised by this, staying warm in Indian country really can be a matter of life and death or lead to hypothermia. Typically, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assists eligible tribal members with winter heating needs for wood, propane and electricity. However, recent budget cuts at federal and tribal levels have led to temporary closures of tribal LIHEAP offices, limiting the number of people served and delaying help for those with urgent need. When speaking about the budget cuts, Northern Cheyenne President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher predicted, “I’m afraid it’s going to get worse and worse in future years.” The impact of LIHEAP budget cuts are only heightened by the lack of local winter fuel sources and providers in remote reservation communities.
Knowing that those most vulnerable in reservation communities are often the most affected by harsh winters and social program budget cuts, National Relief Charities provides various forms of heating assistance, according to community needs of the reservations we serve. NRC knows that Native American Elders often heat their homes with wood, wood and coal, propane or electricity, and that about 40% of reservation housing is considered sub-standard for plumbing, heating and cooling. Providing firewood, coal and winter fuel vouchers for propane or electricity is NRC’s way of helping hundreds of Elders stay warm on the Northern Plains and the Southwest reservations.
It’s January here in South Dakota and the temperatures aren’t bad recently, about 30 degrees—but it can get below zero very quickly this time of year. The wind and the air temperature can plummet, especially at night, and make it difficult to stay warm… especially if you rely on propane for heating, or wood for heating.
Many of us simply can turn up the heat via a digital dial on the wall and voila – the room temperature climbs until it reaches 75 degrees. Things aren’t always that simple on the reservations around the country. For some, staying warm in the winter is a challenge as costs and the lack of winter fuel such as firewood can make warmth arduous to obtain.
I have visited Elders on the reservation in winter, and I can recall one visit in particular where it was downright freezing inside of the home. The Elder was waiting for a propane delivery. In addition, many of the reservations we serve are very rural and remote. There isn’t an urban infrastructure that makes it easy to have the types of heating many of us enjoy.
For too many, in my opinion, winter on the reservation can be a cold harsh experience. I can remember as a young boy visiting my grandmother on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the wind could get just horrible and gusty and so very cold. You find ways to stay warm – like putting up blankets and plastic over the windows – but it can still get cold… especially when you are waiting for winter fuel.
This very real danger of hypothermia among people on the reservation when propane and wood are in short supply brings me to another point: What is hypothermia, and how is it different from frostbite?
Well, the Mayo Clinic states that hypothermia is “a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).”
Severe hypothermia can lead to frostbite, which freezes parts of the body when they are exposed to extremely cold temperatures. In so many of the isolated reservation communities National Relief Charities serves, the temperature can be well below freezing many days throughout the winter and frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes.
When coupled with the poverty that exists on these reservations, this makes for a perfect storm. Poverty, lack of local heating sources and sub-freezing temps can lead to potentially life threatening consequences. This is why NRC goes to such lengths to ensure winter safety for Elders on reservations, providing:
Firewood and winter fuel vouchers for hundreds of Elders on Northern Plains and Southwest reservations
Winter emergency boxes with food, water, flashlights, batteries, scarves, hats, gloves, and winter emergency blankets to get Elders through winter storms
Weatherization of Elders’ homes by caulking and putting up plastic around doors and windows to keep out the cold and keep in the precious heat
We recommend keeping a close watch on Elders in your community and ensuring their wood, coal or propane does not run low during the winter. And check out these other tips for spotting the signs of frostbite.
Today at Arizona’s Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day, five talented and energized youth groups are presenting how they are going to make their communities safer and healthier. With the “Native Youth Know” partnership standing behind them, the five youth groups will receive the funding and support to make that possible.
The Native Youth Know partnership between the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and National Relief Charities is engaging youth-led groups to develop creative solutions around issues of public safety, health and well-being. From the youth of today develop the leaders of tomorrow.
Today, we would like to acknowledge and congratulate the five recipients of the “Native Youth Know” grants and the solutions they identified for tribal communities throughout Arizona:
Based on the Hopi Reservation, the Hopi Junior and Senior High School student government will develop a park and recreation area to serve the youth and adults living in the school’s housing complex. By enhancing this area, the student government will increase access to places where people of all ages can become more active and improve health and wellness.
The Native American Music Fund from the Fort Defiance and Window Rock communities on the Navajo Reservation has a track record for promoting music and raising funds for guitars and pianos, which were given to Navajo youth. Using the Native Youth Know grant, they will host three Teens for Music workshops in three Navajo communities, including music lessons and performances from local and known musicians.
Elsewhere on the Navajo Nation, the fifth and sixth grade classes at the Little Singer Community School are resolved to revitalize and enhance the school’s efforts toward nutritional values. They will promote nutritional, environmental and cultural well-being through renovation of a school greenhouse and development of a sustainable garden.
On the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in Guadalupe, middle and high school students in the Lutu’uria Youth Group are collaborating with college students from the Yonokame Group to address issues rooted in historical trauma and loss of culture. They will address the issues through teachings of Yaqui history.
The Miss Pascua Yaqui Program in Tucson is committed to educating youth and the community about their ancestral diet as well as edible plants and fruits harvested from the environment. They will organize teaching by Elders and develop a community garden to grow the plants and trees essential to the Yaqui ancestral diet.
We congratulate these Native American youth for taking a leadership role and contributing in creative and positive ways to the safety, health and well-being in tribal communities.