Spotlight: Native Art Contest Winner Jacob Maurice Johns

PWNA’s Native Art Contest provided a promotional opportunity for creatives within the Native community by sharing their artwork and asking the public to vote for their favorite submission. The winner of the contest was selected based on the highest number of votes, and the final winner was announced at the beginning of this month. We’re spotlighting this year’s winner, Jacob Maurice Johns.

Jacob Maurice Johns
Hometown: Mesa, Arizona
Tribal Affiliation: Akimel O’otham (Gila River Pima) and Hopi

Jacob attended cosmetology school in Washington state and then worked as a hairdresser and rave promoter/DJ before discovering his passion for social issues and completely shifting gears in his career. Jacob became serious about his social activism in 2016 after the presidential election and contributed greatly to movements such as the water protection protest at Standing Rock. Today, Jacob contracts as a Community Supported Organizer for the nonprofit organization Backbone Campaign, where he focuses on organizing front-line and non-violent direct action.

Art has been a passion of Jacob’s for as long as he can remember — his mother was a portrait artist, so he grew up in an environment that nurtured creativity. Jacob’s skills are mostly self-taught, but his mother provided some tips and tricks on portrait drawing once that became his focus in 2002. Early on, Jacob focused mainly on black and white paintings but has since incorporated more color into his work to create a “gritty urban feel that brings light to darkness” and connects the past to the future.

Realizing that art can drive social change, Jacob decided to intertwine his two passions and create artwork around the issues he feels strongly about. He donated his time and talent to the Spokane American Indian Community Center by creating paintings that were used for fundraising. His artwork has even taken the form of a large 10-foot by 10-foot dreamcatcher on the side of a warehouse for Spokane nonprofit Terrain Show, and he will be working on another large mural soon for a local women’s homeless shelter.

Jacob also decided to turn his talent into a business, opening an art studio in Spokane, Washington, where he’s currently living. You can see more of his works on his Facebook page at Studio One Eleven. One of his most popular offerings at his studio is personalized portraits, where people can bring in a photo of themselves or someone else for Jacob to recreate in his own unique style. He also creates “interactive” pieces where anyone can provide their own contribution to his large artwork. Interested in purchasing one of Jacob’s pieces? Contact him at studio1eleven@yahoo.com.

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An Elder Reflects on the Rosebud Reservation

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe reservation in South Dakota was established in 1899 and is home to more than 10,000 residents today. Rosebud is a complicated place, where new projects designed to help residents on the reservation both enhance and sometimes delay progress. With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to provide readers with an inside look at Rosebud through the lens of one its lifelong tribal members, Irene Young.

Irene was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in October of 1962. The Parmalee community was her hometown, and she visits often as many family members still reside there. I recently spoke with Irene who shared more about Rosebud’s history – what it is, what it has been and what she’s seen change over the years.

Irene Young, Sicangu Sioux

TP: What do you remember about your childhood on Rosebud?

IY: When I was little, we didn’t have a community. Our houses were at least half a mile to a mile apart. There were dirt roads, no pavement. And we walked everywhere, no rides. We used to walk over to our neighbors or to my grandpa’s house. The school bus came to the end of our driveway, but it was still a quarter-mile walk to get to it. When I was about 13 years old, our [house] was one of the first few houses to have a telephone – and it had party lines. You picked up a phone and could hear three conversations of people in the area. Today, everyone has a television and even kids have phones. We’d just sit around and visit, talk about anything and everything, like how the clouds came in.

TP: How close were you to Lakota traditions and culture growing up?

IY: We didn’t practice much [traditions] or attend powwows. [The reservation] used to have powwows, but I don’t remember past about age 9. My grandpa could speak broken English but really was closer to Lakota. My grandma could understand English but was also fluent in Lakota, so she helped translate.

TP: What do you think happened to the Lakota language?

IY: The boarding schools probably affected our language. Speaking in Lakota was forbidden, and if we did, our hands were hit, or we were beaten. I went to boarding school when I was 5 for about three quarters of the school year. Then my sister learned I was there and pulled me out.

TP: What do you think keeps the Rosebud community going?

IY: For me, it is the closeness of kin that keeps the community together and strong. When winter storms hit,  for example, so many people live out in the countryside that assistance isn’t immediately available, but neighbors make it a point to assist each other in hard times.

Although they weren’t so long ago, some of the stories we hear about are easily forgotten, especially stories of lack of transportation, the need for good homes, and even substance abuse problems. Today, man-made meth is a problem, more than alcohol. We heard these stories before they became the problems they are today, and I think they’re what’s behind the high suicide rates on the reservation. I don’t remember there being a lot of suicides back in the day. I was little when I lived there, so if it happened, they probably wouldn’t tell me. But it happens more nowadays. I think the children probably feel alone. Fortunately, I don’t remember even funerals as completely unhappy moments. Family comes, people re-tell old stories, new generations meet, and in the end it’s less about mourning and more about celebrating the life that happened. The people of Rosebud have always had a way of seeing the good in the bad and making the best of a bad situation. That’s what keeps them strong.

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Celebrating Strength in Motherhood on Mother’s Day, and Every Day

Mother’s Day is the one day of the year where mothers are recognized for all they do for their children, but it’s an undeniable truth that many mothers contribute to building their nations every single day. Within their respective communities, women serve in many roles, but none is more important than the role they play in shaping their family circles.

In my nearly 30 years working with, in and for tribal communities, I’ve connected with generations of Native American mothers, each with their unique journey and stories of joy, courage, humility and grief. Their roles as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters intersect fluidly, with the combined end goal of fostering good relatives who treat others well and nurturing future generations of individuals who are equipped with a strong sense of self and culture. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing the stories of two of these inspiring women.

Brycea, Fort Yuma-Quechan Community

Brycea is an 81-year-old manager at the Quechan Senior Center on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation near Yuma, Ariz. Brycea was recently the recipient of an annual recognition given to an Elder of the Quechan Tribe for their good deeds and mentorship in the community. She’s also earned an Iron Award for her leadership efforts in Imperial County, Calif.

At home, Brycea reflects on her childhood where she and her siblings were raised by her older brother and his wife, as she’s now reciprocating the parenting role by caring for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Brycea’s intergenerational home includes her granddaughter who’s lived with her since Brycea’s daughter passed away a few years ago, along with a teenage grandson and a 7-year-old great grandson. Brycea took her great grandson in because his mother had been “in and out of the hospital.” Fortunately, Brycea tells us, his mother is doing much better now and will be able to take him back after the school year is done.

Her generational sense of responsibility is as steeped in community and work, as it is in family and home.  Brycea says her age is “just a number.” Last year, after 16 years in retirement, she went from being one of the many Elders who receive services at Quechan to managing services for the entire center. Her advice for serving others is “listen and learn.” 

Duanna, Standing Rock Sioux Community

At 47 years old, Duanna is changing the status quo and seeking a college degree in human services at Sitting Bull College. Witnessing the struggles that many in her community face on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Fort Yates, N.D., Duanna wants to help reunite families through education and teach other mothers “a better way to parent and better themselves,” as she puts it. She was awarded a scholarship through the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans, to continue her education.

Duanna is also a grandmother who is co-parenting her young granddaughter with her son. She wanted to assist him and ensure his success as a parent to a young daughter. Duanna herself was raised by her mother after her father passed away at an early age.

She said her mother taught her many things – both verbally and non-verbally – “not just by words but by her actions that I mirrored.” For Duanna, her mother was also her best friend, mentor, and someone she looked up to and admired. “I like to think I made her proud by becoming the person I am,” said Duanna, “It was, after all, thanks to her teachings.”

As to how she navigates it all, Duanna shared this lesson of self-care that was once given to her: “Love yourself enough to know what is good for you, and what is not. Seek out good things that help you academically and spiritually. Surround yourself with positive people, educated people, spiritual people. In the end you must learn to love yourself before you can love others.”

PWNA wishes to extend a sincere thank you to all the mothers who serve their families and their communities, nurturing future generations of good relatives and strong, sustainable nations – not only on Mother’s Day but every day.

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Recently in Native News

Spring is upon us and we’re sharing several noteworthy Native American headlines from the month of April. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.


Native American Women Are Facing a Crisis via MSN “Native American women and girls are facing an epidemic of violence that is hiding in plain sight. They are being killed or trafficked at rates than the rest of the U.S. population (on some reservations, women are 10 times as likely to be murdered as the national average, according to). Some simply disappear, presumably forced into sex trafficking. These cases often go unsolved. Now, three senators are hoping to combat this epidemic. The bipartisan bill… was introduced last week by Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska; Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat from Nevada; and Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana. It aims to change what the a ‘lack of a diligent and adequate federal response’ to these crimes.”

Native Nation: Immersive New Play About Issues Facing Indigenous People via Phoenix New Times

  • “Native Nation, a new work by Sicangu Lakota playwright Larissa FastHorse, provides a rare theatrical glimpse into issues facing native people in Arizona. The play was commissioned by ASU Gammage and is presented by Cornerstone Theater Company. The immersive experience incorporates live theater, an artisan marketplace, a fashion show, and cultural performances. Cornerstone has a long history of creating works based off conversations with community members and inviting nonprofessionals to participate in set, prop, costume, and lighting design.”

This Native American inscription was found deep inside a cave. Two centuries later, scholars think they understand its meaning via The Washington Post

  • “At first glance, it looked like a set of black numbers and letters written in English, perhaps with some symbols included. It had gone unnoticed for nearly 200 years in a cave nestled in a wooded hillside overlooking Fort Payne, Ala. — population 14,000, about 60 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tenn. — and was partially covered by graffiti. But when cave explorers found the inscriptions, they realized the significance. After years of research and analysis, a team of Native American scholars and anthropologists determined the inscriptions are the first evidence of the Cherokee syllabary — the tribe’s written system that uses symbols to create words — ever found in a cave. It details the ‘secluded, ceremonial’ activities of the tribe that once occupied the area.”

History’s Forgotten Pioneer: The First Native American Doctor via OZY

  • “As the sun slipped past the horizon, the young girl watched with growing anxiety as an elderly woman struggled to breathe. It was 1873, and they lived on the Omaha Reservation in the northeast corner of Nebraska. The old woman’s condition was worsening, but the White doctor — sent for four times — refused to come. The hours ticked by, and eventually, the woman died before the girl’s eyes. As she would later describe in her journal, Susan La Flesche Picotte vowed that night to do whatever it took to become a doctor. It took her nearly two decades, but in 1889, La Flesche became the first Native American to graduate from medical school…”
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Celebrating Día del Niño and Promoting Child Literacy in Native Communities

Native American children represent the future generations that will carry out the traditions and customs of their tribes. As we approach the international “Dia del Niño” (“Day of the Child”) holiday on April 30, we wanted to share the history of this celebration and more on how PWNA supports literacy for children in reservation communities.

“Dia del Niño” originated in Mexico in the early 1920’s and is now observed across Latin America and other countries in the world, including the U.S. The day recognizes the importance of children in society and promotes their well-being. Today, many organizations make use of this holiday to promote child language and literacy, including the American Library Association and the Association for Library Services to Children.

This day in time promotes the importance of reading by linking children to books, languages, and cultures in the home and at school. Unfortunately, many Native American children struggle with reading and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, American Indian and Alaska Native students score lower in reading than non-Native students in grade school due to education system issues, under-funding and other barriers.

PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program is committed to improving literacy on reservations by giving Native youth access to reading materials and encouraging volunteers to support reading time. AIEF partners with community programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs and Head Starts to help stock books for students who may not have access at home or through a local library. Children are encouraged to participate and check books out so that reading becomes instilled as a regular practice in their lives. Regular reading helps improve reading comprehension. Some partners also promote literacy buddies so that students and parents or older students can read books together.

This “Día del Niño”, we encourage you to celebrate the magic of reading by sharing your favorite culturally relevant Native American children’s book with any young readers in your life. 

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Honoring Our Connection to the Land on Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, a day of environmental awareness and activism across the world. Earth Day began as a protest in 1970 against the industrial progression of the world and the increasingly adverse impact on the environment and wildlife population. It was a critical moment for environmental awareness. That same year, the Nixon administration instituted the Environmental Protection Agency, and cornerstone protection such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act were enacted.

This Earth Day, we recognize how much the environment means to all of us, and especially Native Americans. Many Native people maintain their relationship with the Earth as best they can, whether it’s helping their communities protect the land and water or restoring their relationship to the Earth that was lost over time. PWNA assists tribal communities by focusing on sustainability, recognizing the land and water of Mother Earth are part of the solution.

Remote reservations often experience higher levels of malnutrition and obesity akin to some developing countries, resulting from a lack of affordable food, healthy food and sustainable food sources. PWNA supports sustainability projects on the reservations, such as Project Grow and community gardens, that address food insecurity, favor Mother Earth and its inhabitants, and honor our connection to the land. For garden projects in communities across South Dakota and Montana, for example, PWNA provides seeds, tools and gardening training to plant and harvest fruits, vegetables and even honey.

There are plenty of resources for starting your own community garden, including Native Food Systems, and the SDSU Extension Office that has tons of information on planting, maintaining and harvesting a wide variety of crops and plants.

Our relationship with the Earth is a fragile one that seems to be slipping away from us into a place from which it may never recover. By promoting more projects such as community gardens, we encourage self-reliance, keep our traditions alive and reduce the harmful footprint on our Earth and eco-system.

It is my hope that more communities will embrace Earth Day and learn how to protect the environment. By caring for Mother Earth, we ensure that we, and future generations, can live off the land. 

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Recognizing The Accomplishments of Native American Athletes on National Student Athlete Day

National Student Athlete Day, created by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS), is recognized by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) colleges and universities on April 6. The day acknowledges student-athletes who excel in the classroom and on the playing fields, all while giving back to their communities through volunteerism and service projects.

For us, National Student Athlete Day reminds us of the importance of sports in Indian Country and the Native American athletes and professional teams who support Native causes.

Sports can serve as a healthy way for Native American youth who live in remote reservation communities to cope with the everyday stresses and historical trauma imposed on our tribal communities. Native American children have the highest dropout rates of any ethnic group in the United States, with 29 to 36 percent of all Native students dropping out of school mostly from grades 7 to 12, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Participating in sports, however, gives Native youth another way to succeed and excel.

In the Northern Plains, basketball — commonly known as “Rezball” — is not only the most popular sport but a way of life. Competitions such as the Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) and the Dakota Oyate Challenge bring Lakota high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams together and attract college scouts. These tournaments showcase players who otherwise may not have the opportunity to be seen, given the remote locations of their reservation communities.  

Quite a few Native Americans have excelled as professional athletes and role models for youth across Indian Country, including:

  • Olympian medalists Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox), Billy Mills (Sioux), Rickie Fowler (Navajo) and Ashton Locklear (Lumbee)
  • NBA players Kyrie Irving (Standing Rock Sioux) with the Boston Celtics, Cherokee Parks (Cherokee) with the Dallas Mavericks, and Ron Baker (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) with the New York Nicks
  • NFL players Sam Bradford (Cherokee Nation) with the Minnesota Vikings, James Winchester (Choctaw Nation) with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bryce Petty (Chickasaw Nation) with the New York Jets, and Eli Ankou (Ojibwe) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Though some sports teams have perpetuated negative stereotypes through insensitive team names, logos and mascots, other franchises have supported championing Native American causes. Last year, Jacksonville Jaguar Eli Ankou highlighted the social issues facing Native communities by selecting PWNA as his charity of choice in the NFL “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign. The Dallas Mavericks invited PWNA to give a presentation on Native American history and culture and partnered on a ticket sales fundraiser for a fall 2019 game.

National Student Athlete Day reminds us that sports are more than an extracurricular activity. They’ve inspired generations of youth, and especially Native youth to succeed beyond the field and bring hope and confidence in coping with the hardships of life on reservations.  

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Climate Change: Its Impact on Indigenous People and Their Fight Against it

Across the U.S. and around the globe, Native Americans are rallying together to fight against climate change – because although this issue impacts everyone in the world, it has an even greater impact on Indigenous people.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Indigenous people are more vulnerable to climate change than non-Indigenous people. The panel identified a series of categories that make a community vulnerable to climate change, including proximity to rivers and coastal flood plains, areas prone to extreme weather conditions, and economies that are heavily dependent on climate. Many Native American reservation communities in the U.S. fit into at least one of these categories.

This has Indigenous peoples actively working together to fight climate change and enact positive change. Recent notable efforts include: 

Many Native American leaders are also voicing their concerns about this growing issue, including Lisa Deville, president of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights and member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Lisa raises awareness for the need to continue researching climate change and educating on pollution and its impact on tribal communities.

Native Americans refuse to turn a blind eye to these issues, and instead are rising up to make a difference. They are also tackling climate change through other avenues, such as taking a lead on other green trends, such as renewable energy and sustainable housing.

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Recently in Native News

As spring approaches, we’re sharing our favorite Native American headlines from March to ensure our readers stay up to date on what’s happening in communities throughout the U.S. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

‘A deserved and overdue honor’: Navy names new ship class after Navajo tribe via AZ Central

  • “A new class of U.S. Navy towing, salvage and rescue ships will be named Navajo in recognition of the tribe and the contributions the Navajo people have made to U.S. military forces. ‘The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,’ Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said in a Navy press release. The new class will be based on existing commercial towing offshore vessel designs and will replace the current T-ATF 166 and T-ARS 50 class ships, the release states.

Native American art collection opens at Metropolitan Museum of Art via New Jersey Herald

  • “For the first time, a major Native American art exhibit is being shown in the American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, rather than in Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. ‘Some visitors were confused about why Native American Art wasn’t in the American Wing with other American works,’ says Sylvia Yount, curator in charge of the American Wing, which has been focused more on Euro-American traditions. A major new exhibit, ‘Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection,” seeks to change that.’ The Dikers recently promised 91 pieces to the museum with the understanding that they be placed in the American Wing…”

The Schools That Tried—But Failed—to Make Native Americans Obsolete via The Atlantic

  • “Two centuries ago, Congress passed a law that kicked into high gear the U.S. government’s campaign to assimilate Native Americans to Western culture—to figuratively ‘kill the Indian,’ as one general later put it, and ‘save the man.’ The Civilization Fund Act of 1819, passed 200 years ago this week, had the purported goal of infusing the country’s indigenous people with ‘good moral character’ and vocational skills. The law tasked Christian missions and the federal government with teaching young indigenous Americans subjects ranging from reading to math, eventually leading to a network of boarding schools designed to carry out this charge.”

Native American tribe donates $184,000 to cover funeral costs of people who died in Alabama tornadoes via ABC News

  • “A Native American tribe in Alabama has donated $184,000 to help cover the funeral costs of the 23 people killed by powerful tornadoes that hit a small town in Alabama last week. ‘This disaster occurred so quickly and affected so many families who had no way to prepare to cover the cost to put their loved ones to rest,’ Stephanie Bryan, CEO and chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, told ABC News. ‘We live in an area that is prone to tornadoes and other natural disasters, so this a tragedy that strikes close to home in many, many ways.’”
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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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