International Mother Language Day and the Importance of Native Language

Today, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates International Mother Language Day (IMLD), under the theme “Toward Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.” IMLD is recognized annually on Feb. 21 and strives to foster sustainable development by providing learners access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages.

This year, UNESCO noted, “It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.”

Additionally, UNESCO cites these advantages to multilingual education:

  • Multilingual education increases access, while promoting equal opportunities for those speaking minority and/or indigenous languages – especially girls and women
  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning, with a focus on understanding and creativity
  • It reinforces cognitive learning, leading to positive outcomes in the learner’s life
  • It encourages genuine communication from the beginning
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, harmonizing global and local points of view

At PWNA, we understand the importance of Native languages and the preservation of related history, culture and education, especially related to the Native Americans we serve. The San Felipe Pueblo, for example, is home to 3,300 people, many of whom have retained and speak the Keresan language. Located in the picturesque pueblos of New Mexico, this community both honors and utilizes its mother language.

In addition to many of the tribal communities we serve, we have seen the importance of Native language discussed in the media, and we recommend learning more through these stories:

What do you consider your mother language? How has it helped you learn and grow?

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Show the Philanthropic Love This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day can conjure up a mix of nostalgic memories and feelings. Whether its exchanging classroom valentines in elementary school, choosing the perfect gift for your significant other, or celebrating friendship with your “Galentines” on a day normally associated with romance, Valentine’s Day is all about showing the love.

This February 14, we encourage you to look at how you can spread the love by giving back. Consider the causes that are close to your heart, or the hearts of those you love. Showing you care by volunteering at a nonprofit you’re passionate about, or donating to a charity whose mission you stand behind is a meaningful way to uniquely celebrate a day that’s otherwise overcrowded with candy and flowers.

There are a number of ways to show love to a greater cause, whether you are passionate about education, animal welfare, emergency relief, nutrition or health, including:

  • Donating to PWNA’s scholarship program, which helps Native American students – statistically, only 13 percent earn college degrees – attend college or other post-secondary schooling.
  • Donating pet food, bowls and leashes to PWNA’s animal welfare program, which assists reservations in caring for stray animals.
  • Participating in PWNA’s Winter Warmth Drive, which helps children, families and Elders on the reservation keep their homes heated throughout the harsh winter on the Northern Plains.

If you’re searching for other ways to give beyond PWNA, consider browsing the CrowdRise website. You may recognize the name from our #GivingTuesday campaigns in recent years. CrowdRise helps us, along with more than 1 million other charitable efforts, crowd source funding from donors who care about their missions.

How will you show the love today?

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The True Impact of the Dawes Act of 1887

“Indian Land for Sale Ad” by Dept. of Interior, 1911

Do you know what the Dawes Act of 1887 is? It wouldn’t surprise me if your answer is “no.” But, it is likely you have heard of the notorious Indian land for sale offer. This sale was to support the Dawes Act, adopted by Congress on Feb. 8, 1887, and drive assimilation of Natives into mainstream society.

When I was growing up, I remember hearing the phrases “we were separated” and “our land was taken,” though I didn’t realize that these were active goals of the Dawes Act at that time. Discussing the full impact of this act could run for volumes, but strictly speaking, the Dawes Act of 1887 provided Native Americans the opportunity to accept an allotment of land that was surveyed from tribal lands, and be granted United States citizenship in the process.

The political examination of the introduction of this act shows another reason as to why it was constructed – specifically to undermine tribal unity. By granting citizenship to those who took the land, the hope was that they would be less communicative and accepting of tribal government — that exposing Natives to the “civilized” white culture would leave them more accepting of it and lead to better U.S. and tribal relations.

In the end, the biggest impact of the Dawes Act was a loss of indigenous cultures, tradition and land across the U.S. It did a number on our tribal communities and tried to pit our ancestors against each other.

Reservation lands became fractionated – broken up and divided among those who took part in the offer – and families became “…separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein … adopt[ing] the habits of civilized life.”

It was by this measure that, after 25 years, those who took the land were given deeds – and this ultimately allowed them to sell the land, leading to the loss of more than 90 million acres that was once treaty land.

With the assimilation of so many, a certain amount of culture and tradition was lost within some tribes – a by-product of the loss of land and separation. Today, there are a number of dead or dying Native languages, and many of the indigenous do not know the intricacies of their particular people because the knowledge of those traditions was idle or forgotten. This might be the most long-lasting effect of the Dawes Act, and one of the more unfortunate.

When speaking of these topics, we must be careful to not place blame where it doesn’t belong. I, personally, try to stay unbiased in these writings, and only use them to inform others, so that, hopefully, in the future, we understand things like the Dawes Act and can foresee the impact. With so many groups divided, today, we should take the time to look at these divides and ensure we are not being detrimental to our causes or others.

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Winter warmth means less hardship for Native American Elders

Harsh winters in the Northern Plains bring bitter cold, severe wind chills and damaging storms that often lead to power outages, water outages or water contamination, and displacement of Elders, families and children. Amplifying this, winter in the Northern Plains can last up to seven months — with the first snow often seen in October, and the last in early May.

As a result of these extremely long winters, the energy assistance funds of Pine Ridge, Rosebud and other Northern Plains reservations tend to be exhausted a month or two before winter is over. This hardship is most deeply felt by the Elders, who are more susceptible to winter risks and expenses.

To help ensure winter warmth for these Elders, our Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA), a program of Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), supplements their winter funding with winter fuel vouchers. Last year, we were honored to help Hilda, a 99-year-old Native American Elder and grandmother living in the Fort Thompson community on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Hilda received a winter fuel voucher from us, which helped fill the propane tank to heat her home and helped her through a very long winter.

Like Hilda, many other Elders also need winter fuel assistance. You can help us warm up their winters and keep them safe from winter risk by donating to PWNA’s Winter Warmth Drive today. Every gift and social share helps.

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National Freedom Day

U.S. lobbyist Richard R. Wright was 9 years old when President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to be passed onto Congress for approval, on Feb. 1, 1865. For this reason, Wright lobbied to use the same date – Feb. 1 – as National Freedom Day; a day to celebrate and promote harmony, happiness, and equal opportunity across the United States. June 30, 1948, President Truman signed Proclamation 2824, marking the first of February each year as National Freedom Day.

More than anything, National Freedom Day is a marker for the abolition of slavery, but that act in itself opened up a new era of possibilities for African Americans, lending to the normalization of not just blacks, but many minority cultures, for a better social status in America. This process took a long time over the course of U.S. history. The introduction of the 14th Amendment in 1868, the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, even the 19th Amendment in 1920 was influenced by this rush of minority rights.

I like to think of National Freedom Day as a sort of turning point within the majority feelings of our country. Although, throughout the 1950s, many people of color were considered second class citizens, the holiday was a declaration that change was being acknowledged for African Americans, Indigenous peoples and women. After this period, it was more common to see inter-racial couples and women in more job roles, and the “second class citizen” label put on so many minorities faded and began to be replaced by a new label: “human beings.”

That being said, even in today’s age, many ethnic groups still deal with some social stigmas. Although seemingly superfluous, many of them are hurtful and can perpetuate demeaning views toward minorities. In my personal experience, however, that isn’t the case, and while my peers seem to know little about this holiday, most find it agreeable to celebrate harmony among races, and equal opportunity for all, throughout the year.

Something I learned by asking my peers about National Freedom Day is that none of them knew about it, and most of them saw it as insincere in its intent. Despite being unknown and perceived as more token than reality, I personally think establishing the day was a bigger step than some realize. Why? Because, more often than not, even an act of superficial value is enough to jumpstart something greater than the act itself, and I see in my generation the embodiment of individuals coming together, without even considering race or background as a factor of someone’s worth.

At the end of the day, everyone is trying to live their lives in the best way they can, and a lot of the time, hoping to bring happiness to others along the way. National Freedom Day brings a chance for all of us to remember this and to hopefully spread the word or act accordingly.

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Education for Self-Determination and Quality of Life

Today, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s fitting that we are looking at determination, inspiration and progress. In particular, we focus on historical and current trends in American Indian education. Let’s begin by looking back, to something we all learned about in public school.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to a new nation known as the United States of America. Soon after, laws were passed guiding the nation’s growth and prosperity. American history acknowledges that, long before these events, Indian Nations existed and prospered on this continent. What the history does not acknowledge is that the citizens of these American Indian nations were educated by their own people, through systems established over thousands of years.

For almost 200 years, the U.S. government has set laws controlling the education of American Indian children. Federal Indian education policies seemed more focused on “civilizing” the American Indian and assimilating them into the U.S. melting pot. “Kill the Indian and Save the Man” was the mantra and approach to educating Indian children. The 1819 Indian Civilization Act passed by Congress authorized education funding for “mission schools” operated by religious groups on reservations. Almost 60 years after that, the federal government expanded the Indian education system by establishing government-operated boarding schools. The U.S. was not alone in this; Canada also set up a similar system for the First Nations people, with similar results.

The U.S. and Canadian systems set up to educate American Indians have failed the children and the tribes. One needs to look back just a couple of decades to see the harsh realities and poor state of Indian education. For those who dare to look back even further, prepare yourself to learn about the atrocities committed against Indian children.

Now fast forwarding, let’s look at what is going on today, and we begin to see that the story is really about determination, inspiration and progress. Determination? Yes, American Indian governments and its people have always worked on reclaiming their right to educate their young and to work with systems to improve the quality of Indian education. Inspiration? Yes. In the face of adversity and miraculously defying extermination, American Indian communities are finding solutions to fix the failing Indian education system. Progress? Yes. American Indians value education and are taking control of the education process, designing their own systems that lead to success.

Did you know that up to 70 percent of Native American students drop out of high school (varies by community) and only 13 percent of Native students earn college degrees? It is true and American Indian governments and organizations are actively working to turn this around. I am proud to say the American Indian Education Fund, a program of Partnership With Native Americans, is one partner in this effort to enhance opportunities for K-12 and post-secondary students.

Six federally recognized tribes in October 2014 were awarded $1.2 million in Sovereignty in Indian Education (SIE) enhancement funds, “to promote tribal control and operation of BIE-funded schools on their reservations.” The SIE enhancement funds support the findings and recommendations of the American Indian Education Study Group and aim at improving federal education systems and resources in Indian Country. The six tribes are:

  1. Gila River Indian Community, Sacaton, Ariz.
  2. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Fort Yates, N.D.
  3. Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Belcourt, N.D.
  4. Tohono O’Odham Nation, Sells, Ariz.
  5. Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Ariz.
  6. Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge, S.D.

The Navajo Nation is a prime example of an American Indian government working to improve the quality of education. The first BIE-funded boarding school established on the Navajo Nation in 1965 – Rough Rock Demonstration School  (now Rough Rock Community School) – later became “the first Indian-controlled school in modern times.” Soon after, in 1968, citing the high college dropout rate for Native students, the Navajo tribal council passed a resolution founding the first tribal college – Navajo Community College (renamed Diné College in 1977). Finally, in 1978, Congress passed the Tribally Controlled Community Colleges Assistance Act.

The Navajo Nation recently took another step, beginning to transfer operation of more than 30 schools from U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) control, to management by the Navajo Nation’s Department of Education. The Navajo Nation made this request under public law 93-628, also known as the Self-Determination Contract Act, in a Sept. 30, 2016, letter to Sally Jewell, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary.

More and more, what American Indian children are taught and how they are taught is moving under the control of tribal governments across the United States. The motivation is for tribes to be able to have an impact on the quality of education and the lives of their children. Education is a powerful tool for building prosperous communities and well-being, and finally, after two centuries, education has come full circle, back to the people to whom it belongs and who can deliver the greatest impact for tribal citizens.

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Ira Hayes: Hero by Happenstance?

“I am not a hero, but the brave men who died deserved this honor.” – Ira Hayes

Public Domain, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1259015

Public Domain, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1259015

Ira Hamilton Hayes was born a Pima Indian in Sacaton, Ariz. on Jan. 12, 1923. Before enrolling in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, Hayes lived a rather normal life. He is probably most known for a simple picture at the end of the war, which stands to this day as one of the most iconic photographs of U.S. determination in our history. Being one of the six Marines to raise the American flag at Iwo Jima made Hayes one of the most distinguished Native Americans of World War II.

The eldest of six children, Ira’s parents were Nancy and Joseph Hayes. He was raised Presbyterian and was marked by his quietness. Despite most Pima Indians in his area having a difficult time with English, Ira had a firm grasp on the language, and it was probably because of this that he did well in school.

Enlisting in the Marines in 1942, at the age of 19, Hayes was assigned for parachute training that August. By the end of November, he was a qualified parachutist and left for his first tour of duty in March 1943.

Look anywhere, and you will find this same information on Ira Hayes. What you will not find, however, is much personal information. Hayes’ personal life was just that – personal. Even as one of the most famous Marines in history, there is very little information to be found

Public Domain, at https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=223

Public Domain, at https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=223

Perhaps Ira was more of a hero by happenstance in his life – being in the right place at the right time to plant that flag on Iwo Jima.

There was no strong indication of a future in the military, based on the childhood years of Ira Hayes. It is rumored that he told a grade school classmate he wanted to be a Marine. Other than this, his early years seem that of a young Native not dissimilar to those we see today.

For instance, when you read about Ira, you read that as a child he would go for days without speaking, unless you talked to him. Comparatively, in my youth, I was taught to speak only when spoken to, to be respectful of those who are talking, and if there was a time I offered my word, to be in a humble way. You also read that he applied himself in school, one of the few ways he knew how – through the English language. Later, he’d apply himself to serve his country, much like his ancestors before him.

So, in many ways, Ira Hayes was just like many of us – quiet, humble, and driven to do the best he could at what he did. In his case, this included critical service such as helping to raise the flag at Iwo Jima and serving among the many Navajo code talkers and other Native American veterans.

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Reflecting on 2016, Welcoming 2017

1-03-17-reflecting-on-2016-welcoming-2017-stock-photo-62264559-blog_mlWith a new year comes new hope. For Partnership With Native Americans, it’s another year to work toward our mission of serving immediate needs and support long-term solutions for the tribal communities we serve. We accomplished a lot in 2016, as we reflect on the past year, and we couldn’t have done so without the support of our donors, reservation partners, volunteers, staff and Board of Directors. As our CEO Robbi Rice-Dietrich shared last month, we know we are making in impact, but we can do even more.

Here are some of our 2016 highlights from media, social media and the PWNA blog:

  • In January, we shared tips on MoneyGeek.com to help Native American students obtain scholarships and grants.
  • In July, we invited you to participate in our Backpack Drive to help us provide school supplies for 26,000 Native American students on the reservations.
  • In August, we shared a story on the passing of David Beautiful Bald Eagle, Jr. on Facebook, to which nearly 500 of you reacted and 200 of you shared.
  • In October, PWNA was awarded $258,000 by the Walmart Foundation to aid our partner agencies that support nutrition and healthier living on the reservations PWNA assists across the country.
  • In November, PWNA recognized American Indian Heritage Month, celebrating Native culture and honoring Native history through curated stories on what really happened on the first Thanksgiving, as well as stories from some of the Elders we serve.
  • Also in November, PWNA invited you to participate in #GivingTuesday to help us reach a goal of $10,000 and receive a matching $10,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation.

Join us in welcoming 2017 with open arms and keeping up with our work here on the blog, and on our social media channels: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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‘Tis the Season for Giving

‘Tis the season for giving and the countdown is on for this year! Holiday giving is generous and it helps bring smiles like the ones in this video.

But did you know New Year’s Eve giving is even bigger and marks the most generous day of giving for the entire year? Or that half of all nonprofits rely heavily on donations made Dec. 29-31 for a significant portion of their annual revenue? Learn more at Mobile Cause.

Our new Vice President of Development Rod Trahan is very familiar with the realities of year-end giving, as well as the year-round realities facing the reservations PWNA serves. Rod was formerly on our Board of Directors and a Program Partner of PWNA for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. He is now leading our direct mail, planned giving, online and social giving efforts to fund our mission, drawing on extensive experience with Saint Labre Indian School, Native American Development Corporation and the Montana Indian Business Alliance for business owners.

With all his years of experience, we asked Rod what he wished donors would consider with year-end giving. This is what he shared:

“Remember the reason for the season. And if you’re thinking of giving to your favorite charity, be sure your gift is postmarked before midnight on Dec. 31 to ensure there are no issues with Uncle Sam, should you claim the donation on your tax return.”

12-27-16-tis-the-season-christmasornamentWith this in mind, we hope you will remember PWNA in your year-end giving and contribute so that we may continue our vital work with Native Americans on the 60 reservations with the highest need in the U.S.

Less than one percent of all charitable giving supports Native causes, but your gift today can help change this.

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Happy Holidays and Thank You!

12-20-16-dietrich-001retAs we approach the end of this year, I am so grateful for the work PWNA is allowed to do within tribal communities. Side by side with our program partners, and supported by the incredible generosity of our donors, we are making progress toward our mission of meeting immediate needs and supporting long term solutions, and our vision of strong, self-sufficient Native American communities.

There’s a popular column in O Magazine called “This I Know For Sure.” The topic each month is something that is certain – something so deep within the author’s heart and soul that she knows it is true. I want to share with you “What I Know For Sure” about PWNA as we end this year:

  • Our 250 scholarship recipients, many of them completing their first semesters in college far away from the reservations where their families live, appreciate the encouraging words and care packages they receive from PWNA – especially during final exams this month. They’ll go home for the holidays and encourage others in their tribes to stay in school and start making plans to attend college.
  • 12-20-16-sharing-the-good-buncee_clipart_holiday_10028,000 Native children across 33 reservations will soon receive huge stockings full of fun and needed items appropriate for their age range. They will know we remembered them, and they’ll laugh and smile and play.
  • Nearly 12,000 Elders will receive blankets, socks, and personal care items they need to help make it through the winter. They will share what they receive with others because they understand the importance and value of giving.
  • Over 2,000 holiday meals will be provided for Native Elders, families and children, and they will enjoy this nourishment while visiting with families and getting news about the community. The ingredients for these meals – ham or turkey, vegetables and pies – will be delivered by PWNA drivers to our program partners at Elder Nutrition Centers, who recruit volunteers to assist with planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up for these community-wide gatherings.
  • The graduates of our 4 Directions Development Program (4D) training have become more confident and effective leaders within their communities. They’ll share the professional and personal goals they created and talk about the support and encouragement they continue to receive from others in their class and their Native American mentors, as they encourage others to participate in 4D.

I know these things for sure because I see the results of our work each time I visit a tribal community and hear about them from our partners who live and work there. PWNA’s staff, Board of Directors and partners are aligned around a mission that respects the self-determined goals and rights of tribes, as we listen and learn about the solutions that are working in their communities. “What I Know For Sure” is that PWNA is doing important work in the areas of highest need in our country and, with your continued help, we can do even more.

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