Native American Beliefs: “The Great Mystery”

Native American Beliefs - The Great Mystery_TwitterMany Native American beliefs — ranging from beliefs about nature and animals, to traditional customs and ceremonies — are cause for discussion among non-Native peoples. Also discussed are the various spiritual and religious beliefs of Native American tribes. I want to speak to one specifically, the Native American belief in “The Great Mystery.”

When non-Natives consider “The Great Mystery,” thoughts and discussions might revolve around religious passages such as the Ephesians passage in the Bible that speaks to the great mystery hidden through the ages in God, or perhaps Paul’s reference to the great mystery in his letter to the Romans, or the Colossians passage that describes “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations… which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:24-27 NIV)

When Lakota speak of the Great Mystery, they speak of Wakan Tanka, which is more of an abstract force of creation and spirituality that is to be honored and given thanks. It is not a reference to a personified or singular deity, but rather an encompassing life force and energy existing in all things.

Chief Luther Standing Bear said: “From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things — the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals — and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.”

There is a similarity between Christian and Lakota beliefs about the Great Mystery as far as giving thanks and realizing what exists around you. However, the Lakota believe Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, is represented as an all-encompassing collective or oneness. And, the Lakota understanding of the Great Mystery is a reverence and thankfulness to all things made possible by this Great Mystery and a realization that all things are related and interconnected.

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Youth Development: The Cornerstone of Self-Sufficient Communities

“Let us put our minds together to see what we can build for our children,” urged Chief Sitting Bull. It is a common goal of parents – to provide a ‘better’ life for their children, with less hardship and more opportunity.

Youth Development - supply drive bannerUnfortunately, Native American youth face many obstacles to realize success in our modern society, including widespread poverty, low access to educational supplies and information, devastatingly low graduation rates and a deficit of Native college role models. However, Partnership With Native Americans believes that youth development is one of the most important cornerstones of self-sufficiency and quality of life. It is also a crucial factor in addressing long-term challenges on reservations.

Through its programs, PWNA supports youth development in many forms, including:

  • Encouraging parent-child reading time through books and other incentives
  • Supporting parenting classes, family support groups and youth cultural camps
  • Affording school supplies to students without access
  • Championing access to adequate information about educational opportunities
  • Supporting college-readiness camps that encourage a college mindset and prepare Native students for freshman year
  • Providing grants to post-secondary schools that equip students with pre-requisite “tools for learning”
  • Offering grants and emergency funding to universities, tribal colleges and other vocational institutions with large Native student bodies

While outside assistance is important, family and community support is the most influential factor in youth development. Through its reservation partnerships, PWNA supports parents and family members in providing meaningful encouragement to overcome obstacles and misconceptions and to expect educational attainment. Through these varied levels of support, young children and adolescents are better equipped for academic success.

The long journey of self-sufficiency and success usually starts with small steps, such as a new backpack full of school supplies that gives a young child confidence and pride. Similarly, a small donation can make a big impact in a Native child’s life. A donation of just $15 to our 100-day supply drive will provide a youth in need with four composition books, pencils and erasers while saving their family enough money to buy eight cans of vegetables.

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What International Day of Peace Means to our Tribal Partners

Peace. It’s an ideology called for a lot during times of conflict and adversity – even making its way into popular songs of the day. Additionally, September 21 is the International Day of Peace. On this day, groups around the world will host events and festivals imploring us all to give peace a chance.

This year’s theme for the day is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” and yet peace has diverse meanings for diverse peoples. This is why Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) reached out to some of our tribal partners to understand what peace means to them.

Karen Red Star

Karen Red Star

Karen Red Star, PWNA partner and Director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Health Education program on the Pine Ridge Reservation shares, “What peace means to me, my tribe and my community and reservation is to be at peace with self, to live in harmony, in balance; to be peaceful and nurturing with others, relatives and non-relatives. In the workplace, it means to help and support each other; to believe that you belong and be accepted for who you are; to be respectful of self and others using our Lakota values. It means to constantly strive to enhance learning, education and knowledge and especially to teach, guide and show our youth that living and life are the most sacred and precious attributes in our lives.” Karen also expressed that PWNA’s support helps offset daily struggles and keep Native lives in balance physically, mentally and spiritually.

Urla Marcus, with D'Aryn Lends His Horse

Urla Marcus, with D’Aryn Lends His Horse

Dr. Urla Marcus embraces similar values, citing Lakota values and education as a year-round pathway to peace. Director for the Center for American Indian Studies (CAIS) at Black Hills State University and PWNA college partner, Urla shares, “The Center for American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University strives to promote peace through education, growth, and self-awareness. The CAIS strives to move forward by educating all people emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, giving future generations the ability to live, learn and breathe through cultural clarity. Education will help increase cross-cultural awareness by bringing students and community together regardless of race, culture, socio-economic status, age or religion, and in return strengthen peace and harmony.”

As you approach the International day of Peace, follow @PeaceDay on Twitter and consider how you can support peace, balance and social inclusion through Native American programs such as those led by Karen and Urla and #NativePartnerHOPE. Read more

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Disaster and Emergency Preparedness for Native Americans

Preparedness. It’s a word that comes up a lot this time of year, with Mother Nature bringing seasonal weather disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes – and soon enough, the chill of winter. Additionally, September is National Preparedness Month.

The physical environment on the reservations we support is often harsh; giving rise to a wide range of environmental disasters such as floods, forest fires, blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. That is why Partnership With Native Americans assists tribes with emergency preparedness through home weatherization and repairs.


Elders, who are particularly vulnerable in disasters and emergencies, benefit directly from PWNA’s efforts. Working through Program Partners at senior centers and other programs in tribal communities, PWNA has weatherized homes for Elders in Navajo communities such as Kayenta, Chilchinbito, Dennehotso, Oljato (Monument Valley), Inscription House, and Shonto, as well as communities of the Zuni, Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. By providing plastic window covering, weather stripping, caulking, and the labor to do the work, Elders’ homes are more likely to be protected from the bitter cold seeping into living areas.

Disaster & Emergency Preparedness - Sample Winter ProductsWhile preparedness is key, even the best preparation can’t contend with certain disasters or particularly harsh environments. In those cases, PWNA assistance includes firewood, coal and winter fuel vouchers; and emergency kits containing blankets, batteries, candles and water. PWNA also supplies provisions for children who are traumatized or displaced, and for the homeless and disabled living in shelters on the reservations. In the case of disaster relief, PWNA extends its response beyond its normal service area, getting aid to where the tribes need it.

As you consider preparedness for your own home this month, consider ways you can help others be prepared. We are still seeking donations for our 100 Day Supply Drive for #NativePartnerHOPE – contribute today!

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Important Books for Better Understanding Native Americans

Books for Understanding Native Americans IMAG0009The best stories transport us to another place or time and yet often relate to our current situation in life. Partnership With Native Americans offers a list of suggested readings that do just that in both a historical and contemporary context.

One book on the suggested reading list has particular significance in the way in which it explores the life of one of the most iconic figures in Native American and U.S. history. “The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History” by Joseph Marshall III is unique in that it is what it says it is: a Lakota history.

Joseph Marshall III was raised on stories of the legendary Crazy Horse growing up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. This experience undoubtedly impacted the way in which he composed “The Journey of Crazy Horse.” Borrowing largely from the vibrant oral history shared with him as a child and as an adult researching for this book, Marshall writes not about the legend that inspired the monument but about a common man who took electrifying action in a time that threatened to exterminate the Lakota way of life.

Books for Understanding Native Americans IMG_1324Another book from our suggested reading list that is good for anyone looking to demystify the myths and stereotypes about the historic and contemporary lives of Native Americans is “Do All Indians Live in Tipis? Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian.”

Readers of “Do All Indians Live in Tipis?” will find answers to numerous questions ranging from serious to hilarious like:

  • “What’s wrong with naming sports teams Indians, Braves, etc.?”
  • “Why do some people think Indians do not laugh or smile?”
  • “How can I find a shaman (or medicine man) who will teach me?”
  • “How many Indian tribes are officially recognized in the U.S. today?”

If you are looking to learn more about Native American history and culture from a Native American perspective, “The Journey of Crazy Horse” and “Do All Indians Live in Tipis?” are great places to start. These books were written exclusively by Native Americans.

What other books would you recommend for better understanding Native Americans?

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What “Back to School” Means on the Reservation

Despite the lingering summer temperatures, it’s back to school time already. On many reservations, this becomes a stressful time due to lack of proper supplies and learning tools.

This long-term challenge on reservations doesn’t change with the seasons, but it’s even more apparent when children are heading back to school. The need is so great, in fact, that Partnership With Native Americans furnishes essential school supplies for more than 28,000 students on more than 25 reservations.

Back to School






With only 17 percent of Native American students starting college and only 13 percent completing college, it’s vital that the importance of an education is instilled at a young age. Having the proper school supplies equips all students with the necessary confidence to succeed and embrace education. Gift-in-kind donors help make this happen by donating bulk volumes of school supplies requested by our reservation partners. Individual donors also help through monetary donations that allow PWNA to purchase more supplies and deliver them to the reservations.

PWNA Program Partner Chip Gunville was pleased when she was able to request enough school supplies to support the more than 1,000 students attending kindergarten through high school in the community of Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Once the supplies arrived, she was equally pleased with the quality of the items. PWNA provided different supplies for each grade level, ensuring each child had the specific supplies they needed on the first day of school. It was a win-win-win for school officials, the children of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and their families. Back to School - ROAR-OPP Wellness Clinic-PR-Kyle-Quade 4-2012

PWNA believes that education is an attainable and necessary goal for Native Americans. As a result, the organization supported 51,734 participants through scholarships, grants, emergency funding, or literacy and school supplies in 2014. Help us continue our commitment by donating to our 100 day supply drive and be part of what gives these students hope.

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What Our 100-Day Supply Drive Means to Our Native Partners

The EPA spill now affecting the Navajo Reservation is the result of the EPA releasing three million gallons of toxic waste water from an abandoned mine into the Animus River of Colorado, and reaching into the San Juan River that flows through parts of the Navajo Reservation. Although containment efforts are underway, arsenic and lead levels have reached 300 and 3500 times the normal limit, respectively. This is a challenge for the Navajo people and their organizations, and a threat to their livestock, particularly in San Juan County communities such as Monument Valley, Mexican Hat and Halchita, Utah, and remote communities like Kayenta, Ariz., and Shiprock, N.M. The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management has shut down water intake systems from the San Juan River and declared a state of emergency due to the spill.

What Our 100-Day Supply Drive Means to Partners - Announcement1 Banner c...I am pleased that PWNA is able to provide much-needed water to these areas yet sorry to say contaminated water is not new to reservation communities. People living in many of the tribal communities PWNA serves struggle with unsafe drinking water daily. They haul in water for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning; some families even catch rainwater in large containers, as this is the most accessible water around. Imagine the hardship of living without water day to day – entire communities of people like those in the Hopi Villages of Upper Moenkopi and Lower Moenkopi whose drinking water is contaminated by dumping, or the children of First Mesa Elementary School in Walpi Village and Polacca whose water is contaminated by arsenic, or those in the Chilchinbito community on the Navajo Reservation whose water is contaminated by mining.

This is why, to our reservation partners, PWNA’s 100-day supply drive literally means putting water on the table. PWNA partner Aldena Pretty Weasel from the Elderly Nutrition Center on the Cheyenne River Reservation says,

“We always need water and we appreciate the deliveries from PWNA. We provide water on the tables every day when we serve lunch for the Elders, and we include water in our food bank distributions to Elders. The water from PWNA is really helpful and invaluable for our people.”

This is why PWNA collaborators like Kristie Carroll from Feed The Children recognize the challenge of unsafe drinking water and support PWNA’s supply drive. As Kristin puts it, “Feed the Children understands the need for water on the reservations. Living in communities where drinking water has been contaminated by environmental factors makes everyday life noticeably more difficult for Native Americans and we help out when we can.”

I hope everyone will learn from the EPA spill and take to heart the need for safe drinking water and the other supplies sought in our 100-day supply drive to serve Native communities – and help in any way you can.

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Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers

Navajo Code Talkers Day is on August 14 each year, and as we approach that date, we are thankful for their service and humbled by their sacrifices. We are also honored to work with the Navajo Nation to provide immediate relief and support long-term solutions for strong, self-sufficient Native American communities.

Marking the date of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, August 14 was officially designated Navajo Code Talkers Day in Arizona in 2014 when then-Governor Jan Brewer ceremoniously signed a bill that passed in the State House and Senate.

1940 Code Talkers. (NAU.PH.413.1223. Phillip Johnston Collection. Spec.  Collections & Archives, Cline Library, Northern AZ Univ.)

1940 Code Talkers. (NAU.PH.413.1223. Phillip Johnston Collection. Spec. Collections & Archives, Cline Library, Northern AZ Univ.)

It has been almost 70 years to the day that World War II ended, and in that time, all 29 of the original Navajo Code Talkers have passed away. These brave men – some of them just boys at the time – were recruited by the U.S. Marines to develop an undecipherable wartime code using their native Navajo language. This code was critical in a number of campaigns and helped save thousands of lives.

It wasn’t until 1968, however, when the program was declassified that the Code Talkers could honestly and openly share all they had done. In fact, when they returned home from the war, the Code Talkers were not allowed to say what they had done or share the significant role they played in the victory of World War II. This was a challenging time for these men, initially being told they were crucial to the U.S. Marines, then being told they couldn’t speak a word when they got home.

Finally, in the year 2000, the 29 original Code Talkers were awarded gold Congressional Medals. While none of the “original 29” are still with us, their legacy and stories live on in a number of museum exhibits, articles, videos and interviews, and in the stories passed down by their families.

This Navajo Code Talkers Day, in their honor, please take a moment to reflect on the significant contribution they made to our country and our freedom.


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The Importance of Our New Name: Partnership With Native Americans


Robbi Rice Dietrich

Robbi Rice Dietrich, President/CEO of PWNA

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many people in the past two years about a name change for our organization – including our partners on the reservations; donors, corporate sponsors and foundations; and our Board members and staff. It’s been encouraging to learn they not only agree with the recommendation to change a name we’ve had for many years, and one well known and respected on the 60 reservations we serve, but also that our new name – Partnership With Native Americans – was their overwhelming favorite choice.

I feel Partnership With Native Americans is a fitting name for an organization with a 25- year history of aiding remote and isolated reservations and supporting self-determination of the tribes. The reputation we’ve earned in these tribal communities is based on cultural competency and consistency in supporting the immediate needs and long-term solutions identified by our tribal partners. We wanted a name that honors these longstanding relationships and the impact we share through collaboration. As Dr. Jim Pete, Chairman of PWNA’s Board of Directors and a member of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, stated recently:  “We touch many lives every day in ways that honor the culture and traditions of the tribes.”


The name Partnership With Native Americans also does more:  it clearly and readily communicates to the public who we are and what we do. Since we rely on monetary and in-kind donations to support our work with the reservations, it is important that people like you with an interest in Native causes can quickly and easily connect with us. We want you to understand what makes PWNA different from other nonprofits and to understand realities on the reservations and how the needs and challenges differ from what many people perceive. In my visits with partners on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Northern Cheyenne, Navajo, Jemez and many other reservations, I am always inspired by the motivation and quiet leadership of our tribal partners and our shared purpose of supporting positive change on the reservations. Together, we improve quality of life for 250,000 Native Americans each year.

Native Americans suffer the highest need in the U.S., yet less than 1 percent of charitable giving in our country supports Native American causes. Our new name and supply drive underway for #NativePartnerHOPE will help raise awareness of the needs on these reservations and support our partnership with Native Americans.

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Proud of Our Partnership With Native Americans

Facebook Launch bannerWe have always been proud of our partnership with Native Americans, but today, we further proclaim it by announcing our new organizational name: Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). Our new name better portrays our purpose and helps us raise awareness of the needs on the reservations we serve.

Effective today, we begin using our new name and logo on all communications. Our website is Our email addresses that previously used or will now use Our office addresses and phone numbers will remain the same, as will the people you deal with in our organization.

Our key objective is for our new name to convey the long-term, collaborative relationships that exist between our organization and the reservation communities we serve, along with the spirit of partnership we have with those who help aid the reservations. It is important our name be easily recognizable and associated with our mission.

With the launch of our new name, we’re also launching the 100-day Supply Drive to Serve Native Americans living on remote and isolated reservations. We are calling upon corporations, foundations and individuals to help meet the critical needs of Native Americans who suffer the highest poverty in the U.S. yet receive less than one percent of the nation’s charitable giving. Many Americans are unaware of the challenging conditions on reservations today and how hard tribal community members work to improve the quality of life for their tribes while preserving their culture. Through our national supply drive, we hope to collect needed goods and shed light on the realities facing a quarter of a million Native Americans in our service area.

PWNA’s 100-day supply drive focuses on everyday items that address essential needs and low access to food, healthcare, education, animal welfare and household goods. These critical supplies are unavailable or unaffordable in the tribal communities we serve and are needed in high-volume, bulk donations, along with funding to transport the goods to 60 U.S. reservations. To learn more, visit our PWNA supply drive page and watch our video, “Life on the Reservation.” There are many ways to get involved!

We appreciate all of the support our partners, donors and volunteers have given the past 25 years with National Relief Charities, and we look forward to many impactful years moving forward as Partnership With Native Americans. We encourage you to connect with us on social media, spread the word about our supply drive and include our hashtag, #NativePartnerHOPE.

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