From near extinction centuries ago, the buffalo now makes another mark on history as President Obama declares it the United States National Mammal. Signing in new legislation on May 9 that established the historic animal as a national symbol, the American Bison now takes its rightful place alongside the American Bald Eagle – both valued in Native American culture.
This is a major milestone for the iconic and ever-important buffalo, known to some tribes as tatanka. Considering its history and its significance especially to Plains tribe, we’re taking this opportunity to provide some historical context for you, starting with this bison timeline:
More than 200 years ago, a move to have the bison recognized as a national animal would have been unsupported. Herds once estimated at up to 60 million or more animals plummeted in 1884, to as low as 328 bison in the wild. The near extinction of the buffalo was the culmination of hide trading, hunting, and even intentional slaughter to put pressure on the tribes, as well as loss of natural habitat due to westward expansion. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that by 1872, up to 5,000 bison were being killed each day. George Catlin, an American painter and traveler once stated that 150,000 to 200,000 robes were sold a year, equating to the slaughter of more than 2 million bison a year for the hides to make these robes. He expected bison would become extinct by 1840.
This would prove to be an issue to many Native American cultures, specifically in the Plains region of the United States. Many of these tribes relied on the buffalo to fulfill a range of needs such as food, clothing, warmth and tools like eating utensils, weapons and water containers. In Sioux culture, the buffalo was a symbol of both strength and fertility. It was hunted regularly for its materials – yet the tribes never hunted more than they needed for survival. The near extinction of this unique animal put strain on Plains tribes to relocate away from their ancestral grounds toward less occupied areas and eventually contributed to their relocation to Indian reserves.
The buffalo only started to recover after protection laws were put into place in 1894 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Secretary of the American Bison Society in 1919 released a statement saying there were 2,048 bison protected by the United States in Yellowstone and other reserves, and the Canadian government had roughly 4,250 under protection, bringing the total captive bison to nearly 6,300 – compared to the mere 1,000 reported in existence in 1889. This was the first glimpse of recovery for the bison and it would slowly improve as the number placed in nature reserves allowed them to thrive.
Today, half a million bison inhabit the U.S., some wild, some semi-domesticated and cross-bred, and all all positively hopeful and unexpected. While the bison may never again number the masses they once did, their population growth over the last 100 years is a testament to their resiliency and place in history as the United States National Mammal.
“Get your kicks (on Route 66)!”
While the historical route is known by most in the United States as one of its first highways, it was more famous for its classic portrayal of popular culture. Route 66 served as a major migration path in the 1930s during the dustbowl, as well as a popular route for tourists, both American and foreign. The highway spanned hundreds of rural communities, all unique in their own ways and many capitalizing on their own strengths by serving as pit stops, tourist locations, and vacation destinations along the route. With more than half the route cutting through Indian country, perhaps one of the most recognizable icons along Route 66 was that of the stoic American Indian.
Several tribal communities endured the tourism of the route, mostly small communities not then in the best of economic conditions. As travelers passed through, they would encounter reflections of the marketing images shown along the route – its billboards with warriors and tipis. Tribal members often donned war bonnets and held games or traditional-seeming ceremonies for passersby, living up to the stereotypical Hollywood imagery and tales, to bring needed money into the community. Numerous tribes sacrificed this in favor of the needs of their people.
As Lisa Snell, publisher of Native American Times in Tahlequah, Okla. explains, “Because of the socio-economic conditions, what do you do? You take the job, you put on your buckskins, you put on your war bonnet and you have your picture taken. You do the job,” she said. “That’s been perpetrated through today. It’s still that image we have. It’s lingering.”
Some of the most recognizable tribes along Route 66 include the Navajo, Zuni and other pueblos. Each of these tribes commercialized their specialties, including food, pottery and jewelry, and staged shows open to the public. Maybe one of the more memorable elements brought to Route 66 were the roadside Navajo jewelry stands (not the Navajo fireworks stands Hollywood put into the mix in the film “Joe Dirt”). Through this, each tribe uniquely brought some of the nostalgia to Route 66, especially since some of the imagery borrowed from techniques tribes had used for hundreds of years.
Despite these images so popular at the time, all must seek to recognize and honor the true culture of these tribes. A partnership between the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association and the National Park Service, working with numerous tribes along the route, is doing just this – bringing light to true Native American culture through a project called “American Indians and Route 66.” The project recently unveiled a guidebook, highlighting new and classic locations along the route, and re-educating travelers on the tribes by accurately showcasing some of their unique practices, history and contributions to the region and the U.S.
Many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day this coming Sunday, whether it’s honoring our own fathers, husbands or brothers, or being recognized by our own children on this dad-centric day. It comes as no coincidence that as we focus on men this time of year, we also focus on their health. June is Men’s Health Month, seeking to increase awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases in boys and men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites heart disease and cancer as leading causes of death among men in the U.S. This includes the Native American men that Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) serves on the reservations, some of whom have a lifespan 20 years less than the average male due to their remote locations and limited access to proper nutrition and health care.
PWNA’s health services support hundreds of reservation programs that address preventative care, home health visits and health education initiatives for tribal members. This includes supporting programs that focus specifically on men’s health, such as:
- A men’s cancer class in South Dakota
- A men’s health conference in Arizona
- Residential care for men living in shelters for veterans, the homeless, disabled, etc.
As you celebrate the men in your life this month – and encourage their health – consider making a donation to PWNA’s health services in their honor. Increasing access to health care is an impactful way to participate in Men’s Health Month, as well as a critical service to those living on remote reservations isolated from mainstream care.
Did you know that long before doctors began practicing medicine in the United States, Mexico, Canada and South America, medicine was successfully practiced in these same countries? These early practitioners were called healers, medicine men or women, and shamans, and they were known for their ability to use herbs, energy, touch, sacred objects and often spiritual ceremonies to help those with mental, physical and emotional ailments. Times have changed, but the need for contemporary and traditional medicine has not. We need both – Native American doctors and medicine men or women – and this is a concern to both the Native and the health care community.
Partnership With Native Americans understands the health concerns affecting Native peoples – we work weekly with hundreds of health partners on reservations in 12 states. The diabetes, cancer, cardio vascular, and morbidity rates are staggering, and we hear of these challenges directly from the providers, our partners, working to remedy them. Disparities in health care funding and access is also a concern; one that is tied to the number of Native American doctors and health care professionals.
As cited in this article, “The film Medicine Woman by Princella RedCorn portrays the life of the first Native American doctor—Susan La Flesche Picotte—an Omaha woman who became a doctor in the late 1800s. She rallied for basic health care and was a passionate prohibitionist. She practiced medicine at a time when very little was available to doctors like herself.” This is a remarkable story of the first Native American doctor dating back to the late 1800s, yet still today, similar challenges exist – access to a quality education, higher education resources and a viable support system to help Native American students pursue their dreams of becoming a doctor or health care professional.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), “in 2004 and 2005, 465 American Indian and Alaskan Natives applied for medical school in each of those two years. By 2011, this number dwindled to 379. Furthermore, the numbers of American Indian and Alaskan Natives who are first-year medical students is even smaller. In 2004, there were 202 first-year Native medical students. By 2011, there were 157, with 2009 registering the lowest number of Native students at 153 in this particular study.”
The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of Partnership With Native Americans, supports aspiring and talented students seeking a degree in the medical field. For example, Sydney S. is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The Cheyenne River Reservation is home to about 4,000 people and encompasses two of the poorest counties in South Dakota. Sydney received an AIEF scholarship to support her goals, sharing, “I want to use my degree to be a part of the next generation to address health needs. I’ve witnessed the staffing shortages at the local Indian Health Service facility on our reservation.”
Citing “disproportionately higher levels of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and accidents experienced by Native people and first-hand recognition that South Dakota Native Americans live in the poorest countries in America,” Sydney continues. “My passion is to serve and provide holistic care to the people of our ancestry. There is a strong belief that Native Americans serving Native Americans is a critical component in addressing the key health care issues that weigh so heavily on our people.”
There is a misconception in the United States that all Native Americans get free health care and are taken care of under the treaties – this is not true. The next time you have a medical need or visit your doctor for a regular check-up, remember many Native Americans in need of these same services are living in areas where adequate health care facilities and doctors is a need yet to be met.
Memorial Day weekend is often considered the unofficial start to summer and now that it’s behind us, summer break is on the minds of many children – and their parents! Summer may call for some rest and relaxation, but maintaining some aspects of the school day is just as important to keep young minds learning and growing ahead of their next grade level.
Partnership With Native Americans works with many tribal partners to ensure children living on the reservation get access to opportunities to fuel their physical and mental growth.
PWNA partnered with Hopi Residential Youth Development and Hopi Junior/Senior High School students on the Hopi Reservation to create a gathering place accessible even when school is not in session, while simultaneously promoting health and wellness. The class added benches and four trees to an existing playground, as well as pavers (enclosures to keep sand and wood chips off the playground) with PWNA support. This project provided a positive youth activity, supported skills development through project leadership, and empowered youth to know they can make a difference. The project continues to evolve, with the next phase being a basketball court, soccer field and gardening project.
In South Dakota, PWNA partnered with Rosebud Sioux Tribe Veterans Affairs for a youth project focused on repairing bikes and teaching youth how to ride them and ride safely. This project supported a healthy youth activity and empowered “earning” through participation. To help launch the program, PWNA donated bikes and bike helmets, which the youth would earn upon completion of the program. Thirty youth participated from three communities: Rosebud, Mission and Two Strike on the Rosebud Reservation. Earning the bikes will make the youth more mobile and the focus on repairing their own equipment encourages self-sufficiency. Due to its initial success, the program is ongoing and looking at future interests, such as teaming up with a local Boys and Girls Club, starting a soccer ball initiative and putting together a cross-country ski club.
Don’t toss aside thoughts of school supplies and backpacks just because school’s not in session for the summer. PWNA is already thinking about how critical your donations and support will be to our efforts this fall to ensure students on the reservation are prepared for the new school year. More on that in the coming weeks!
The 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee kicked off today with a preliminaries test and that got us thinking about word origins, proper spellings and pronunciations. One of last year’s words was “scherenschnitte,” which is of German descent. The year before that, there was “stichomythia,” which is of Greek descent. We examined words that hit a little bit closer to home and were intrigued to learn about a number of states that have roots in Native American languages.
North Dakota and South Dakota likely come to mind first when considering which state names have Native American origins. They were named after the Territory of Dakota, home to numerous tribes occupying the area. Similarly derivative, Utah comes from the Ute Tribe.
Conversely, Iowa is a result of a number of different spellings and pronunciations of the Iowa Tribe, depending on which European settlers you asked. Aiaoua, Aiaway, Ainovines, Aiodais, Aiouez, Ayaabois, Ayoes, Ayouos, Ayous, and Yoais from the French; Ajoues from the Spanish; and Ioways and Iowaas from the English.
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- New Mexico
Take a moment to consider the language origins of the state you grew up in or where you live now – you might be surprised!
Many of you will be on the road for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. AAA estimates that more than one-third of Americans (35 percent) will travel away from home this year, and 69 percent will take a road trip due to the lower gas prices. This got us thinking about how many people have never visited the reservations and the beautiful opportunities awaiting those who do.
One of our semi drivers, Jim, recently wrote about being on the road to a remote reservation community in New Mexico. He was on his way to Picuris Pueblo, the word Picuris referring to “those who paint.” About 24 miles southeast of Taos, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and influenced by the Spanish, Picuris has 324 enrolled tribal members, but 1,886 residents living in the community. Jim could hardly articulate his sense of wonder at coming over the mountains and descending into the small town before him, with snow-capped pine trees and a stillness that comes only from the absence of bright lights and heavy traffic. After a fork in the road, and deeper into the valley, was a field of buffalo pushing their way through the snow to eat the vegetation below. This is just one of the many wonders you can see on the reservations.
While some reservations have similar aspects, all visitors should remember that each reservation is home to a specific tribe with a specific culture and history. This means that what may be acceptable in one community or at one event may not be appropriate at another. Do some research before your trip. Learning about the history, culture and traditions of the people who live on the reservation you plan to visit will enhance your experience and help you avoid cultural missteps.
If you plan to visit the reservations:
- Treat all residents with courtesy and respect. Listen attentively, and be a respectful observer.
- If a resident offers you food or a meal, be polite and accept it.
- Be aware that alcohol is not permitted on many reservations.
- Be aware of signs about photography, and leave all pieces of pottery and other artifacts where you found them. These are protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
- Pay especially close attention to road signs. On tribal lands, you are subject to tribal law enforcement.
- If you are fortunate enough to attend a powwow, feast day or other event, dress in a modest, kempt and appropriate fashion. Avoid attire related to stereotypes, such as fringe or feathers.
Many tribes offer information for visitors on their websites, including events open to the public and rules of etiquette or protocol. Wherever the Memorial Day holiday takes you, let common courtesy be your guide, and if you visit the reservation, post a comment here to share your experience.
Annually held on the second Saturday in May and coming up on May 14 this year is World Fair Trade Day. Started by the World Fair Trade Organization in 2001, millions of businesses, policy-makers and “agents of change” around the globe support this important day. Fair trade aims at promoting economic sustainability, the eradication of poverty and social justice for the world’s most vulnerable populations. For many small and disadvantaged designers, producers and traders, fair trade gives them a better chance at sustainable livelihoods – and this includes Native American vendors.
A special challenge impacting fair trade for Native Americans, however, is “cultural misappropriation.” While this concept has a wider meaning, in this case we are referring to the creation and sale of “Native- inspired” jewelry, artwork, clothing and other textiles by non-Native vendors.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 prohibits sellers from misrepresenting or even implying that a product is Indian-made or associated with a particular tribe if it is not. For some tribes, such as Navajo, the tribal name may not be used, as in “Navajo-inspired.” A true Indian artisan is an enrolled member of a tribe or certified by the tribe as an Indian artisan.
The responsibility remains with each buyer to ensure you are buying authentic Indian-made goods. While it is not always easy to spot an imitation item – especially, but not limited to, jewelry – factors such as price, materials, appearance and markings of authenticity may help. These five tips will help you buy Native-made jewelry:
- Buy from a seller who will give you a written guarantee or statement of authenticity.
- If the seller indicates your purchase is sterling silver and turquoise jewelry handmade by an Indian artist, ensure your receipt states this information, as well as the value of your purchase. Also look for the 925 stamp indicating real sterling.
- If purchasing at powwows, festivals, fairs or other events, check the event requirements for information on the authenticity of products being sold. If no information is given, ask for an authenticity statement for any items you deem relevant or appropriate.
- While some Native items and souvenirs are inexpensive, remember that authentic, high-quality Indian-made jewelry can be expensive, as it requires significant skills and talents to produce.
- Look for the artist’s “hallmark’ (a symbol or signature) stamped on the jewelry to identify their work.
In support of our mission, PWNA routinely looks for opportunities to work with Native American service providers and vendors. We encourage you to do the same and to think outside of the box about what Native vendors can provide. In addition to art, jewelry, textiles and clothing, Native offerings span retail, software, professional services, office products and equipment, energy, financial services and media, as shown in the Inc 5000 list of top Native American businesses for 2015.
In a world where food deserts, low food security and nutrition-related diseases are common, what could be better than community gardening programs? PWNA reservation partners throughout the Northern Plains and the Southwest are championing and teaching gardening as a sustainable food solution in their remote tribal communities.
To assist these gardening and food sovereignty initiatives, PWNA received a $25,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman.
Newman’s Own Foundation (the Foundation) is funding nutrition education for children and families and fresh food access for underserved communities. Since 2014, the Foundation has committed $10 million to U.S. nonprofits that support nutrition programs, and most of the grantees are taking a grassroots approach in helping to solve nutrition problems, one community at a time.
PWNA is using the Foundation grant to help reservation partners stimulate locally grown produce and gardening initiatives, each partner taking an approach that fits for their communities. Here are some of the projects underway:
- Orchard Restoration, Whiteriver, AZ (Fort Apache Reservation)
This project is addressing the overwhelming rate of diabetes on the Fort Apache Reservation by making fresh foods more accessible. Their goals are restoring an old orchard, planting fruit trees, increasing local involvement through a community planting day, then conducting food preservation classes once fruits are available. They are also developing a five-year plan for fresh food access. So far, 40 fruit trees have already been planted in the orchard.
- Sustainable Food System, St. Francis, SD (Rosebud Reservation)
Inside the old veterans gym at St. Francis Indian School, this intergenerational project is creating a sustainable food system with bee hives, a chicken coop and raised garden beds. The group is hoping to harvest 150 pounds of honey and is targeting 50 hives to eventually produce $80,000 in annual income. Of this, 20 percent will go to propane for the Elders during the winter and about 70 percent to the students, who are operating as a small company and making business decisions about the proceeds. The group also has a rooster and 24 chickens, which are laying enough eggs to pay for themselves. The science class is incubating eggs and expecting chicks, and the students are building rain catchers. Garden tilling will begin as soon as weather permits, and a farm-to-school curriculum will eventually involve nearly 700 students in planting and harvesting.
- Greenhouse & Gardening Education, Leupp, AZ (Navajo Reservation)
Gardening is traditional in the Navajo community of Leupp, AZ, so students are naturally curious. In response, Leupp high school teachers are developing a gardening-themed lesson one day a week to teach gardening and engage every K-8 student in planting and growing their own garden in raised garden beds. To integrate a future garden-to-cafeteria component, the group is exploring the requirements for serving greenhouse produce in the cafeteria.
“We are excited to support projects that aim to increase access to healthy foods for under-served populations,” said Kelly Giordano, Managing Director of Newman’s Own Foundation. “In particular, Partnership with Native Americans is doing important work to make an impact in improving nutrition for Native American communities.”
As we approach “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” on April 28, which celebrates parents, guardians and role models, PWNA also honors Community Health Representatives (CHRs), who serve as role models in their tribal communities.
CHRs have a long history of service in Native American communities. An approach funded by the Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) for over 25 years, the CHR Program is 1,400 members strong and serves 250 tribes across the country. As paraprofessional health care providers, CHRs work on behalf of their tribes and communities, conducting community outreach and promoting health and wellness and disease prevention. No job description could ever account for the range of responsibilities CHRs carry out each day. Besides regular home health visits to monitor each clients’ condition, CHRs also provide group opportunities for preventative health care, conduct a variety of health assessments, transport patient for health and sometimes other appointments, and most importantly, serve as the consistent connection between their patients and community resources.
To truly understand the complexities and responsibilities a CHR manages, and to appreciate the valuable service and support they provide, you would need to follow them around for a day. PWNA did this, and here we share our glimpse of a morning in the life of one CHR and the myriad of needs she addresses.
6:15 a.m. — Picked up Sherry and transported to dialysis. Husband suffered his stroke earlier in week and she is afraid her needs are causing his health problems. Family has been trying to get assistance to have wheelchair ramp installed for several years (PWNA provided a new ramp and flooring). Couple needs follow up with housing and other resources to see what assistance is available. Took Sherry home; son met us and carried her back into the house. Son reported his father probably wouldn’t be released from hospital for a week or so, and additional transport would be needed.
10 a.m.— Arrived at Elderly Nutrition Center to set up a make-shift screening table for blood pressure and glucose screening with the Elders, while also creating the opportunity for them to discuss their own health risks and concerns with a trained Health Educator. Several Elders were already at the center and visited while the table was being set up and the congregate meal was being prepared. One Elder shared that she has several grandchildren living with her and the first aid kit (provided by PWNA) would be helpful for all the bumps and scraps they get while playing; she never had a fully equipped kit before now.
Complicating the work of a CHR is the reality that the health care system on American Indian reservations is beyond deficient. Shattered treaties and failed federal policies set the stage for routine underfunding of health care, leaving the Native population riddled with health disparities. A report released in 2004 by the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, “Broken Promises: Evaluating the Native American Health Care System,” spotlights per capita health care costs across populations. Fiscal gaps clearly exist in U.S. health care funding levels: $5,000 for general population, $3,803 for federal prisoners and $1,914 for American Indians. These disparities are a factor in why tribal communities are taking a preventative approach to health care, and CHRs play a central role in this effort.
CHRs are trusted servants in their communities, the ones people turn to when they need guidance or help, or someone to advocate for their needs. In celebration of their dedication and service, PWNA honors CHRs for being role models and committing themselves to improving the health and welfare of their neighbors, families and tribal nations.