2019 Backpack Drive – Tackling the Social Inequities Faced by Native American Students

As we approach a new school year, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) knows that a successful school year begins with feeling prepared. This year, we hope to equip more than 20,000 students with the essentials they need to feel confident in the classroom, as part of our annual Backpack Drive.

The Backpack Drive is supported by PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program. In 2018, AIEF provided thousands of students with backpacks, notebooks, pencils and other items, thanks to the support of our donors. Unfortunately, approximately 35 percent of Native American children live in poverty so these basic supplies that we take for granted are often viewed as luxuries in reservation communities with scarce jobs, limited shopping and family budgets that are stretched all year.

In addition to low incomes and limited access to basic supplies, many Native American students face systemic barriers to attaining a good education in underfunded and underperforming schools with high turnover and disrepair, such as the schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education under the U.S. Department of the Interior. Yet another social inequity Native American students grapple with every day, this contributes to Native American students having the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates of any ethnicity in the U.S. PWNA is committed to providing essential materials to Native students to ensure they are ready to tackle learning in the classroom, regardless of the other barriers they may be facing.

School supplies are critical to the success of every student, and many children return to school without supplies. In addition, delivering these items is oftentimes challenging, especially for reservations located in remote, geographically isolated areas across rough terrain. The average fuel cost for delivering supplies to a single school on the reservations PWNA serves is approximately $135. 

Our annual Backpack Drive is under way and our hope is that, through the support of caring people like you, we can receive enough donations to get these school supplies to our reservation school partners in time for back to school. With your help, we can relieve some of the financial stress facing families and ensure Native American students are prepared for the new school year.

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Going Above and Beyond: How Teachers Help Equip Native Youth for Success

PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund has been supporting schools and students across the Northern Plains and Southwest for decades. The importance of a pen and paper in the classroom has not lost its significance to those who’ve received school supplies from PWNA over the years and the generational appreciation is evident.

Amanda, a certified K-12 school counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation, knows firsthand that providing school supplies to students not only reduces stress for her students’ families but also for teaching staff. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms and, on average, a teacher will spend approximately $479. This is a hefty investment when you consider a teacher’s low-paying salary.

“We have some students and families who may be able to afford to buy new school supplies but for those who enter the classroom empty-handed, PWNA really helps to alleviate the stress and anxiety,” said Amanda. “Many teachers and staff try to help as much as possible by donating new supplies, so PWNA helps teachers too.”

For Heather, a teacher on the Cheyenne River Reservation, school supplies from PWNA means less money out of her pocket for her students. “When our junior high school ran out of lined paper, I gathered up the paper left over from the [PWNA] distributions for use through the end of the year – know those donations did not go to waste,” said Heather.

Oftentimes, those same students who are worried about coming to school without the essentials are likely just as worried about food or basic utilities at home. So, while PWNA’s school supplies offer financial assistance, they also impact overall motivation, participation and learning in the classroom.

“As a school counselor, I try to store extra supplies in my office throughout the year so that when students need something, they know they have a place – and space – to come to without having to worry,” said Amanda.

Students like Jack, who began his education at a small elementary school in the northwestern corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation and went on to graduate from Red Cloud High School, continue on to college, in his case to Northern State University. Jack reflected on the challenges of accessing basic supplies, such as paper and pencils, and recalls the time that school supplies were provided to him and other students in elementary school through PWNA and other donors. “Being equipped with the right supplies helped us keep up with notes, which in turn helped with passing our exams and quizzes,” said Jack.

Despite the struggles, Jack remembers being part of the welcoming and inclusive learning environment his school and its staff created during his early learning years. Today, Jack’s parents help him with supplies to pursue a business degree and, through a Department of Education program at his college, students can borrow laptops for taking notes at lectures and doing online homework.

Whether students are continuing on to college, many of them with continued assistance from PWNA, or completing their K-12 education, basic school supplies are critical tools for learning in the classroom and help support Native futures.

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Dream Catchers in Native Culture

When I was younger, I had this green dream catcher that I’d hang right above my bed any time my family moved. My father always told me, “Don’t let it fall, it’ll make all the bad dreams fall out!” So, I always made sure to handle it with care. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood a dream catcher isn’t necessarily just for catching our dreams, but also as a barrier for any negative thoughts.

The origin of dream catchers is hard to pinpoint, but they appear likely related to the history of two cultures: the Ojibwe and the Lakota. These are two tribes with similar history and both of their cultures have origin stories based upon the web of a spider. In Lakota culture, Iktomi gave the idea of making dream catchers to a man in a vision, while in Ojibwe culture, it may have come from Asibaikaashi (Spider Woman). In both cultures, dream catchers protect their owners by capturing negative energy in the web and allowing good energy to pass through.

Today, dream catchers are as synonymous with Native American culture as fry bread, but the reality is that their popularity only increased among Indigenous tribes as trade between tribal and western communities became more prevalent. Even though dream catchers aren’t a part of most tribes’ histories, they were quickly popularized because they represent a symbol that can be widely understood by all people.  

This brings up the topic of “misappropriation,” which comes from a lack of understanding and respect of a culture or its traditions, and poses a question – are some tribes misappropriating dream catchers if they didn’t originate in their culture? And what about for nontribal individuals who also use them?

In the case of dream catchers, there was appropriation long ago. Yet – in my view – in a good way for those who took the time to understand the significance and intended use of the dream catcher and adhered to that. 

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Tribal Sovereignty as a Pathway to Thriving Economies

Native American tribal members have a unique citizenship status – classified as both citizens of the U.S. and of their sovereign tribal nation. And currently, there are 573 federally recognized tribes (including bands, pueblos, communities and Native villages) with formal nation-to-nation relationships with the U.S. government – 229 of those are located in Alaska while the remaining are spread across 35 other U.S. states.

Tribal sovereignty is a political status and a means by which tribal nations seek to create thriving economies and improve life for their members, as well as others in nearby communities. Tribal citizens elect their tribal leaders to office with hopes of establishing strong leadership who can improve the quality of life for all members of the tribe. Economic development, job creation and public safety are some of the main priorities tribal leaders and communities are addressing today.

In the late 1800’s, the U.S. government implemented a policy that forced tribal members to assimilate under the Allotment Act of 1887. This undermined tribal sovereignty and destroyed land bases by allotting tribal land to individual members — resulting in the loss of 86 million acres of tribal homelands. Even now, tribes continue to work on rebuilding their economies, exercising their sovereign rights to control their destinies and restore their ancestral lands. All these efforts are integral parts of building sustainable prosperity for today’s world.

Unfortunately, Indian reservations weren’t set up with a tribe’s prosperity in mind, nor were they meant to allow tribes to exercise their “sovereign” rights to manage their own affairs as they have done since time immemorial. Reservations were essentially established concentration camps – set up to remove and relocate Indians to non-Indian communities, while taking their lands, resources and means to prosper.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), which laid the foundation for restoring tribal sovereignty. The IRA ended a previously destructive policy by setting forth a process that would restore and protect tribal homelands in order to provide tribal nations with tools to succeed as self-governing bodies. Through the IRA process, tribal nations are better able to deliver essential government services such as public education, health facilities, elder and veteran centers, housing, and justice facilities.

Today, it’s important to recognize that as tribal nations exercise their rights to self-govern and strengthen their economies, their sovereignty is also benefiting local nontribal communities, businesses and citizens. In fact, depending on the tribe, leakage of tribal money to nontribal economies ranges as high as $.90 of every tribal dollar earned.

For example, the Navajo Nation, “the largest tribal nation in the country with 375,804 members and 162,208 members residing on the reservation” and a land base of about 17 million acres spanning more than 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, reported $.53 of every tribal dollar leaks out to nearby nontribal economies. Another example is Frontier Village operated by the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe in Prescott, Arizona, with 60 retail establishments and more than 2,500 employees from the surrounding communities.

Thriving tribal economies have a significant impact on local nontribal communities and we hope to continue championing their efforts to develop long-lasting, self-sustaining communities.

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Recently in Native News

Native Americans are continuing to receive recognition across the nation for their activism, artistry and more, and we’re sharing some of our favorite headlines from the month of June. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Arizona’s first Native American Day is recognized June 2 via AZ Central

  • “Arizona’s first state-recognized Native American Day occurred Sunday, commemorating the date — June 2 — when then President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. That act granted United States citizenship to any Native American born within the country. The day’s recognition came via the passage last year of Senate Bill 1235, introduced by Navajo state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock. It was was signed into law last April by Gov. Doug Ducey. Ducey posted about the day on Twitter Sunday. ‘Today, Arizona recognizes and celebrates the rich contributions and history of the Native American people in our state,’ Ducey wrote.”

Native American activist Frank LaMere dies at age 69 via AP News

  • “Frank LaMere, a Native American activist who fought for a variety of causes and crusaded to close beer stores near a dry South Dakota Indian reservation, has died. He was 69. LaMere’s daughter, Jennifer LaMere, said her father died Sunday at an Omaha hospital. LaMere, who was a Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska member, worked for decades to shutter the four stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, that sold millions of cans of beer near the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Regulators closed the stores in 2017. LaMere also spoke out against the proposed Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.”

This Google Doodle celebrates a dance performed by Native American women via CNN

  • “If you’re in the United States or Canada, you may have seen the intricately designed Google Doodle above. It celebrates the Jingle Dress Dance performed by Native American women. The dance, which originated with the Ojibwe tribe, serves to ‘affirm the power of Native American women,’ Google notes in an explanation of the doodle. The doodle was designed by Ojibwe artist Joshua Mangeship Pawis-Steckley.’When I heard the Doodle was about the Jingle Dress Dance, I was eager to get started,’ he told Google. ‘Watching the dancers at pow wow is one of my favorite things to do.’”

New Mexico mural focuses on missing Native American women via The Salt Lake Tribune

  • “A new mural in southern New Mexico seeks to honor missing and slain Native Americans amid a nationwide push to bring more attention to the issue. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports artist Sebastian ‘Vela’ Velazquez recently erected the mural in Las Cruces in conjunction with the city’s eighth annual ‘Illegal’ graffiti art show. The work is part of a large-scale mural wrapping around the entirety of the Cruces Creatives building. In the mural, a Native American woman stands in front with her fist raised. She’s screaming and the words below say: ‘NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS!’”


‘It’s long overdue’: the first exhibition for Native American female artists via The Guardian

  • “Walk into most museums and there might be something missing on the wall labels beside Native American artworks – an Apache dress from the 19th century might just read: ‘Title, year, materials.’ What’s missing? The artist’s name. Though many of the artists’ names were not recorded, and will forever be anonymous, many that have been recorded are now being recognized as never before. Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists is the first ever museum retrospective of Native American and Canadian female artists. It opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and until 18 August, over 115 artists from 50 Native communities are being given the credit they deserve.”
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History of the Hopi People

We often don’t realize how diverse Native tribes are – including their cultural traditions, differences in governance, and distinct histories over time. Today, we’re taking a look at the history of the Hopi people — known as “the Peaceful Ones.”

Historically, the Hopituh Shinumu (traditional name of the Hopi people) were well regarded as one of the most settled tribes in the Four Corners region. Hopi villages such as Old Oraibi are among the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in what is now the U.S. Their well-developed trade networks extended throughout the southern regions of the U.S. and into Mexico.

Hopi was also well regarded as one of the most developed social cultures, both matriarchal and matrilineal. Unlike some tribes, women determined social status and clan lines of future generations (meaning the children of a marriage are members of the wife’s clan). Their rich spiritual culture was based on generosity, with the well-being of the children and community among their highest priorities.

Beginning in the 1500’s, multiple recorded meetings showed attempts by Spanish Crusaders to oppress the Hopi and convert them to Christianity. Spanish and American politics also led to the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo in 1848, in which the U.S. won jurisdiction of the region and Manifest Destiny ensued. These scenarios eventually led the Peaceful Ones to fight for their culture in a series of battles that extended into the 1800s. But, with colonizers coming to the West and claiming Hopi lands for settlement, in 1882 the Hopi were relocated onto the reservation where they live today.

Like other Native Americans, the Hopi people were influenced by missionary work and Christianity, both before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and in boarding schools on the reservation. Many Hopi accepted Christianity, but the majority also retained their traditional spiritual practices.

After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Hopi had more freedom of self-governance and were quick to establish a tribal council and write their Constitution with representatives from each village “to provide a way of working together for peace and agreement between villages and of preserving the things of Hopi Life.”

Although the Hopi have lost about 90 percent of their original reservation land, they have close to 20,000 enrolled tribal members today. Hopi culture and spiritual practices are vibrant. The people still practice some of their oldest dances and many still speak their Native language. The Hopituh Shinumu stand as a beacon to show us not all Indigenous cultures were lost. Their closely held virtues of generosity, commitment, and adaptation have helped them weather history, keep their culture alive and stand as a modern tribe today.

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Celebrating Our AIEF Scholars this Graduation Season

“We honor them [graduates] with songs, talking positively of how this group is going to change things. People are smiling and seeing how parents react as [the students] graduate. Why can’t we live like this every day — positive, a moment of happiness?”

Ben Good Buffalo, a veteran and father to two daughters from the Red Shirt community of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, spoke these words as he reflected on graduation ceremonies.  

These words ring true as we celebrate those Native American students who are crossing the stage to collect their college diplomas this graduation season. Each step taken toward their dream of education they have sought and earned seems more intentional, more focused – especially as they consider what the next chapter, post-graduation, will bring. For many students, graduation is only the beginning — whether that beginning brings new employment, continued academics or simply a break from the books is up to each graduate.

Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) is proud to have supported the academic journeys of some of the students who’ve received their college diplomas this year through scholarships awarded by the American Indian Education Fund (AIEF), a program of PWNA. AIEF aided 90 students with scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year and provided other funding opportunities through college partners. Today, we’re sharing remarks of gratitude from two of those scholarship recipients as they embark on their new beginnings, post-graduation.

Elisha, Navajo
Native American Studies and Psychology, Duke University

“The American Indian Education Fund has been supporting me for the past two years. My educational and career goals would not be possible without the generous donors that help support AIEF. The financial generosity has allowed me to be one step closer to achieving my goals and dreams and has helped me focus on what is important, my education. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to complete my education. I am committed to using it to encourage others to understand the power and importance of earning a degree. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!”

Andrea, Zia Pueblo
Associate of Arts, Haskell Indian Nations University

“I would like to thank the AIEF committee for awarding me a scholarship to attend college without having to worry about the financial situation. The scholarship has been a huge help for me and my parents, as I attend college 12 hours away from home. With the help of AIEF, I have been given many opportunities that allowed me to become a better person, academically. I have also received endless support and encouragement from the AIEF team and am extremely grateful for everyone who took part in my success. I also want to send many thanks to the donors for shining a light at the end of the educational tunnel. Without your support and assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue and receive an associate of arts degree at Haskell Indian Nations University. Once again, thank you for your hard work and dedication in assisting us Indigenous scholars.”

Congratulations to our AIEF scholars and graduates, and their families, and all other college grads this year. You are the future and we are grateful for your commitment to your education and your communities!

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Arizona Recognizes First Native American Day

This week marked an important moment in history as Arizona marked its first official Native American Day, recognized on June 2. This is a special milestone for Arizona’s Native American community and the 22 Indigenous tribes across the state.

Arizona joins California, South Dakota, Nevada and Tennessee as one of the few states that have designated a specific day to honor their Native American history and contributions. Senator Jamescita Mae Peshlakai, who is currently serving her second term in the Arizona Senate as the state’s first Native American woman senator, introduced the bill (SB 1235) for Native American Day last April.

While the bill was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey last year, the holiday could not be recognized in 2018 due to the Senate’s 90-day waiting period for a law to take effect. As such, Native communities and supporters spent the past year looking forward to commemorating the first holiday in 2019.

In addition to the new holiday, Arizona agreed to rename four of the state’s highways after Native American veterans. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation was asked to designate U.S. Route 89 between Flagstaff and the Utah state line the “Native American Veterans Highway.” A portion of Arizona Highway 264, which runs through the Navajo Nation, is to be named the “Navajo Code Talkers Highway.” Similarly, the portion that runs through the Hopi reservation, is to be named the “Hopi Code Talkers Highway.” Lastly, U.S. Route 160 between the New Mexico state line and the junction with Route 89 is to be called the “Native American Women Veterans Highway.”

Sen. Peshlakai is a member of the Navajo Nation and an Army veteran herself. She represents legislative district 7, which spans seven counties and is one of the largest legislative districts in the contiguous U.S. Most recently, she’s focused her efforts on improving access to quality education for Native American students in the state.

Arizona’s Native American history is rich and has made a permanent impact on the state’s identity. This month, we encourage you to spend some time visiting some of the many Native American landmarks and museums across the state and paying homage to the Indigenous peoples and history of the Grand Canyon state.

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Recently in Native News

As we approach the halfway mark for 2019, Native American news continues to make headlines, and we’re sharing some of our favorites from the month of May. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.

Actress hopes to open more doors for more Native Americans via Associated Press

  • “While Rose describes ‘Chambers’ as a supernatural horror show, she says it touches on real-life issues as well. ‘Real life has its stress. Real life has its scares and real life … plays into the fantasy world at the same time,’ she said. The show also explores real-life cultural issues affecting Native Americans, including the use of its mascots and other imagery in mainstream culture. In one scene, Sasha sees a mural of a Native American on horseback, wearing a feathered headdress and lifting a tomahawk into the air.”

A Native American Tribe Gets Rent as Reparations in Seattle via City Lab

  • “Since 2017, the Duwamish Tribe in Seattle has received thousands of letters. Some have been a simple ‘thanks’ or ‘we’re with you.’ Others have been a bit more profound, mentioning restorative justice and payback for stolen land. ‘I’m a visiting student, living temporarily in Seattle. This is one small way of giving back to the Duwamish, whose land I live on,’ said one note. But every one of the messages have given this Native American community two very important gifts—’rent’ and proof that they are not alone. The correspondence is part of Real Rent Duwamish, a program started two years ago to help people who live or work in Seattle give back to the area’s early inhabitants by sending them money every month.”

Under new Washington law, state will invest more in improving Native American tribal members’ health via Seattle Times

  • “Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill this week to direct money to tribal health-care systems and create a council focused on improving health outcomes for members of the 29 tribes here. ‘I think it is one of the most promising pieces of legislation I’ve seen on the state level,’ said Aren Sparck, Government Affairs Officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB). Sparck worked on the bill, which has been a couple of legislative sessions in the making and got the governor’s signature Tuesday. The program is expected to distribute $3 million to $5 million in the first year, and that number could grow in future years. Through Medicaid, the federal government matches money that states invest in Native American health care.”

Inside one woman’s 7 year journey to photograph every Native American tribe via Elle

  • “One night, after a day spent photographing Indigenous corn farmers high up in the Andes mountains, Matika Wilbur was visited by her grandmother in a dream. ‘Oh, sweetheart,’ her grandmother, who died when Wilbur was 11 said, ‘What are you doing here working with these people, when you haven’t even worked with your own? Go home. Help your people. Be who you were born to be.’ Wilbur was interning for a nonprofit in South America—thousands of miles away from her family’s land on the Swinomish Reservation, a Native American community of 2,500 just north of Seattle. She awoke with a start and began to cry.”
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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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