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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White House Hosts First-Ever Tribal Youth Gathering

Washington, D.C. at the White House.

Washington, D.C. at the White House.

Earlier this month, the White House held the first-ever Tribal Youth Gathering, hosting more than 1,000 Native American students from 230 tribes in 42 states. Attendees met with First Lady Michelle Obama, members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs and cabinet officials.

What attendees heard from the First Lady is striking and true: “Each of you was put on this Earth for a reason. Each of you has something that you’re destined to do, whether that’s raising a beautiful family, whether that’s succeeding in a profession or leading your community into a better future. You all have a role to play and we need you.”

At the gathering, the White House announced that the U.S. Department of the Interior will issue $995,000 to 20 tribal colleges and universities and award seven tribal applicants $1.145 million to enhance their tribal education departments.

The White House is not just providing monetary support to Native Americans, it’s providing something our organization strives to achieve every day – a sense of hope. The First Lady didn’t skirt by the struggles Native Americans have faced. She recognized that America has not always “treated [Native] people with dignity and respect.” But she added, “Make no mistake about it, your customs, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story.”

We’re looking forward to what President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I), which aims to improve the lives Native American youth and cultivate the next generation of tribal leaders, brings in the future. The This initiative paved the way for the Tribal Youth Gathering, championing hope for a brighter future.

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Pamunkey Are the First Virginia Tribe with Federal Recognition

It was a good day – July 2, 2015 – a day of vindication when the Pamunkey became federally recognized, and we are excited for the benefits this will bring their people. When I read the good news, so many thoughts rushed in:  how long the Pamunkey have worked toward federal status, how it will support economic growth and how other tribes can learn from them. All the tribes in Virginia have state recognition, but the Pamunkey are the first of 11 Virginia tribes to gain federal recognition.

Being from Virginia, I have visited the Pamunkey and have always been impressed with the way they make their livelihood from the river – in harmony with what their natural environment offers them. They operate a fish hatchery that “keeps fish in the river and food on the table,” to borrow words from Pamunkey member Carl Custalow. If you’re on your way to Kings Dominion, I encourage you to stop by and visit with this friendly nation.

Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown of the smallest and oldest documented tribe in Virginia. (By Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)

Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown of the smallest and oldest documented tribe in Virginia. (By Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)

A woodland tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy, the Pamunkey have just over 200 enrolled members; about 36 members live on the 1,200-acre reservation, the rest throughout Virginia and the U.S. Still located on the banks of the Pamunkey River in King William County near Richmond, Va., the tribe has occupied this land since the Colonial Era in the 1600s. At that time, the tribe had about 1,000 members.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention this point of history: Virginia’s tribes have occupied the state since before the first settlers at Jamestown. They contributed greatly to the survival of the early settlers and continue to contribute to the strength of the state and the United States today. And that brings me to my next point. We have written before on our blog about how it is possible to be an “unrecognized tribe.” This is dumbfounding given that the indigenous people of this nation were here before all of us, but it is possible. The Pamunkey Tribe spent decades researching, documenting and working with federal authorities to meet the complex requirements of federal recognition. They are a good role model that shows other tribes how perseverance pays off.

There is more good news too. The Obama administration and Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Indian Affairs have been working to streamline the federal recognition process and make it more transparent, timely and consistent without disrupting the integrity of decisions over the past 40 years. Their new federal recognition process is available on their website.

The Pamunkey Tribe will explore a range of opportunities for economic development. Six other Virginia tribes are seeking federal recognition too – the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond. I encourage all of you to learn about the tribes in your state, their contributions and how federal recognition can free up their economies to not only earn more, but also contribute more to your state and your region.

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Reservation Animal Rescue Helps Everyone

When you think of the welfare of Native Americans in our country, what needs come to mind? Food, housing, capacity building – those are all needs and ones that our organization addresses. How about veterinary services and animal overpopulation? Sounds a little bit out of left field, but it is in fact an important and needed area of assistance on many reservations.

While seeing a stray dog or cat might raise concerns for the animal – does it have a home, will it find food – concern also needs to be addressed for the human population in which the animal resides. Overpopulated and stray animals can pose real health risks to humans, ranging from animal bites to disease, and this risk is especially high in certain reservation communities.

Rezzy, the day of her rescue and now

Rezi, the day of her rescue and now

The Navajo Nation alone has estimates reaching as high as 6,000 stray dogs, depending on the community. Imagine living among enough stray dogs to fill every seat in the Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University – twice. Then imagine trying to address an animal population of that size, and you have quite a challenge on your hands.

Because of this, our organization addresses the issue proactively. Instead of treating humans for animal bites, we provide assistance to animal welfare groups that vaccinate and spay/neuter animals on the reservations. Instead of trying to literally herd cats, we support these partners who educate communities on how to properly care for animals and enable them to care for more animals. Instead of wishing we could help, we actually do help by working with donors and reservation partners.

Lola of Oglala Pet Project after a winter rescue

Lola of Oglala Pet Project after a winter rescue

Last year, that help amounted to thousands of pounds of donated food benefiting 49,683 animals under our partners’ care. This support reduced animal health risk and related community health risk for people on 18 reservations. Additionally, we provided grant funding for a mobile spay/neuter clinic operated by one of our partners serving numerous Navajo communities.

Our programs serve a number of needs, but we’re especially proud to provide assistance that helps both humans and animals. Your personal contribution can help these efforts; consider donating today.


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Why I Am Proud to Be a Native American in the U.S.

As we reflect on the recent July 4th holiday and all the celebrations that took place across the United States, I feel a sense of personal pride. This truly is a great country in which to live. But, more specifically, I feel proud to be a part of it and to be a Native American.

I am a Native man living in a country that has had its fair share of wars, disputes and worse with Native people since the recorded history of America and even before. Is it true there are many broken treaties and historical traumas horrific in scope? Yes. Is it also difficult to sift through all that has passed – to the extent history and lost history allow – and see where we as Americans and Native Americans are today? Absolutely. And are all of these issues incredibly complex and still at the heart of many contemporary conflicts and misunderstandings today? Without a doubt.

Murray Lee - sizedYet, what I am thinking about now as I put pen to paper is the idea that “who I am” and “who I exist as” are two things that necessarily exist as concurrent ideologies and lives. I am a Native American and a tribally enrolled member of a very specific tribe, and I am also a citizen of the United States – living out two very different meanings in a single lifetime.

I do not see this as a negative. Rather, it is borne of the idea that, despite all the historical challenges between my nation and the United States, I still find the commonalities of good in this country where I live. I realize the sacrifices my Grandfathers made as they stood against the United States, and also the sacrifices my tribe and many other tribes made as they helped defend this country through many wars.

While the U.S. population was nearly 1.4 percent American Indian, the Native veteran population was 1.7 percent, “making it the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States.” So, the idea that the United States is worth fighting for, while at the same time revering the Native warrior tradition, is an idea not at all lost on the tens of thousands of Native Americans who served in this country’s wars.

So, to come back to my point…  I am proud to be a Native American in the United States because as both, I find an identity worth being proud of and exemplary traits within each culture. I am proud of the brave warriors, both military and political, in both cultures who fought for what was right throughout very distinct histories, for that inherent sense of right and helping when help is needed, without any thought of being paid back.

Beyond this, I find the progress we have made together encouraging, although frustrating and slow at times. Is there much more for both Native Americans and the United States to do to reach full harmony and assuage treaty obligations and socio-economic conditions? Of course. But, that does not, and it cannot, diminish the sense of pride and accomplishment we have achieved by being both Native Americans and American citizens.

So, in closing, I am very proud that both my Native American Grandfathers and Grandmothers, as well as my contemporary U.S. culture, have fought so hard and done what was necessary so that I could exist today – even as we continue to learn and progress toward what is right and fair. This duality is at the very heart of who I am, a very complex yet singular human being from two very distinct cultures.

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