Success Story Part 2: Room to Run, Play & Thrive at Zuni

Remarks during the Grand Opening of Ho'N A:wan Community Park

The Grand Opening was a celebration of the collaboration among community artists, culture-bearers, the tribal council and the community. Over 800 visitors attended, including parents, children, artists, tribal dignitaries and longstanding ZYEP partners.

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project began in 2006 after a pediatrician named Tom Faber, MD, MPH, came to work at the Zuni Indian Health Service Hospital. Every year, he would ask his young patients, “What are you doing this summer?” And he repeatedly heard, “I’m not doing anything.”

Recognizing the importance of positive activities and role models in children’s lives, Dr. Faber started asking more questions and ascertaining interest in the community. From there what developed was a long-standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to providing healthy summers and healthy futures for Zuni children, backed by the values and traditions of the Zuni culture.

This second article of a three-part series tells the story of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, its mission and programs, and how it has fostered relationships and leveraged funding to grow from hosting one small camp to becoming an artistic landmark and a formal hub for the Zuni artist community.

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PART 2
Room to Run, Play and Thrive

For the first 10 years, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) found success as a community resource for improved childhoods and heathy, active kids. Yet, for these 10 years, the project had to borrow space from a school site to host its programs. Those familiar with the New Mexican landscape know that just playing anywhere outdoors is not always an option.

“There aren’t a lot of safe spaces,” says Joseph Claunch, Ph.D., co-director of the Zuni Enrichment Project.

Indeed, Zuni Pueblo is remote and open spaces are covered with rocks and glass and “bull heads,” which Dr. Claunch explains is slang for the extremely sharp, spiky plants of the area.

Ground-Breaking Funding

In 2016, this would all change. Through a rigorous application process, ZYEP was awarded a large and highly competitive grant through Art Place America, which would make it possible to plan, design and build a new youth center and community park. More than a safe place for children to play and interact, it would be specifically designed to reflect the identities and histories of the Zuni people. To do this, art would be incorporated at every stage, from design consultation with local artists, to the addition of artistic pieces throughout the physical park.

ZYEP was one of only six organizations to receive the grants from Art Place, which is a 10-year collaboration among foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions whose mission is to position arts and culture as a core sector of community planning and development.

Built on Collaboration

In creating the park, the ZYEP Artists Committee was formed. Now the group continues to meet regularly on projects that transcend the park to serve a broader set of needs beyond physical activity.

In creating the park, the ZYEP Artists Committee was formed. Now the group continues to meet regularly on projects that transcend the park to serve a broader set of needs beyond physical activity.

With funding established, ZYEP put plans in motion for Ho’n A:wan Park, which means “Belonging to All of Us” in Zuni. Knowing how the project would integrate Zuni art and culture, the organization immediately set out to connect with local artists. It formed an Artists Committee, who were called on to contribute artistic vision through every step of the process. Besides lending their talents in a range of traditional art forms, the six-member Artists Committee also provided a connection to community stakeholders.

“They were a bridge for us,” Dr. Claunch says. “In addition to being artists, these individuals were community members, parents and religious leaders. They had common Zuni interests, fears and strengths.”

During the more than 30 community planning meetings, the artists communicated with members of seven stakeholder groups, including parents, elders, potential park neighbors, artists, cultural leaders, tribal council, and program administrators. They were able to alleviate fears surrounding how the proposed park would impact neighborhoods and traffic patterns, and whether the park would truly be a resource to all.

“The artists were able to assure stakeholders that the park would be an asset and not a threat,” Dr. Claunch says. “And without their input, the park wouldn’t have happened, and some neighbors would still be upset.”

Culture and Art in Every Element

The Ho’n A:wan Park was not only developed with the insights of artists, it also was designed to be a vehicle for art and culture. Here is one of the many murals featured in the community center and created collectively by members of the Artists Committee.

The Ho’n A:wan Park was not only developed with the insights of artists, it also was designed to be a vehicle for art and culture. Here is one of the many murals featured in the community center and created collectively by members of the Artists Committee.

Through it all, Dr. Claunch and fellow ZYEP co-director Tom Faber, MD, MPH, made it clear to the Artists Committee and to the whole community that ZYEP was founded on facilitating the connection of Zuni youth to their culture in everything the project does.

As plans progressed, an official site for the park was found in the heart of the main plaza, which is the center of the Zuni Pueblo. In addition to the Artists Committee, ZYEP sought input from a Cultural Advisory Team, which ensured the site was not sacred and the park was built in accordance with Zuni culture. Because the site was close to religious areas, the Cultural Advisory team weighed in, making sure that the park architecture would not stand out and that it would blend with Zuni elements in color and design.

As the park broke ground, the artists continued to play a critical role, and there was a meeting of worlds among the artists and the architects. “In typical community development projects, you build a space with an empty wall and you ask an artist to hang a picture,” Dr. Claunch explains. “But in this project, the artists were involved in every aspect. As a result, Ho’n A:wan Park is not only a community center, it’s a functional canvas.”

Opened September 2018

Another feature of the murals is that they weren’t just done by master artists. The Artists Committee also reached out to children in local elementary schools and engaged them in designing and creating murals for the park. These projects gave Zuni youth participation in art for a park designed for them.

Another feature of the murals is that they weren’t just done by master artists. The Artists Committee also reached out to children in local elementary schools and engaged them in designing and creating murals for the park. These projects gave Zuni youth participation in art for a park designed for them.

The community park officially opened in September 2018 as a 2.5-acre complex. It features an athletic turf field so children can run and play and not fall on rocks and glass. A community kitchen includes a traditional bread oven for preparing and learning to cook traditional foods. There is a community center, walking trail, community garden and basketball court. There are classrooms and office spaces and a large indoor/outdoor performance area for dances and events. Interior and exterior walls feature 11 large-scale murals created by Zuni artists.

Invitation to the Grand Opening

Invitation to the Grand Opening

“Kids need fun activities and places to do them,” Dr. Claunch says. “Through this park, we can make sure they have these spaces. And we can do it in a way that is culturally responsive and goes hand in hand with the community in ways that reflect Zuni identity and history.”

Going forward, Ho’n A:wan Park is still a canvas on which to do more. According to Dr. Claunch, there is a need for a perimeter fence, which in the spirit of Zuni cannot be chain-link. Artists are being called on to create that perimeter artistically, providing not only a functional wall but a gallery for the Zuni culture. Other projects include water collection designs and a statue. In this space, art will not sit on shelves but will be part of the environment, ensuring the culture lives on.

According to Dr. Claunch, ZYEP has been built on Zuni ways from the beginning, but the planning and building of this park has made the organization more intentional. “It’s evolving our mission and improving our work.”

Moreover, by involving and empowering local artists, ZYEP has created a new network of artistic professionals, who can see through an artist’s eye to provide the very best opportunities for Zuni youth.

By Amy Jakober

Part 3 of this series, along with a conclusion, will appear in the May/June 2019 issue of Indian Giver. You can see Part 1 at this link.

A focal point of the community center is the showcase of pottery shards, each decorated with images and designs of Zuni culture. The table creates a display that visitors can walk around and experience.

A focal point of the community center is the showcase of pottery shards, each decorated with images and designs of Zuni culture. The table creates a display that visitors can walk around and experience.

Funding Supports Grantmaking & Roll Out of “Gather” Film

"Gather" will premiere during 2019

“Gather” will premiere during 2019

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation to support the nationwide rollout later this year of the Gather feature-length film about Native American food sovereignty efforts, as well as to fund a grant program, scholarships and trainings to further support such food initiatives in Native communities.

Photo of Sammy Gensaw (Yurok) with salmon, by Renan Ozturk. Image was taken as part of the "Gather" film and storytelling project about Native American food sovereignty.

Photo of Sammy Gensaw (Yurok) with salmon, by Renan Ozturk. Image was taken as part of the “Gather” film and storytelling project about Native American food sovereignty.

First Nations is involved in the production of the film. With Gather focusing on Native food sovereignty, it fits perfectly with First Nations’ longtime programming and grantmaking effort known as the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI), which has been underway since 2002. Gather outlines the destruction and appropriation of Native food systems over years of colonialism that sought to eliminate America’s original inhabitants through many means, including the decimation of their well-established food and agriculture systems. Further, the film, which will be released in 2019, chronicles the rise of the Indigenous food movement in North America.

The grant from the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation will support dozens of local film screenings and community discussions across the U.S. It also will underwrite a new Gather-related grant program under NAFSI to further assist and enhance grassroots food sovereignty projects in Native communities over the next three years.

Photo of Tolowa Nation salmon by Adam Sings In The Timber (Crow).

Photo of Tolowa Nation salmon by Adam Sings In The Timber (Crow).

Additionally, it will allow First Nations to provide more college scholarships to Native students majoring in agriculture or related areas, and it will enable First Nations to expand other training and technical assistance activities it provides to existing Native farmers, ranchers and other food producers. The grant also will allow First Nations to work more closely with other organizations to advance Native food sovereignty, as well as update the Native food systems website.

The film features many of First Nations’ NAFSI grantees and partners, as well as others who are making huge strides in advancing Native food sovereignty as a way of asserting tribal sovereignty, reclaiming control of Native food systems, and helping restore the health and well-being of Native communities.

The film project and its related journalism effort are being underwritten by the Indigenous People’s Fund of Tides Foundation and The 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, respectively. Gather is being directed by Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains) and produced by Tanya Meillier and Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee). Renan Ozturk is the director of photography. The film’s website can be found at http://gather.film/, and it can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gatherfilmproject and on Instagram under @gatherfilm.

SONS of Mvskoke Model Stability & Presence

The tenets of physical wellness, Native American culture and spirituality come together as SONS participants build a sweat lodge.

The tenets of physical wellness, Native American culture and spirituality come together as SONS participants build a sweat lodge.

For men representing the values of respect and responsibility in rural Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the secret to success often comes down to just being there. It means coming together in support – and not in competition – as a steady, stable mentor and friend to the area’s young men and boys. Today, with support from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), the SONS of Mvskoke are consistently present, as role models and facilitators, committed to serving the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Here to Give Back

The SONS of Mvskoke began when several of its members first worked with the Muscogee Tribe in a family violence prevention initiative called Warriors Honor Women. Their focus was on involving men in solutions to protecting families. While that program eventually ran its course, questions remained about the causes of domestic violence.

Executive Director Monte Randall says SONS serves to give back to the Muscogee Tribe. Here, a SONS volunteer reads to students at Glenpool Elementary School.

Executive Director Monte Randall says SONS serves to give back to the Muscogee Tribe. Here, a SONS volunteer reads to students at Glenpool Elementary School.

“We continued to see a need to get men together to talk about what we all face,” said SONS of Mvskoke Chief Executive Officer Monte Randall.

Indeed, there were few channels in Okmulgee for men to collaborate and support each other in ways that were non-competitive and not blame-based. The SONS decided to continue meeting and to formalize their own structure to support men and give back to the tribe. Their focus would be mentoring and community-based programs and events that bring men together in ways that show responsibility and respect.

A Four-Tenet Focus

As a newly formed 501(c)(3) organization, the SONS began hosting monthly events and activities open to the community based on the SONS’ four tenets: spiritual, physical wellness, Native American culture, and leadership. These events and activities are designed to encompass at least one of those tenets. For example, fishing trips or sporting events incorporate physical wellness, whereas planting an elders’ garden, bow shooting, language lessons and sweat lodges involve several of the tenets.

Funding from First Nations and RISE will help SONS continue many programs, including the elders’ garden.

Funding from First Nations and RISE will help SONS continue many programs, including the elders’ garden.

Through all the activities, Randall said, men are called on in an environment of respect and responsibility. “By leading these activities, we participate, we show up. We convey that this is what men do, and this is what is important to who we are as a people.”

Randall underscored the importance of this male presence not just in Okmulgee but throughout the country. There are a lot of homes with single-mother families, or grandparents raising the children, he said. “Having that structure of male involvement serves as a model for having dads in their homes.”

Building on Culture

Fortunately, SONS of Mvskoke operates in a region steeped in Creek culture, and cultural settings in which to hold these activities are prominent. Still, SONS seeks to build on that culture, giving young men and boys a sense of their identity when it comes to what they believe manhood is about. “We have to go up against society, in how society says men should be,” he said. “We need to be men from a cultural aspect. What were the roles of men a hundred years ago, and how do we need to be today?”

What was effective then, Randall explained, is that sense of community that SONS aims to impart. “It was about community service, putting people first. It was about respect for each other and our responsibility to give back.”

Overcoming Barriers

At the same time, bringing men together – even in a cultural setting – does present challenges. One of the biggest, Randall said, has been participation. Randall explained that their first focus as a formal organization was providing a mentoring program. Yet, as they started identifying youth, they quickly saw a problem finding older men.

A field trip to the Tulsa Boxing Gym brings young men and boys together in respect and responsibility.

A field trip to the Tulsa Boxing Gym brings young men and boys together in respect and responsibility.

“The mentors are supposed to be men,” Randall said. “But where were they? We needed to get men to the program, too.”

Randall said he believes demands on men in the form of work, families and other commitments make it difficult for many to participate. Yet, he said, if we don’t take time to come together, to reinforce that culture, we’ll never be able to show that respect and responsibility, he said. “We have to see what it is and address it,” Randall said.

For All Who Can Come

To that end, SONS is moving forward with positive, action-based, non-blaming programming, making events open and available for all who can come. He said sometimes many men come, and sometimes only a few people can show up, but either way, SONS continues to instill that presence.

The SONS of Mvskoke mentoring program teaches young men hands-on skills such as car maintenance.

The SONS of Mvskoke mentoring program teaches young men hands-on skills such as car maintenance.

Funds from First Nation have supported this work, and the grant to SONS was made possible through RISE for Boys and Men of Color (BMOC). RISE BMOC is a project co-led by Equal Measure, a national nonprofit evaluation and philanthropic services firm, and the University of Southern California (USC), Rossier School of Education, USC Race and Equity Center. RISE for Boys and Men of Color is a field advancement effort that aims to better understand and strategically improve the lives, experiences and outcomes of boys and men of color in the United States. RISE spans five fields (education, health, human services and social policy, juvenile and criminal justice, and workforce development) and focuses on four populations (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans).

The funding to SONS is being used to expand programming, including SONS’ recent Men’s Summit, annual Toy Drive luncheon, and Cultural Garden.

Importantly, funding is helping the SONS of Mvskoke continue serving the Creek Tribe. And for the men and boys of Okmulgee, the activities, events and role models for respect and responsibility are adding up to big impact.

“The heart of it is the presence that we have,” said Randall. “Sometimes it is just a small group of us, but we’re here. We’re steady and we’re consistent.”

By Amy Jakober

Donor “PapaJoe” Hartz: “What Makes Us the Same is the Size of Our Hearts”

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

Now retired 100% government and military, PapaJoe has time to spend with his favorite horse, 32-year-old Zip.

For PapaJoe Hartz, everything we do comes back to us: Either good or bad. It is not the color of our skin or our politics or religion that make us different. It’s the size of our hearts. This belief has grown stronger over the years. Now, as a fervent donor to First Nations Development Institute, he shares his thoughts on life, Native causes, and what people can do to make their own hearts as big as possible.

A Kindred Spirit

Joe Hartz is not Native, but the Native approach to life strikes a chord with this 67-year-old U.S. Navy submarine disabled veteran. PapaJoe was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and adopted three months later in Memphis by a wonderful family. He says his knowledge of Native Americans was limited to playing “cowboys and Indians” and visiting nearby Indian villages. But the more he has learned about the plight of Native Americans, the more he has been humbled and inspired.

He talks of Native people being lied to, driven from their homelands and robbed of their cultures – and how the thought of little children being sent to boarding schools and stripped of their souls and identity is atrocious.

PapaJoe, for one, knows how important the loss of spirit is. “Without it, you have no soul,” he says. While serving onboard a submarine he sustained a debilitating knee injury that left his right knee disabled, and he was medically discharged. “For someone who is always active, this was hard to accept,” he says.

His disability contributed to a 14-year struggle with alcoholism and pain medications. “Once you think you are disabled it sometimes consumes your entire body, and you lose faith.”

PapaJoe says redemption came on January 1, 1987, when his prayers were answered. And since then he has remained alcohol and drug free for over 32 years. He says his spirit was renewed by the strength and power of traditional ways and knowledge.

One of his beloved friends and sponsor, who is part Cherokee, has given him words of wisdom and insight through the years, and now this knowledge has led PapaJoe to seek ways to help Native Americans. “I give because helping people get their spirits back is important to me. My dream is to see Native America made whole again.”

Positioned to Make a Difference

After he left the Navy, PapaJoe spent years in sales before going to work for the U.S. Postal Service. After 12 years, his service-related disabilities resurfaced, and he was forced to retire. He took the opportunity to go back to college at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and get a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He trained as a hospital chaplain and also filled in as a part-time non-denominational minister. His education led him to adopt Taoism and Buddhism as his way of life.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

PapaJoe says he plays the flute well enough to “make the dogs bark,” but it makes him happy, and that is what’s most important.

He has toured the country in his RV and loves to play the flute. He says he plays “well enough to get the dogs barking and keep rodents away.” But in line with his outlook on life, he says, “It’s not about how good you play. It’s the fact that playing makes you happy and uplifts your spirit. You have to do what makes you happy.”

For PapaJoe, learning more about Native causes and being a part of First Nations also makes him happy because he sees First Nations as a key player in giving Indigenous people back their spirit. He appreciates that he in a position to support the work and that First Nations is in a position to have the greatest effect. He says he chose First Nations after extensive research through Charity Navigator. “It’s just the well-rounded program I was looking for. It gets people back to their roots.”

By giving to First Nations, he says he feels like he, too, is giving people hope and restoring that spirit he knows is so important. He wishes he could do more, a desire that likely led to his name “PapaJoe.”

A Papa to All

Married twice and divorced with one son, PapaJoe has no biological grandchildren, but he is “PapaJoe” to 13 grandkids and great-grandkids. “You don’t have to be a blood relative to show love to these kids. My kids know that PapaJoe will take care of them.”

For many of his grandkids, he is the only grandparent, and as such he provides support, love and insights into living a life with joy.

“I don’t care about material things,” he says. “I care about people, and when you learn about people, you learn the truth.”

He imparts on his family the importance of education and knowledge. Having traveled extensively across the country, PapaJoe considers the world to be his church and encourages his grandchildren to get out and experience the world and its people. “You will never learn the whole truth about people in a book or newspaper. You will only learn by becoming a part of the whole. We are the same people,” he says. “If you rely on others for the truth, you will always be ignorant.

Appreciation and Respect

PapaJoe reflects that people’s education and understanding throughout the years has changed slowly, and he acknowledges that what he learned about Native Americans as a boy in the 1960s is different from what is being taught today, to a small degree. “The truth is starting to come out,” he says. “We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t gone far enough.”

He says it’s still going to take years for the truth to take hold, and right now he’s happy to be part of an organization that is helping to move the needle. No matter his own heritage, he says he appreciates traditional knowledge and respects the spirit of Indigenous people. And, in supporting First Nations, he feels he has made a good investment in a cause that means so much to him.

“This is me doing my part,” he says. “Only you can increase the size of your heart. I do it through giving, love and compassion, and most importantly, by forgiving. It’s my goal and the way my heart feels.”

First Nations appreciates the support. Thank you, PapaJoe!

By Amy Jakober

Community Intellectuals & Learning are Aims of Project Partners

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

At the March 2018 kickoff meeting of partners under the “Supporting Community Intellectuals in Native Communities” project. Included are Shelly Fryant, Rene Dubay and Michael Munson of Salish Kootenai College, Carnell Chosa and Regis Pecos of Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, and Darren Kipp of The Piegan Institute. From First Nations are Michael Roberts, Raymond Foxworth, Catherine Bryan and Marsha Whiting. Monica Nuvamsa from The Hopi Foundation was unable to attend.

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation, has been engaged in an unprecedented project to support, reflect on and share learning about Native American community intellectuals in partnership with four Native-run nonprofit organizations: The Hopi Foundation, Salish Kootenai College, Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School, and The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School. Each of these organizations are anchors in their communities and are centers of excellence in supporting local community intellectuals and their work in elevating the Native voice in influential circles.

Through this project, each partner organization has worked diligently over the last year on projects that engage community-identified intellectualism representing diverse areas of expertise and ages to discuss concepts of intellectualism specific to their Native culture, its foundation, and historical and contemporary applications.

The outcome of the project is to raise awareness among Native community intellectuals and how it may manifest uniquely in different communities, identification of qualities of Native community intellectuals, best practices for communities and organizations to nurture and support these individuals, how community intellectuals’ contributions may best be documented and shared, and how the knowledge of Native community intellectuals may further or be furthered by Western education standards.

Here are brief profiles of the participants:

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College

Salish Kootenai College is located in Pablo, Montana. It offers traditional education opportunities for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which provide programs and services that contribute to community development. Through this grant opportunity, Salish Kootenai College has created forums for community conversations with the Seliš, Ql̓ispé, and Ksanka (Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai) communities, engaging tribally-identified contributors representing areas of expertise important to each community. Meeting the needs of all three tribal communities has inherently been challenging for this project.

In addition, the most urgent issue faced within this community is the loss of knowledge through the passing of community elders. As a result, the goals of the project are to address the challenges within the community, utilizing traditional values and rebuilding the inter-tribal and inter-generational relationships to begin healing. This will result in the integration of knowledge transference, cultural values, seasonal activities, and ways of being and healing.

Throughout this process, Salish Kootenai College has used an advisory board to provide guidance and input on the projects within each respective tribal community of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai. The project seeks to create effective, healing conversations.

The Salish community has developed a traditional plant knowledge project. The advisory committee chose an individual working on a master’s degree at the University of Montana in Environmental Science, and who has already been working on this type of research on traditional plant knowledge, gathering, stories and eating. In the spring of 2019, the community will host events focused on plant gathering and preparation. These events will support the transmission of knowledge of medicines, community, language, history and stories.

In the Pend d’Oreille community, there is a remarkable individual who has created a youth warrior society for early teenage boys to apprentice under older men to be trained in traditional male responsibilities.

The Kootenai community project is focused on documentation of the creation of traditional dresses and moccasins. The elders have been interviewed by and work alongside the youth in making the traditional materials. This activity-based and video-documented project will capture knowledge that would not be captured otherwise, showcasing traditional-dress making, and how it has evolved.

With this project, there has been a shift within the community, bringing people together that normally would not have been brought together and giving a venue to consider these topics. There has been an added sense of urgency and awareness to capture knowledge.

Leadership Institute logo

 

Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School

The Leadership Institute was launched in 1997 to discuss the most critical policy issues that impact the Native tribes of New Mexico. Over the course of 20 years, the Leadership Institute has actively convened members of the New Mexico tribal communities to collectively learn and explore the issues that impact their communities and to constructively develop plans, projects and partnerships to address the specifically identified areas.

This grant project has opened the opportunity to explore community intellectualism as a pueblo community, and to redefine more broadly and holistically what this means to the community. The project has been structured with the goal of collecting information on community intellectualism through surveys and conversations, and within a framework of roles and resources in the community.

Throughout the project period, the participants have worked diligently to gather the communities’ definitions and inputs on what they feel and who they feel the community intellectuals are. In total, to date, they have received more than 200 responses. They are currently looking at the data to create information or a picture of that or who the youth and community feel are the intellectuals or knowledge sharers. Within the grant project, the Leadership Institute gathered information at the Pueblo Convocation on Education, which brings together more than 600 pueblo community members to provide input on what education should look like in their communities. They were able to see community intellectualism or knowledge sharing in practice.

This project was beneficial for the Leadership Institute and other organizations. While it created a concept that was somewhat foreign and complicated, it is now more accessible because they were able to share ideas and agree upon concepts.

The Hopi Foundation

The Hopi Foundation

Founded in 1985, The Hopi Foundation’s mission is “to help people help themselves.” The Hopi Foundation, established by local Hopis, believes in attending to the community by promoting self-sufficiency, proactive community participation in its own destiny, self-resilience and local self-determination.

With this community intellectualism grant, The Hopi Foundation will document traditional knowledge, historical events and stories that define the community, both historically and today. Much of this knowledge is only available through oral tradition and customary practices, but the group hopes to share these cultural teachings more broadly through the platform of the local radio station.

Over the past several months, The Hopi Foundation has met with six community members to define community intellectualism in the context of Hopi culture and practices. Instead of community intellectualism, the group decided to use the phrase Hopi knowledge keepers to describe the process of documenting their basic cultural understandings.

Recently, the foundation completed its vision statement on community intellectualism, and is currently in the process of translating it to the Hopi language. Language translation is a complex, time-consuming process. Once the group finishes translating the vision statement, it will share it with the rest of the community through the radio.

The Hopi Foundation is also currently working with community members to determine what stories and cultural teachings they can share on the radio during two hour-long radio programs, including the cultural discussion hour and youth hour. Determining what stories to share and how is a sensitive process that requires input and consensus from all community members. The foundation believes that it is important to preserve and perpetuate this knowledge for future generations.

Piegan Institute

The Piegan Institute at Cuts Wood School

The Piegan Institute Cuts Wood School is about collaboration and generosity bringing prosperity to the community. The institute was founded and chartered in 1987 to research, promote and preserve Native American languages, in particular the Blackfoot language of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana.

The community intellectual project is about giving a voice to the people within the community who are creating effective work within the Blackfeet tribal community. The project is aiming to address the many challenges and solutions across Native American communities, gathering a group of community intellectuals who represent the traditional members and mainstream political leaders to discuss tribal history, language revitalization, economic challenges, and the future of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation community. The approach has simply been to sit and listen by asking a set of guided questions that engage a good conversation with each of the members, including community intellectualism, being a community member, and the responsibility of being a part of the community.

The long-term goal of the project is to produce a publication around the interviews that can be shared and used for the future within the community. The hope is that these projects within each of the communities are able to create a good discussion on what it means to be a community intellectual and to bring some insight into what it means to be a community member.

By Stephanie Cote

First Nations & FINRA Foundation Continue Partnership

 

FINRA

The year 2018 is officially in the books and it was a rocky year for investors. Nearly all capital markets – global stock indexes, bond ETFs, currencies and commodities – ended the year down, which is an insider’s way of saying that many investors saw their portfolios nosedive to close out a whirlwind year that brought us PopSockets, Incredibles 2 and the IPhone X.

More than ever, aspiring and seasoned investors alike seek useful and practical investor education tools to navigate the ever-changing financial landscape. As part of an ongoing mission to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities and achieve financial empowerment, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is pleased to continue its partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation) to provide resources and training though a 2019 Fraud Prevention Outreach Award to First Nations from the foundation.

Investing for the Future cover 500The award will enable First Nations to conduct community trainings and workshops as well as disseminate educational materials such as workbooks, pamphlets and activity kits. First Nations’ partnership with the FINRA Foundation extends back more than a decade, with co-branded publications such as the Investing for the Future training curriculum, a Fighting Fraud 101 pamphlet, a New Money Coming into Indian Country Investor Alert, and a co-authored report titled Race and Financial Capability in America: Understanding the Native American Experience, which was an overview of issues related to financial capability in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

A primary focus of these outreach efforts are Native American lump-sum recipients, including landowners participating in the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations. This is a federally managed program that implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value.

“There’s a huge need to educate landowners about financial responsibilities stemming from trust land acquisition sales,” said Jackie Francke, First Nations Vice President of Programs & Administration. “In addition to these individuals we also provide investor education training to tribal governments and nonprofits in partnership with the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, an office under the Secretary of the Interior that manages both Individual Indian Money and Tribal Accounts on behalf of Native American tribes and beneficiaries.”

For more information on these projects and other exciting investor education opportunities facilitated by First Nations, contact Shawn Spruce by email at agoyopi@gmail.com.

By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant

Choctaw Artist Presents History & Research through Art

Karen, right, with Jim and Sandy Heuerman, with a piece the Heuermans purchased.

Karen, right, with Jim and Sandy Heuerman, with a piece the Heuermans purchased.

Karen Clarkson is a Native American artist who strongly identifies with being Choctaw, and she is motivated by her heritage, as portrayed in her series of artworks titled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.” This project came about through Karen’s discovery about her own roots and how to present her research through her art, raising the issues and effects of blood quantum throughout history to the present. Aside from the educational presentation of this series, the art is trying to reach into the historical narrative of the Choctaws and reach other Natives and non-Natives with the story.

"Oklahoma Centennial Celebration"

“Oklahoma Centennial Celebration”

Karen is a self-taught artist who has been expressing herself through art as early as she can remember, with a focus for many years predominately on portrait art. Her professional career as an artist developed after her children had left when she was in her thirties.

“I want to somehow bring people together through seeing themselves in someone else’s face,” she said of her art. “I want people to feel that connection and to change them somehow, which is not something you can teach, it has to come from a feeling deep down inside.” Today, she is a certified woman-owned, minority-operated business, dedicated to showcasing her art at Indian markets and Native productions.

"Choctaw Woman with Ledger"

“Choctaw Woman with Ledger”

Because she had found a significant amount of information and needed a way to present it to the public, Karen had developed and worked for over two years to complete this series of Choctaw paintings. She wanted to illustrate the history of current issues on land and blood and the way in which these topics affect Natives today, especially around blood quantum, sovereignty, adoption that was happening at that time, and forced institutionalized education. Through the series, Karen wanted to highlight specifically how important the Dawes Act was for Native American people. In recording their blood quantum, many were forced to record an amount that would make them safe from additional restrictions, not knowing how it would affect people in today’s world. She states, “The implications are still with us today as much emphasis has been put on blood quantum.”

Similarly, Karen mentioned the Stigler Act, which states that the allotted lands held by citizens of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations must possess more than one-half blood quantum in order to inherit land from their forbearers and retain it as “Indian Land.” In the early 1900s, the five tribes had 15 million acres, and that number was down to 381,000 acres by 2015. Specifically, 6,952,960 acres were allotted to individual members of the Choctaw Nation, with a significant loss to 135,263 acres by 2016. In 2018, the Stigler Act was amended to remove blood quantum minimum requirements for holders of tribal allotment land.

"Dad and the Dawes Roll"

“Dad and the Dawes Roll”

Karen was introduced to First Nations by longtime supporter Jim Heuerman. After reading through First Nations’ Reclaiming Native Truth project materials, Karen found that the messaging resonated with her series, and that she had been looking for a concrete way for people to find a call to action in changing the Native narrative.

With her series “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood,” she is hoping that the portraits and stories can resonate with Natives of all nations and that they can recognize themselves within this narrative, and that non-Natives will be able to obtain a clearer picture of history and see how it not only applies to Native Americans, but to people of all other ethnicities.

By Stephanie Cote

Salish School Builds Opportunities for Language Interaction & Transmission

K-2 Salish Immersion Lead Teacher Grahm Wiley-Camacho and his daughter X̌sčnitkʷ, who is also a first-grade student in his class.

K-2 Salish Immersion Lead Teacher Grahm Wiley-Camacho and his daughter X̌sčnitkʷ, who is also a first-grade student in his class.

According to linguists, languages not learned by children in the traditional way, passed on from one generation to the next, are doomed to extinction. Unless, of course, there are conscious and deliberate efforts taken by the community and their philanthropic partners to revitalize those languages.

Salish is one of many critically endangered Indigenous languages at risk of extinction. “For 90 years, our children have not been raised with the Salish language,” says Christopher Parkin, Principal of the Salish School of Spokane. “Interior Salish is only spoken by 24 surviving fluent elders, and most of them are in their 70s or 80s.”

In 2009, LaRae Wiley, who is a member of the Sinixt Arrow Lakes band, along with Parkin, her husband, and Colville tribal members Michelle Wiley-Bunting and Trina Ray, and tribal descendant Danica Parkin, worked with 14 surviving fluent elders to establish a language immersion school that would help revitalize the Salish language.

Salish logo copyThe Salish School of Spokane is a Native-led nonprofit organization that offers childcare and elementary school for families in the City of Spokane and surrounding areas. It is one of the few urban-based Indigenous language schools in the country.

New Fluent Speakers

The school officially opened its doors in September 2010 with six students and one full-time employee. Over the past nine years, the school has grown substantially to 58 students and 30 full- and part-time employees. The school has produced 17 new fluent Salish language speakers and has been well-received by the community.

“We’ve always had a wait-list for our school,” says Parkin. “However, we haven’t always had enough teachers and resources to meet the needs of those students.”

In 2018, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded the Salish School of Spokane $90,000 through the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) to build the capacity of Native-led organizations committed to preserving and perpetuating Indigenous languages. With the NLII grant, the Salish School of Spokane will expand its elementary school to a middle school by translating 7th and 8th grade math books into Salish, and training more language teachers.

Salish is the language of instruction for all subjects (math, science, literacy, art, music, etc.) taught at the Salish School of Spokane. According to Parkin, a typical day at the Salish School of Spokane begins with students greeting the day in their circles. Throughout the day, students also learn to drum and sing in Salish, and learn about traditional foods and medicines.

“We strive to give students a total connection to their true and full heritage, which has roots that go back 10,000 years on the Columbian Plateau,” says Parkin. “We teach our students to be very traditional, but they are also very modern so we try to merge traditional and Western education.”

Merging Traditional & Western Education

3-6_drumming 500pxIn addition to learning how to drum and sing in Salish, students also learn how to play the piano and sing contemporary songs in English. During the day, teachers read to students in Salish and English, but always expect their students to discuss and write their responses in Salish.

The students at the Salish School of Spokane have benefited tremendously from this bilingual education. Parkin notes that 100 percent of the 3rd through 7th grade students are reading English at or above grade level, with many of those students actually reading at two or three grade levels ahead.

With a 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio, students at the Salish School of Spokane are on par with students at private, upper-class schools. These accomplishments are even more impressive, Parkin notes, because 15 percent of the students at the Salish School of Spokane are or have been in the foster care system.

“Academically speaking, the statistics for kids in foster care are abysmal. They tend to do worse in school and have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse,” says Parkin. “Our students are succeeding because they are a part of a culture-language community that allows them to connect with their culture. Language revitalization brings healing to all kinds of areas.”

Inter-Generational Interaction & Transmission

First graders Mocpł (left) and W̓sšnaqs

First graders Mocpł (left) and W̓sšnaqs

The Salish School of Spokane offers free Salish language classes for parents and the community. In fact, parents with students at the Salish School of Spokane are required to complete at least 60 hours of Salish language classes per year in order for their children to attend the school. The goal is to encourage students to continue speaking the language once they leave the classroom when they are at home with their families.

“Children cannot learn the language in isolation,” says Parkin. “Our goal is to restart the inter-generational transmission of language – multiple generations speaking the language. We want to empower people to once again raise their children with the language.”

Parkin and the other founders of the Salish School of Spokane believe that inter-generational language interaction and transmission is the key to revitalizing the Salish language. With this goal in mind, they have expanded the free Salish language classes to a paid internship program that will teach parents to speak, read and write Salish.

With the NLII grant, the Salish School of Spokane will provide language training to four interns hired from among low-income parents of current students. Interns will complete 200 hours of Salish language training, 160 hours of classroom training, and 30 hours of early childhood education training (i.e., first aid, background checks, tuberculosis tests, etc.).

The internship program is intended to provide parents with a foundation course for a certificate in early childhood education. The hope is that these four parent interns will be able to use their newly acquired language skills to enhance their lives, both personally and professionally.

Speaking the Language at Home

As parents, they will learn to speak the language fluently so they can speak the language at home with their children. Professionally speaking, they will complete the internship program with the knowledge and skills needed to teach the language in a classroom setting. After completing the internship program, parent interns will be eligible to work at the Salish School of Spokane as early language instructors.

Salish immersion upper elementary class (grades 3-6) harvesting wapatos in Calispel Lake. Wapatos are an aquatic bulb and traditional food source.

Salish immersion upper elementary class (grades 3-6) harvesting wapatos in Calispell Lake. Wapatos are an aquatic bulb and traditional food source.

“Nearly 70 percent of our students are from low-income families,” says Parkin. “Many of the parents we work with are single parents who are unemployed, underemployed or working in low-income jobs. This internship program will allow them to work in the schools, and also enrich the lives of their children by connecting with them through language.”

The Salish School of Spokane is more than a school, says Parkin. “It is a language-culture community where we connect elders with youth, teachers with students, and parents with their children. It’s a shared community, and the foundation of that community is language. Language revitalization is cultural revitalization.”

To learn more about this innovative language-culture community, please visit the Salish School of Spokane’s website. The website also includes all of the school’s language curriculum, which tribal elders mandated must be shared with other Native communities interested in language revitalization.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

Reclaiming Native Truth: Film Class Helps Dispel Myths & Stereotypes

First Nations President Michael Roberts (center, in black shirt) with students from the course "English 3377: Native Americans and Film."

First Nations President Michael Roberts (center, in black shirt) with students from the course “English 3377: Native Americans and Film.”

Film and television are more than entertainment. They inspire, inform and influence our perceptions of other cultures and communities. Last fall, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) Communications Officer Dr. Sarah Hernandez taught a new course at the University of Colorado at Boulder that examined how cinematic representations of Native Americans impact the public’s knowledge of and interactions with tribes.

Twenty-five students participated in the undergraduate film course. On the first day of class, Hernandez asked students to list the three most common stereotypes they’ve heard about Native Americans. The word cloud below captures the students’ responses, which ranged from positive or seemingly innocuous stereotypes, to more negative and potentially dangerous ones.

This word cloud indicates that students either viewed Native Americans as ancient spiritual medicine men and rain dancers, or as violent, uneducated alcoholics and drug addicts. Students reported basing these stereotypes on representations they saw reflected in the media.

RNT Word Cloud

In 2017, First Nations, surveyed more than 3,400 college students to assess their current knowledge of Native Americans. Researchers conducted these surveys as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth (RNT) campaign, a co-led, nationwide research initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other supporters that aimed to start to dispel America’s myths and misconceptions about tribes.

According to these findings, most college students at mainstream academic institutions lack knowledge about or close personal contact with Native Americans. As a result, these students, like most Americans, rely upon flawed resources such as books, television shows and movies for their information about Indigenous people and communities. These representations, whether positive or negative, often paint tribes as static cultural artifacts, as opposed to dynamic political entities.

Print“Tribal communities are vibrant, dynamic and fluid,” says Hernandez. “However, we’re not always portrayed that way in literature or film. This course is designed to encourage students to think critically about cinematic representations of Native Americans, and the impact these stereotypes have on real people and communities.”

In the course “English 3377: Native Americans and Film,” students watched eight full-length films from the silent film era to the present to examine how Native American stereotypes have changed over time. These films included: Reel Injun (1995), The Searchers (1956), Pocahontas (1995), The Cherokee Word for Water (2013), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian (2018), Skins (2002), and What Was Ours (2016).

Common Stereotypes

Neil Diamond’s Reel Injun provided students with a historical overview of Native Americans in film. This documentary introduced students to several recurring Native American stereotypes, including the noble/ignoble savage, Indian princess, downtrodden squaw, drunken Indian, vanishing Indian, and a deficit model of tribal life. Students used these definitions throughout the rest of the semester to deconstruct images of Native American women and men in film.

During the first half of the semester, students considered how highly sexualized representations of Native women as princesses and/or squaws influenced how Native women are perceived and treated by mainstream society. For example, one in three Native women are raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. Class discussion centered on whether there is a correlation between this statistic and the scantily-dressed cartoon character Pocahontas. In the end, these statistics, along with the Powhatan tribe’s lesser-known narrative of Pocahontas, forced several students to re-evaluate one of their favorite Disney princesses.

In the second half of the semester, student discussed the male equivalent of the Indian princess and downtrodden squaw: the noble and ignoble savage. The noble savage is primitive, yet wise, and often respectful of nature, while the ignoble savage is violent, blood-thirsty and cruel. Students observed both stereotypes in The Searchers, an early western film that infantilized and vilified Native American men to justify westward expansion, and the theft of Indigenous land.

Subtle Discrimination

Although students found it easy to identify and condemn overtly racist representations such as those found in old cowboy movies, they often had difficulty detecting more subtle forms of discrimination such as those in more contemporary films. For example, students debated whether HBO’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a historical drama about the 1890 massacre of 400 Lakota women and children, challenged or reinforced Native American stereotypes. Some students praised the film’s representation of Chief Sitting Bull as a complex, multidimensional representation that defied stereotypes, while others criticized it as offensive and reminiscent of the ignoble savage.

“Stereotypes are complex by nature,” says Hernandez. “Dismantling Native American stereotypes requires students to question knee-jerk responses, and engage in thoughtful analysis and research of the books we read, the films we watch and stories we hear. The students this semester were thoughtful, engaging and open to taking a hard, close look at themselves and their own preconceived notions about Native Americans. I believe these future leaders are the key to shifting the narrative about Native people and communities.”

In addition to critically examining Native American stereotypes, students also watched several films directed, produced and/or written by Native American filmmakers. These new representations encouraged students to think about this important question: how does the narrative change when Native people start to tell their own stories about their people and communities? For example, students watched and discussed The Cherokee Word for Water, an independent film about Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Students noted that the film rejected the Indian princess and squaw stereotypes to paint a more empowering representation of Native women that emphasized the important role that Natives and their non-Native allies play in community-building.

Students also watched documentaries such as What Was Ours and Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian, two recent films that challenged several damaging and pervasive stereotypes about Native Americans, such as the deficit model of tribal life and the myth of the vanishing Indian, which suggest that Native American culture is inferior and rapidly nearing extinction. Instead of reinforcing these stereotypes, these two documentaries promoted representations of Native American culture that highlight the strength and resiliency of contemporary tribes and tribal communities.

Collaboration is Necessary

Jordan Dresser (second from left, in green shirt), the producer of "What Was Ours," visits with students at CU-Boulder and discusses the importance of Native filmmakers controlling their own narratives.

Jordan Dresser (second from left, in green shirt), the producer of “What Was Ours,” visits with students at CU-Boulder and discusses the importance of Native filmmakers controlling their own narratives.

Jordan Dresser, who produced and narrated What Was Ours, a PBS documentary about the Northern Arapaho and Shoshones tribes’ efforts to reclaim sacred items stolen from their communities, visited class this semester. During his visit, Dresser discussed the advantages and disadvantages of museums, and the need for mainstream institutions to collaborate further with Native people on projects and decisions that affect their communities. He also underscored the importance of Native Americans controlling their own narratives, and shifting the discussion about Native people and communities.

Similarly, when Michael Roberts, First Nations President and CEO, visited class to discuss the RNT campaign, he also discussed the dangers of Native American stereotypes, and reiterated the importance of Native people controlling their own narratives. His presentation emphasized to students that Native American stereotypes have real-life consequences on the people and communities they purport to represent. According to RNT’s findings, false assumptions and misperceptions about Native Americans made it difficult for survey participants to empathize with Native people and causes.

“Current narratives about Native Americans impact how the general public, including potential funders and policymakers, perceive and engage with tribes,” says Roberts. “With the RNT project, we can dismantle those old stereotypes and create a new narrative that transforms public perceptions and supports meaningful social and policy changes for tribal nations.”

The Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guide for allies.

The Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guide for allies.

During the last two weeks of class, students read and discussed several RNT reports, including RNT’s guide for how to be an ally, titled Changing the Narrative About Native Americans: A Guide for Allies. RNT researchers developed this resource guide to help non-Natives identify and challenge Native American stereotypes that marginalize, erase and oppress Native people. In addition to helping non-Natives identify these stereotypes, this guide also provide a useful framework that explains how to develop new narratives that empower, rather than disempower, tribes.

“Grapple with Our Prejudices”

“It brought it full circle to finish the class with Reclaiming Native Truth,” says sophomore Harper Powell. “We not only learned how to identify Native American stereotypes, we also learned how to dismantle them. It is important for college students, and other Americans, to learn about Native American stereotypes and the ways in which white people have historically oppressed Native people so that we can fully understand where Native Americans are today. As U.S. citizens, we must grapple with our own prejudices and learn the truth about Native Americans.”

According to RNT’s findings, the more college students are unaware or in denial of the prejudice, bias and discrimination faced by Native peoples, the less they report supporting Native issues. Colleges and universities are in a powerful position to guide their students, and ensure that these future leader do not perpetuate the same old myths and stereotypes that have disempowered Native people for centuries.

Recommended Reading:

  • Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film by Jacquelyn Kilpatrick
  • Hollywood Indians: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film by Peter Rollin and John E. Connor
  • Seeing Red – Hollywood’s Pixeled Skins: American Indians and Film by LeAnne Howe, Harvey Markowitz, and Denise K. Cummings
  • Native American on Film: Conversations, Teaching and Theory (various contributors)
  • Native Americans in the Movies: Portrayals from Silent Films to the Present by Michael Hilger

 

By Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D., First Nations Communications Officer

Strategic Planning & Capacity Building Keep Sheep a Way of Life

The annual Sheep is Life Celebration teaches new generations about all forms of fiber arts, Navajo heritage, pastoralism and sustaining the Navajo-Churro Sheep breed. Here, Navajo children assist in preparing a Navajo-Churro lamb at the festival.

The annual Sheep is Life Celebration teaches new generations about all forms of fiber arts, Navajo heritage, pastoralism and sustaining the Navajo-Churro Sheep breed. Here, Navajo children assist in preparing a Navajo-Churro lamb at the festival.

In New Mexico, for many in the Navajo Nation, the Navajo-Churro sheep are at the center of their hearts. And finding ways to promote and sustain the health and revitalization of sheep is a core component of the work of Diné be’iiná, Inc. With support of First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), and a focus on strategic planning and capacity building, this 28-year-old organization has achieved new levels in ensuring that the valued sheep continue to remain in their hearts, culture and lives.

A Way of Life

The mission of Diné be’iiná is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life. Diné be’iiná means “the way that we, the people, live,” and much of that heritage is derived from the Navajo-Churro sheep, says Diné be’iiná Director Aretta Begay.

“We feel everything is connected,” she says. “The sheep is our food, it’s what we eat, and what we wear. It’s part of our ritual, our healing and our survival.”

The mission of Diné Be’iiná, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization since 1991, is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life.

The mission of Diné be’iiná, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization since 1991, is to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life and land and to preserve, protect and promote the Navajo way of life.

Since its founding in 1991, Diné be’iiná has kept the spirit of sheep alive by working with Navajo shepherds, providing education to the community, and fostering an economy based on wool and meat. Key to this work has been the establishing of spin-off programs that introduce people to the culture and industry of sheep raising, connecting sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists.

Diné be’iiná also has multiple core programs, including the Sheep is Life Celebration festival, Sheep to Loom weaving and fiber education classes, and a “Lamb Presidium,” which nurtures a market for wool and meat, creating a viable income for shepherds and weavers.

Funding comes from program fees, donations and grants, including from First Nations. In 2017, the organization received a grant from First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative for a Sheep to Table project, in which apprentices were identified and trained to gather, document and share their knowledge of wild, edible plants and shepherding practices. This knowledge was vanishing with every generation, jeopardizing the ability of Navajo families to understand the value of the sheep and its role in their survival and culture. According to Begay, this involves everything related to the sheep, including how the sheep are raised, where they are raised, and the spiritual connection to sheep before the meat even reaches the table.

Increasing Interest

With this type of funding, Diné be’iiná has been able to serve a large portion of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, which has over 300,000 tribal enrollees. The organization is the only Navajo or tribal group doing this type of work, as other groups will feature the sheep during specific celebrations or events, but not on a full-time basis.

Advisory Board Member Roy Kady seasonally hosts a “trailing of the sheep” hike for community members to understand the tradition of Navajo shepherding.

Advisory Board Member Roy Kady seasonally hosts a “trailing of the sheep” hike for community members to understand the tradition of Navajo shepherding.

At the same, time, Diné be’iiná has heard increasing interest from the community about sheep and even getting starter flocks. Yet Begay says, many people still don’t know the traditional ways about the tending of sheep or the wool or fiber. To achieve its mission of promoting and protecting the Navajo way of life, Diné be’iiná leaders knew more would have to be done to ensure knowledge was being adequately passed down from elders to new herders. This is where strategic planning and capacity building came into play.

Building Capacity

The organization sat down to figure out strategies to build on its history and advance its mission. It was already conducting the spin-off groups across the Navajo Nation, but to meet the increasing interest, they had to question: Could these groups have a greater impact?

Diné be’iiná realized that by strengthening the spin-off groups through education, training and mentoring, they could build the capacity of each group. Diné be’iiná would be able to deliver more programs, sponsor additional groups, and meet greater demands for outreach from schools and other community organizations.

The organization applied for and was granted funding through the First Nations Native Arts Initiative for a project it calls Sheep to Loom: Retaining and Promoting Traditional Navajo Fibers Arts. To maximize the effectiveness, and as part of the technical assistance made possible through the grant, Diné be’iiná engaged with an organization called Melvin Consulting to further define its strategic approach. The organization used a process that involved reviewing its history, documenting trends in operations, and determining the factors that precipitate growth periods. Eileen Egan, a partner at Melvin Consulting, worked with Diné be’iiná. “It was illuminating to see the many ‘ah-ha’ moments when everyone took a step back to review their journey starting with their launch in 1991,” she says.

Teaching and sharing textile fiber arts is imperative in passing down the Navajo way of life. Pictured here is “Round Rug Weaving” by Antonio Chiquito, a Navajo weaver.

Teaching and sharing textile fiber arts is imperative in passing down the Navajo way of life. Pictured here is “Round Rug Weaving” by Antonio Chiquito, a Navajo weaver.

With a strategic plan in place, the Implementing Sheep to Loom moved forward with several objectives. To start, Diné be’iiná set out to bolster the leadership capacity of its board of directors, volunteers and staff. This set the backbone of the project by training all involved on board responsibilities, budgeting and fundraising.

The next objective was to identify three existing spin-off groups that were well-versed in Sheep to Loom activities related to fiber art, Navajo weaving and traditional wool processing. Each group was given technical assistance, leadership support, and capacity training to fine-tune and document these activities.

Each group then identified an apprentice to initiate the Sheep to Loom concept. The three apprentices joined with key individuals from each spin-off group to form a mentoring team consisting of the group host, a master fiber artist, at least one traditional shepherd, and a project director. The team approach was chosen to create a culture of leadership and mentorship that would stay intact after the project ended.

Spin-Off Highlights

Key to the training and capacity building of the spin-off groups were three highlights. Each team incorporated both youth and mentors, which Begay says was beneficial across the board. “The mentorships leveraged partnerships between two generations,” she says. “I’ve seen it grow consistently – how much hope you can see in the grandparents and how much energy you see in youth. They both want to be a part of it.”

Another important aspect was that much of the training for the apprentices – and the educational materials of the spin-off groups – was in the Navajo language. “Language is a part of our culture and what we’re passing down,” Begay says. “And learning the traditional practices also means picking up some of the vocabulary.”

The organization fosters an entrepreneurship economy for sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists. Pictured is hand-spun Navajo Churro yarn, one of the Diné Be’iiná products.

The organization fosters an entrepreneurship economy for sheep producers, weavers, wool processors and fiber artists. Pictured is hand-spun Navajo Churro yarn, one of the Diné Be’iiná products.

Finally, through all of the training and mentoring, the Navajo way was upheld and fostered. “We recognize and acknowledge that Mother Earth provides for us and we have to live by that. We take care of the plants, the animals, and the language – we have to continue to talk about it and practice it,” says Begay.

The project has been critical to the sustainability of the sheep and the culture, she says. True to the purpose of the Native Arts Initiative funding, the Sheep to Loom project will add to the long-term perpetuation, proliferation and revitalization of traditional artistic and cultural assets. And, true to the mission of Diné be’iiná, it will promote and protect the Navajo way of life.

Advancing Art

In summarizing the project, Begay says she appreciates First Nations’ awareness of the variety and importance of Native art. “First Nations is able to acknowledge and recognize that every tribe is different, and every tribe has something sacred that they need to retain and keep alive,” she says. “For us, it’s textile art.”

For Diné be’iiná, this art has been fostered through strategic planning and capacity building, and the ability to better safeguard the Navajo-Churro sheep and invest in the Navajo textile artists. “We’re the middle person who can give artists the leverage they need to be successful entrepreneurs,” Begay says. “That’s good for the sheep, and it’s good for our way of life.”

By Amy Jakober