By Ahniwake Rose, Executive Director National Indian Education Association
My daughter graduated from 5th grade last week. She proudly walked across the stage in her tear dress, listening to her family hoot and holler as she took her place with her fellow graduates. For our family, it wasn’t about the grade level she had completed, it was about her journey- this graduation is a stepping stone, a small part of a longer journey, made even more remarkable as a young Native woman.
Graduation ceremonies are a milestone, they represent different things for each student. For some it fulfills the hope of an entire family, for others it’s an expectation, for many it’s an achievement they’ve been unsure could be accomplished. Hopefully, your newsfeeds are filled with pictures of students in beaded caps and gowns and congratulatory posts of pride and admiration for friends and loved ones.
Students are continuously told that graduation from an institution, high school, or college is a doorway to a world filled with increased opportunities for learning or earning potential. This doorway is often what lifts and shapes a student’s identity, defining not only how the student is perceived by others but how their family and community are viewed as well. No community has been shaped and haunted by ideas of academic success like Indian Country. As the Executive Director of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) and one of four founding partners of the First Kids 1st Initiative, I advocate for equitable educational opportunities for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students. My greatest hope is for our students to thrive in the classroom and beyond. Every day, I see the doorway to this world of opportunity become harder and harder to open.
When I’m asked about why graduation rates for Native students continue to lag behind their peers, I vehemently defend the need for increased tribal control of education systems and implore policymakers to remember the importance of culturally responsive teaching. Immersion programs, from Wisconsin to Hawaii, keep Native cultures and traditions alive, and in those capable hands, our students and communities thrive. Policy changes in states like Washington and Oregon demonstrate the value and impact Native history and culture has on Native and non-Native student’s cognitive and social development. Culturally responsive curriculum and teaching strategies are implemented in classrooms to remind educators and students that Native people exist and thrive in the modern era.
As we celebrate the 2017 graduation season, we should celebrate the success of our students as an example of the success of our tribal nations, a victory for tribal sovereignty, and a celebration of the tribes, schools, and communities that have supported our students. Education is the only way to secure the safety and security of Native traditions and cultures. To protect tribal sovereignty and to promote the economic security of our nations, we need the intellectual curiosity of our greatest resource, our youth. Our graduates are an act of resilience: they have overcome tremendous odds, resisting a long history of discriminatory policy against Native students. With their accomplishments, we continue to move forward, step by step, towards a future where our students become the decision makers.
There are some who say we’ve not come far enough and that we must do better. We agree there is still work to be done. There are others who will continue to only focus on statistics, looking at deficiencies rather than accomplishments. Not us, not this time. This success is yours and something to celebrate. Feel pride and hope in your accomplishments. Congratulations graduates, we look forward to seeing where you go next.
About First Kids 1st:
The First Kids 1st – Every Child is Sacred Initiative is a national collaborative effort and is comprised of leading Native American organizations, allies, and partners from all backgrounds, focused on changing national, tribal, and state policy to create conditions in which American Indian and Alaska Native children can thrive. We are working to cultivate and nurture strategies and policies that build and strengthen equitable and local supports for vulnerable Native children in their communities. To learn more visit www.firstkids1st.org.
About The National Indian Education Association (NIEA)
NIEA is the Nation’s most inclusive advocacy organization advancing comprehensive culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Formed by Native educators in 1969 to encourage a national discourse on education, NIEA adheres to the organization’s founding principles- to convene educators to explore ways to improve schools and the educational systems serving Native children; to promote the maintenance and continued development of language and cultural programs; and to develop and implement strategies for influencing local, state, and federal policy and decision makers. For more information visit www.niea.org.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families. In its 34th year, this year’s theme is, “Building Community, Building Hope.”
Child abuse and neglect affects all communities, regardless of social, cultural, or racial differences. In 2012, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children made up a slightly higher percentage of substantiated reports of abuse or neglect (1.2 percent) than their percentage of the general population (1 percent of the total child population in the United States).
“The removal of generations of children over time has disrupted once well-established and venerable parenting practices. To this day, historical trauma continues to intensify contemporary traumatic experiences for Native children and families. Contemporary society creates numerous contexts for exposure to violence by AI/AN children including those who witness domestic violence, those who are victims of child abuse and neglect, and those whose caregivers are debilitated by substance abuse and addiction while living in households that struggle with multigenerational and pervasive poverty.”
Because historical trauma is experienced by so many tribal communities, this month is important to build awareness about abuse, promote prevention, and connect people to essential services which, in turn, support healing and well-being in our children and families.
Many tribal communities hold family and community events during the month of April to share information about the services available to reduce child abuse and neglect; reduce the stigma of poverty; and encourage keeping kids safe, reporting abuse, and reaching out for help for victims of abuse:
As we head into Child Abuse Prevention Month, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and our partners in the First Kids 1st initiative urge you to find out about the events and initiatives happening in your communities. If there isn’t an event already planned for your community, consider holding an event, getting involved with a local prevention or support group, or print some resources about child abuse prevention and ask to display them in your community center, health service office, daycare, or workplace. These events are a great way to share successful initiatives for keeping kids free from abuse and neglect. Every child is sacred.
Some resources for finding local events are included here. Get involved! Contact your tribe to find out about events this month, and head out to one or create one!
By National Indian Education Association (NIEA)
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to pay tribute and acknowledge the many contributions that Native people have made to America. The first inhabitants of these lands contributed to modern day society through foods, medicine, literature, arts, common names of states and counties, and our modern day governmental structure. However, Native American’s most common connection to many is Thanksgiving. A story that most American’s hear only from one perspective and may not realize the tribe in attendance – the Wampanoag – is still a flourishing sovereign tribal nation.
When colonist arrived, the Wampanoag people provided them with the knowledge and skills they needed to survive, enabling them to produce the harvest they celebrated with at the first Thanksgiving feast. The Pilgrims had their first successful harvest in September/October 1621, so they sent Pilgrim men out hunting for fowl to complete the feast. According to tribal historical accounts, the Wampanoag warriors went to the Pilgrim’s village when continual gun fire was heard out of fear the tribe was being attacked. When the Wampanoag warriors arrived, they were invited to join the feast. However there was not enough food to feed the chief and warriors so the Wampanoag warriors were sent out to hunt; returning with deer which they presented to the English leader. This act of gift giving created the ceremonial process of giving thanks during the modern Thanksgiving holiday.
Today, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues to preserve their traditional ways of life through language restoration programs. Mukayuhsak Weekuw: The Children’s House, is a language nest preschool and Kindergarten. Founded in 1993, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project serves four tribal governments of the Wampanoag Nation (Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet & Herring Pond), and provides free community language-based instruction and teacher training for tribal household members throughout the Cape and Islands region in Massachusetts.
As educators’ plan for Native American Heritage Month activities and sharing of the Thanksgiving story, the National Indian Education Association and our partners in the First Kids 1st Initiative urge you to celebrate not only the rich history of Native peoples but also the vibrant futures of our tribes and Native communities. Through telling the Thanksgiving narrative from the Wampanoag’s perspective, by introducing Native foods, language, and song, this time of year allows us all the opportunity to celebrate our shared history and futures.
Included are suggested educational resources to help support our educators across the Country as they help to shape the lives of all our young people.
The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving
American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving
A resource for educators to use to begin the conversation around Thanksgiving from an American Indian perspective. The document provides ideas for classroom discussions and activities for 4th – 8th grades. Click here.
Our Mother Tongues
A website that offers an introduction to 14 Native American language programs across the U.S. This site provides a glimpse of tribal languages, histories, and cultures from their perspective. Click here.
Reading is Fundamental: Celebrating Native American Heritage
Webpage providing titles and descriptions of informative books sharing the rich stories and traditions of many Native American tribes. Click here.
Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List
Recommended reading list and resources for Head Start/Preschool through 12th grade learning. Click here.
The First Kids 1st national initiative is led by four Native American organizations, focused on creating conditions in which Native American children can thrive. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), and the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) are working to cultivate and nurture strategies and policies that build and strengthen support for Native children in their communities. To learn more about the initiative, visit www.firstkids1st.org.