College of Menominee Nation’s Ké’ Family Engagement

Family Engagement Activities—Lunching, Learning and Loving It!

By: Cyndi Pyatskowit, College of Menominee Nation Project Director

The College of Menominee (CMN) December Family Engagement Saturday morning activities were every bit as busy as Santa’s workshop would be on the 6th of the month! This semester the CMN Family Engagement grant staff along with our pre-service Teacher Education students designed, developed and delivered all aspects of College 4 Kids, our Saturday morning workshop for parents and their children. College 4 Kids focused on Emergent Literacy activities important for children’s success in reading. During the December activities snowmen were assembled with a top hat and buttons for eyes, special snow was applied then “footprints” were added to create a winter/snowy picture, a puppet show with a Christmas theme was provided, children’s books were read at each activity center before the activity began and cookies were frosted for the snack all within the two hour session. This block of literacy related activities were loved by both the children and the parents.  Comments received via a survey were all very positive such as:

“I love the Saturday morning activities as it gives me and my son fun activities to do together, which we really enjoy and I absolutely love this program!”

“The hands on activities reminded me that a little mess is really worth the memories and learning for my children. All of the activities have been really well planned and executed! Great Job?”

Wow!, the CMN staff  has worked hard starting the Family Engagement grant so hearing that kind of feedback confirms  our thoughts that things were going very well! The following pictures show some of the fun (learning) taking place.

Oh la la, Fabulous, Spree, Ensemble, Boa and Parasol were just a few of the vocabulary words parent were asked to define as we started our December Lunch & Learn at the College of Menominee Nation! Every other week this semester a Lunch & Learn was offered on Thursday at noon for CMN enrolled students that are also parents of young children. The Family Engagement grant has allowed the CMN Family Engagement staff to plan literacy learning sessions for our student/ parents to learn the importance of spending time with their child reading and important activities to do along with reading to build their child’s literacy development. The December session was titled Shopping, and the Jane O’Connor story Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique was used to explain the importance of defining vocabulary from stories read to children because the limits of a child’s language means the limits of their world.  Parents learned that comprehension without language knowledge can never happen, consequently explaining any unknown words is essential for their child to completely understand a story. The session and the planned activities explained how understanding and comprehension are the aim for reading. After reading the Fancy Nancy book we completed an activity focusing on the economic academic vocabulary words for Kindergarten and First grade used in the book. This built the parents’ awareness of how new vocabulary can build a child’s cognitive skills. As parents were leaving our session comments such as, “this was so informative, I never realized how important vocabulary was, this is important to know, and thank you for this session today, I really enjoyed it” were shared with our CMN Family Engagement staff.  We also took pictures during the Lunch & Learn:


Denver Elders Honored at Annual Feast

The University of Denver Cable Center hosted the annual Elders Dinner.

Christmas came early for close to 300 American Indian elders from the Denver Native community. On December 2, Natives ages 55 and older gathered at the Cable Center at the University of Denver to enjoy a holiday meal of buffalo and gifts bestowed by a Native Santa Claus, courtesy of the American Indian College Fund.

Volunteers from the Denver community served steaming platters of food while the Mile High Singers drum group provided entertainment. Cordell KillsCrow served as the emcee for the evening.

2014 Elders of the Year

Two American Indian elders were named as the College Fund’s annual Elders of the Year. This year Margaret Ann Yankton Tranekier (Oglala Lakota) and Kenneth G. Little (Hunkpapa Dakota) were honored for their guidance and leadership in the Native community.

Margaret (Oglala Lakota) is the daughter of Cecelia Yankton and Richard LoneDog and granddaughter of Noah and Margaret (Maggie) Yankton of Wounded Knee and Manderson, South Dakota. Her Lakota name is Heska Win, meaning White Mountain Woman. The name was given to her by her grandfather because she was born in Denver near the Rocky Mountains.  Margaret’s grandparents instilled in her a deep pride in being Lakota and taught her the virtues and traditions of her people and the value of helping others.

Margaret was raised in two worlds: the city of Denver and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In 1959 the Chamber of Commerce and the White Buffalo Council organized a Miss Indian Colorado Pageant during the State of Colorado’s Centennial Year Celebration.  Margaret and two other finalists from the Southern Ute Tribe competed. She won the title as the first Miss Indian Colorado at age 16.

Margaret finished junior high school at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Porcupine, South Dakota and attended high school at Holy Rosary Mission (now Red Cloud Indian School) in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where she graduated in 1962. After graduation she moved to Indiana for eight years and worked in the banking industry. After returning to Denver she reconnected with the community and the Denver Indian Center and began helping with various community events and powwows. She also got involved with the Indian church and started attending mass and reconnected with several elders from her childhood. In 1997 Father John O’Connell appointed her as Director of Religious Education for the Kateri Catholic Community.

Margaret also attended Metropolitan State College, Certified Nursing Assistant training at St. Luke’s Hospital, and completed a four-year Biblical studies program with the Program of Foundations of Biblical Ministry. She worked as a certified nursing assistant until her retirement in 2013. Caring for the elderly and ill was a fulfilling career for her.

Three highlights in Margaret’s life include sharing her life with her husband Alan Tranekier until his death in 2004; the privilege of being asked to represent the community at the Canonization of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Rome, Italy; and last but not least, seeing all of her takojas (grandchildren) born and supporting them in their sports and school activities and watching them dance at powwows.  Family is everything to her.

Margaret is a member of the St. Kateri Catholic Community where she continues working part-time as the Director of Religious Education. She carries on the legacy of her grandparents as she continues to lend a hand any way she can by volunteering, cooking,  and helping to locate assistance for many families in need in the Indian community.

Kenneth is from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Ft. Yates, North Dakota. His Dakota name is Heyoka Sica, which means “Jumping Clown” and was given to him by his grandmother while he was still in the womb.

Kenny has two sons, Ken and John Little, who reside in Kansas City, Missouri and Vermillion, South Dakota, respectively.  He moved to Denver in 1964 to after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education because he heard that the Denver Indian community was diverse and culturally connected and offered many professional opportunities.

Kenny has been a well-known powwow singer since he was very young, and after moving to Denver in 1964, he formed the first “Denver Singers” drum group. His drum group name is the “Black Tongue Dakota Singers.” Kenny enjoys singing and sets up at every Denver community powwow and provides educational presentations at many Denver metro area K-12 public schools.

Kenny served in the United States Army from October 1966 through October 1968, and began working as a substitute teacher and as a bus driver for the Denver Indian Center in the early to mid-1970s.

In the early 1980s Kenny relocated to North Dakota to pursue a master’s degree in education at the University of North Dakota.  He graduated in 1984 and began working as the Indian Education counselor for the Grand Forks public schools which he says was one of the most fulfilling jobs he has had. After serving in that role for five years, he and his family decided to relocate back to Denver to work for the Intertribal Heritage Program. Through this work he was able to build many relationships with Denver Public Schools, and he found a position as a fifth grade teacher.  In all, Kenny has taught for 18 years in K-12 and as of today, he works as the Lakota language teacher at the Denver Center for International Studies, a 6-12th grade magnet school.

Kenny recently participated in the November 2Washington Redskins protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was able to support more than 5,000 other Natives in the fight to change the Washington team name.  He maintains cultural connections to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation by going back every summer to participate in ceremonies and to attend a three-week Lakota language course at Sitting Bull College.  Kenny is a fluent Lakota/Dakota speaker, but feels that attending the Lakota language class helps him teach the language better for his students at DCIS.

Tribal Colleges Strengthen Family Engagement Through Early Childhood Education

In July 2014, The American Indian College Fund launched expanded efforts to support tribal colleges and universities in strengthening early childhood education through family engagement.  The early childhood initiative, the Ké’ Family Engagement Early Childhood Initiative: Strengthening systems of shared responsibility among Native families, schools and communities ( seeks to deepen engagement with Native families across four tribal college communities:  Sitting Bull College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Northwest Indian College.  This initiative builds on the success of the Sacred Little Ones grant, Wakanyeja ECE Initiative, developing strategic opportunities for families, kinship and clan relations to engage in young children’s learning and seeks to generate opportunities for Native families to advocate for high quality early learning opportunities for Native communities.  The Ké’ Family Engagement Initiative is generously funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, under their national family engagement initiative.

Each month, one of the Ké’ Family Engagement Initiative grantee sites will share family engagement cultivation activities and lessons learned.  This month, Sitting Bull College provides an inside look into the family engagement activities they are developing with families:

Lakȟól’iyapi Hoȟpí (Lakota Language Nest)

UTTC Parade – September 6 – The children and families of the Lakota Language Nest entered a float at the 2014 United Tribes Technical College – Parade of Champion’s and received the top award for the Youth/Cultural Group! During the parade parents of the children handed out information brochure’s and Lakota learning phrases. The candy that the Nest distributed during the parade were labeled with different Lakota phrases that we all prepared by the families of the Nest. We are super proud of our children and supportive families who came together to make this event a memorable one.





Back to School Night – September 11 – The families of the Lakota Language Nest gathered to the review and sign official policies and parent commitment contracts for the 2014 – 2015 school year.  A meal was provided and shared before Lakota Language learning games began for the whole families.




Traditional Meal – September 25 – A traditional meal of soup consisting of dried corn, dried meat, and dried prairie turnips called “wastunkala” was prepared by the cook that serves both the Lakota Language Nest and the Kampus Kids was shared with the parents and families of the both centers to celebrate Native American Day.

Parent to Teacher Meetings – A meal was provided for all parents before they were each met individually regarding their child’s progress in comprehending and using the Lakota language as well as how they are coming along in developmentally and an age appropriate manner.  The families were given a folder of examples from the beginning of the year and examples of work completed recently so that they could gauge for themselves the progress of their children themselves.

Trick or Treating – The Children of the Lakota Language Nest and Kampus Kids went around on the Sitting Bull College campus and were greeting by staff and faculty with treats for the occasion.  Parents accompanied some of the students

Parent Lakota Language Learning Classes – The parents of the Lakota Language Nest all signed a parent commitment contract at the beginning of the year to participate in a block of required Lakota Language learning classes that will enable the families to take the language into their home and use the Lakota language with their children. The classes are held on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for a six week block each semester.

For more information about Sitting Bull College’s Ké’ Family Engagement funded project, contact Chris Fried, .  Follow the funded early childhood education programs at: and on Twitter: @Wakanyeja_ECE


ECE Researcher to Present Poster at Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE)

The American Indian College Fund’s Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education Initiative project director at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Danielle Lansing, will be presenting a research poster at the Native Children’s Research Exchange (NCRE) at CU-Denver this week.

Research posters are a common way to present research projects/inquiry at research conference venues.  The idea behind the research poster is to highlight key ideas and findings and to foster or engage in a 1-1 dialogue about the work.  The conference audience may ‘travel’ around the presentation space and visit with presenters, asking questions, learning more about the work.  Some researchers will begin by presenting a research poster, then take the ideas and feedback to inform revision of the presentation.  A goal may be developing the presentation into a manuscript, which can also be presented at national conferences as a “paper presentation.”  From this point, a conference paper can develop into a manuscript for peer-review and then publication.

The Native Children’s Research Exchange brings together over 150 researchers in the fields of psychology, mental health, family studies, and early childhood. Some government agencies send representatives.  Most of the researchers’ work focus on child and adolescent development among American Indian and Alaska Native communities. It’s a great space for emergent and experienced scholars of child development to gather and contribute to the growing field of Native studies of child development.

To learn more about NCRE, visit the website:

Shaping Native Early Childhood Education with Work and Commitment

This fall marks the final year of the initiative; reflection on the accomplishments of the four tribal college grantees spurs new hope and healing amongst the grantee institutions and their respective project partners. Engaging in collective inquiry to impact and change systems within and among tribal communities is complex work.  When grantee teams spend time in classrooms at the earliest levels of education, it becomes crystal clear why tribal colleges and universities should focus on impacting early learning opportunities with children and their families. At each grantee site, Native children and their families are exposed to the importance of engaging in community-based programming and advocacy, accessing higher education, and developing life-long connections to strengthen Native communities collectively. Tribal colleges and universities can spur change locally, and inform national and tribal nation movements to strengthen early learning opportunities for all Native children.  Tribal colleges and universities are contributing to higher education knowledge, as they study and improve their colleges’ teacher education programs to meet the unique needs of tribal communities. The American Indian College Fund is committed to supporting movements like the early childhood education initiative because tribal college faculty and their early childhood college students are able to participate in shaping Native early childhood education in powerful ways.  Together their work and commitment results in the following:

Native teachers are better prepared and trained to work in their respective Native communities;

Native families and parents are purposefully engaged in their role as their child’s first teacher;

Native language, culture, and history are central areas of knowledge programs draw upon to deepen connections across institutions, communities, and families;

Native children are experiencing learning opportunities that draw upon the richness of their Indigenous culture(s) and are also experiencing learning opportunities that prepare them for K-3 schooling;

Early learning centers and program partners are working with families by preparing young Native children for successful transition from pre-K to K-3 education.































Systemic change requires documentation of historical and institutional knowledge development and outcomes.  The tribal college grantee teams are conducting on-going collective inquiry projects which document their funded project impacts at their respective institutions and with their project partners. Get the latest news on the Wakanyeja webpage

Join the American Indian College Fund in celebrating the accomplishments of the Wakanyeja ECE grantees! To follow the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative and to learn more from the unique innovations of each project site, visit the Wakanyeja ECE website at  Direct links to the individual funded projects are easily accessible from this main site.

The American Indian College Fund’s Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative (Wakanyeja ECE Initiative) supports tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in strengthening early childhood learning opportunities from birth to age 8.  Since 2011, four tribal colleges – Ilisagvik College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Northwest Indian College – have planned, designed, and implemented funded projects to address five domains of program development and capacity building with tribal nation partners and early learning centers.



Meet Our Summer Interns

2014 American Indian College Fund Interns

The 2014 American Indian College Fund Interns worked for seven weeks in the Office of Research and Special Projects.

Two tribal college students are spending seven weeks this summer working as paid interns for the American Indian College Fund in the Office of Research and Special Projects. This new program offers them the opportunity to learn valuable skills that they can use in their academic careers and as professionals while also contributing to the mission of the College Fund.

Ian Stand, Sac/Fox, Haskell Indian Nations University Class of 2015Ian Stand (Sac and Fox Nation) is a senior Indigenous and American Indian studies major at Haskell Indian Nations University. He comes from the San Francisco Bay Area and is a student-athlete who competes with the shot put and discus on the track and field team. He started his academic career in Pleasant Hill, California and Job Corps in San Francisco, where he realized he wanted to return to college. Ian is motivated to complete his degree while continuing his athletic career at Haskell.

“We’ve been doing the bulk of our work in research, but the entire staff is nice and supportive,” Ian says. “My interaction with my colleagues and bosses is not just that of authoritative roles; they are more like mentors offering suggestions from how to ask a question with confidence and how to feel comfortable. They really want to help us improve our chances of being successful.”

Bryson Runsabove-Meyers (Chippewa Cree/Dakota Sioux) is from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana.  After completing his associate’s degree at Fort Peck Community College, he transferred to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in graphic design-digital media. Bryson uses his art and Native flute music to represent his traditional values. His first art show was hosted at the College Fund in its conference space gallery.

Bryson says that as a graphic arts major, “It is beneficial to learn research methods. They expand my knowledge to work with Excel, work with data, and apply numbers to visually explain things. Down the road, knowing numbers and research will benefit me, my family, and my tribe.”

The young men stay in the University of Denver campus student housing and share commuting time while bonding over their new experience together. Their advice to future interns: Be open-minded, bring your A-Game, but come relaxed and ready to learn.

VIDEO: Meet Bryson

VIDEO: Meet Ian

Student Blogger, Ulrick talks about C.H.A.N.G.E.

Making a connection to your culture can be a struggle to the say least, but once you find it it can be be one of the most fulfilling things of your life. I know this because it’s a path I have begun and will continue to follow. Although it might not be for everyone, because of other influences in our surroundings; or maybe you’ve tried and found that it’s not for you, you don’t feel that connection. With modern day technology we have the world and want something almost instantaneously, or we have/can’t find the time to sit down and talk to our elders. Whichever the case may be, I feel that these things are due for a change, for the sake of connecting culture to the new generations.

As far as Indian culture goes: songs, language, life lessons, everything is taught orally and in terms of doing. In the Tohono O’odham tradition it is called Himdag. It’s everything you do under the sun and moon.

A very good friend of mine, Amy, helped come up with a way to say this: Connection Himdag And New Generation Environment (C.H.A.N.G.E.) But how do we do this? I find it very simple: you just get out and live it. Learn what you can and share it, when sharing it don’t be afraid of any backlash because it will happen from time to time, and make sure to let others know where you’ve obtained this knowledge. Through C.H.A.N.G.E, Amy and her friends hosted a camp which was open to anyone who wanted to attend. They held various workshops: traditional men and women roles, beat making with a local hip hop group Shining Soul, sexuality 101, just to name a few. Inspired by this a few of my previous coworkers and I took on the task of hosting the camp, and with winter on our side. Whereas the previous hosts held theirs in the summer, winter is story telling season in the O’odham tradition and we were excited to be able to do that as well. Overall, we did just what the name of the camp promised.

As with most people, I was very hesitant at first to accept this new concept, because I remembered how hard it was to even sing the songs in my O’odham Language class in high school. I was afraid to pick up the sawkud (gourd rattle) and sing, and if we needed to use the restroom we’d have to ask in O’odham. I wasn’t ashamed, just afraid I wasn’t saying it right or singing the right way, even holding the sawkud and staying in sync with everyone was tough. I had built up this negative mentality in my head so bad that I didn’t wan to do any of it at all. It wasn’t until inspiration from friends that I felt o.k. with it, because they had the same insecurities I have, but seeing them in action and hearing them singing so well, I never would’ve guessed that they felt that way.

On my path I found a new way to feel an even deeper connection to the land; and of all places it wasn’t even on the nation, it was in Detroit, MI. My boss and I had ditched the conference we were attending and found a bike rental shop. We rode through an old train highway that had taken down the tracks and put in rows upon rows of flowers, the columns were covered with murals which told stories of the city’s history, and there was a nicely paved bike path that led from Lake Michigan to downtown Detroit. The next day, my coworkers wanted in on the action and again I had ditched the conference to ride bikes. Stuck with the need to get out and ride; when we got back home I bought myself a single speed olive green Benny SX road bike. I rode everywhere everyday, and went on longer rides on the weekends. I loved the feeling of the wind on my face, the smell of the jewed (land). It even opened my eyes to things I had never noticed: how much dogs truly love chasing after everything with wheels, how many beautiful flowers grow here. Getting in shape was a huge plus, but growing an even bigger appreciation for the land was the best.

It gave me a high that I’ve only ever heard runners describe; and then it hit me, because O’odham have always been great runners and it was a major part of the culture, that riding bikes was my way of running. I had found a way that connected me to my Himdag. Just as the horse became our brother, though, he native of our land and culture, he has become sacred to us. Although the bike is not a living thing, it is an example modern innovation. In a way I did the same thing I would if it were a horse: taking care and fixing it when it was needed. Just as you heard vehicles referred to as a “four wheel war pony” mine was a two-wheel. Instead of a pony I looked at it as a road runner, because it’s slim, fast, and could go in and out of obstacles.

It can be argued that simply riding a bike is not like running and can not be a form of tradition. Yet just as horses aren’t from our homeland, in that they’ve made their way into our culture. Ultimately it is how I made a connection, and with it I’ve found my sense of empowerment and spirituality. Just as pageantry has given those who are involved that same empowerment; it has become a new tradition. To breakdown the process: they’ve gotten together to learn songs, artwork, took the time to talk and learn from elders, bring awareness or fighting for a cause. As I was speaking to a friend about this, he talked about the lady who makes the crowns calling her the “crown weaver.” I immediately thought it sounded so cool. Just like the people who make song that come from their dreams, the “song dreamers.”

I don’t think we should fear change but embrace it while holding on to our older traditions. Because we can’t move forward without learning from our past, looking back; we can’t deny things have changed, even down to the language we speak now. There are new words that we’ve taken from old words or old ways of saying it. For example, today we say the number twenty two in O’odham as “gokko go:k“, but in the old days it was like solving an math problem and the answer is how we’d say it. Which was “two times ten plus two.” All of that was how we would say the number twenty two. We need new ways, not only that, but ways that serve the needs of our current environment. Just as our ancestors used what they had to work with them, we must be open to doing the same. Because without it ever growing it’ll lose meaning and cease to exist.

Ulrick is a student at Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona.

Code Talkers Preserving Freedoms by Preserving Languages

Choctaw Code Talkers via Native Telecom

Choctaw Code Talkers

Today, we pay tribute to those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we all enjoy. Memorial Day is also a very important holiday for American Indians, as throughout history Indian warriors have fought to ensure the survival of their tribes, customs and languages. Historically warriors were held in high regard and rewarded with sacred feathers, war bonnets, and shields, recognizing their contributions to their tribe.

This commitment to service by Native peoples continues today. American Indians have a long and distinguished history of service in the United States military. From the Revolutionary War onward, American Indians have served as soldiers, scouts, and in many other vital roles.

Perhaps best known are the Code Talkers, members of the U.S. armed forces who communicated vital information in codes based on their Native languages. During both World Wars, the U.S. used many of the 500-plus distinct North American Native languages as battlefield weapons that saved the lives of countless Americans and their allies.

Comanche Code Talkers

Fourteen Comanche Code Talkers attended basic training at Fort Benning,Georgia, April, 1941. Charles Chibitty is dressed in Comanche dance regalia (3rd from right). The Comanche Code Talkers sometimes performed traditional dance demonstrations for other soldiers. They also had a very successful boxing team, which included Charles Chibitty. Signal Corps photograph. Courtesy of National Archives.

In World War I, code talkers from the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chocktaw, Comanche, Osage and Yankton Sioux nations served as Code Talkers alongside the 12,000 other American Indian service members who fought in this bloody conflict. Throughout World War II, the Acoma, Apache, Assiniboine, Cherokee, Chippewa/Oneida, Choctaw, Comanche, Dakota, Hopi, Ho-Chunk, Lakota, Kiowa, Menominee, Muskogee/Creek, Navajo, Pawnee, Ponca, Tlingit, Seminole, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, and Sac and Fox/Meskwaki tribes were represented by Code Talkers serving among the estimated 40,000 Native service men and women who contributed to the Allied victory.

American Indian languages proved to be one of the U.S. military’s most effective tools during 20th century conflicts. The Navajo Code Talkers’ success in confounding the Japanese military with codes the enemy could not break serves as a prominent example of the value of preserving Native languages. The sacred Diné language is not a written language but an oral tradition, learned and passed on through generations. This unique quality is what gave the United States and its allies a victorious advantage. After the world wars, many Code Talkers worked within their tribes to preserve their languages.  Among them were Navajo Code Talker Teddy Draper Sr., who spent years as a language teacher at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. Protecting Native languages is essential to preserving the identity and culture of Native nations.

Tribal colleges, recognizing the historical and cultural importance of Native language preservation, are integrating them into their curriculum.  For example, the Comanche Code Talkers are no longer living, and the Comanche have very few fluent speakers today. The Comanche Nation College in Oklahoma was founded, in part, to revitalize the language.  At Aaniiih Nakoda College in Montana, students are required to introduce themselves in their native language. Tribal colleges  encourages students to make culturally informed decisions and helps students define their identities through language.

see all of the medals at or by clicking on the image.

As for the Code Talkers, they were only recently recognized for their contributions to our nation and our freedoms. As we reflect on this Memorial Day, we honor those who did not return from war, including all the Native Code Talkers who are no longer with us. Their contributions underscore the importance of preserving the sacred languages of the North American tribes. Supporting tribal colleges continues that work.

Increasing the capacity of the tribal colleges supports current American Indian veterans and paves the way for future Native warriors to succeed.  Here at the American Indian College Fund, with your support, we are building opportunities for our veterans with the 25th Anniversary Veterans and their Families Scholarship Fund.

Teacher of the Next Generation

Hello my name is Sasha Toribio. I am from Zia pueblo, located in Zia, New Mexico. I attend Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and for a year and a half I have been studying within the early childhood program. During my fall trimester of 2013 I enrolled in the new early childhood Special Topics course taught by Dr. Danielle Lansing (a course developed under the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Education Initiative, administered by the American Indian College Fund).

In the early childhood education Special Topics course I learned about the history of Native American education and why Native students in early childhood program, our future teachers, should care about preserving our Native languages. The whole concept of the Special Topics course was to understand the importance and powerful role of Native language immersion in early childhood curriculum. I completely agree that Native American teachers need to understand that our Native language is important to our culture, tradition, and to our little ones.

Without our language, our people have no culture.  And without culture, we have no tradition.  And without tradition, we have nothing. Our Native language is what separates us from the rest of society. If we lose our languages along with our cultures and traditions, then we lose the long time battle of assimilation. Our ancestors did not fight and risk their lives to give up our culture, so why should we give up our culture now? Our language is very important to what we have left as Native peoples. We are now in what education scholars refer to as a “safe zone,” a place in which Native Americans can speak their language and not be punished. I am glad to be a part of preserving our language because our future generations can have the choice to learn their language. Not every child may have access to learn their language, but at least years into the future there will be someone to teach them. I love that there are people like Tarajean Yazzie (Program Officer of the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative) and Danielle Lansing (SIPI early childhood faculty and Sacred Little Ones Project Director) who care about Native language and culture enough to do something about it.

The Sacred Little Ones project at SIPI has created an opportunity for the Special Topics course to exist and for culturally-relevant learning activities with local early learning centers serving Native children and families to flourish. With the help of tribal college students, we can save our Native languages starting with teaching future teachers the importance of language immersion and cultural preservation.

by: Sasha Toribio, SIPI Early Childhood Education Student

Excerpt from AIHEC presentation by Yazzie-Mintz, T., Lansing, D., & Toribio, S., (2014, March). To become a teacher of the next generation: Counting coup with education in honor of our youngest tribal members. Session presented at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference, Billings, MT.



Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education Initiative Goes International

The Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education (ECE) Initiative celebrates another milestone; the project story has gone (or flown) international!  Starting April 2 through May 2014, the Switchback Gallery in the Gippsland Centre for Art and Design, in Churchill,  Australia, is presenting the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative’s mono-type prints in a co-curated exhibition entitled, “Flying: A Trans-national cross-cultural print exchange.”  Head Start teacher and project partner, Vibeka Mitchell, is the featured artist on the gallery announcement.  Ms. Mitchell’s print, “Navajo Life” is explained as follows:

My picture [depicts] my life story and what is important to me as a Navajo woman. I am from Naschitti, NM. I love the landscapes of the Navajo Reservation. Monument Valley is my favorite. I am a Christian and I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. I am a Head start teacher and I love to work with Children. I want my students to learn who they are, where they are from, and their history of their family. Being so confident and proud of my heritage makes me a strong Navajo.


In June 2012, TCU early childhood faculty, early childhood teachers, parents, and community members convened in Boulder, Colorado to attend the annual Wakanyeja Annual Convening.

Twenty-five representatives participated in collaborative discussions, engaged in shared learning experiences and completed a workshop in which they produced mono-type prints.

The mono-type prints were intended to be a part of a traveling exhibition within the United States and to international countries, surfacing dialogue about Indigenous education across many landscapes.



To engage in sustained efforts to strengthen early childhood learning opportunities requires the critical engagement of many. The images illustrate the participants’ early learning experiences, inspirations, and hopes for the future.









The images featured in this international exhibition invite diverse audiences to join the conversation, and to learn about the social, cultural and educational transformation facilitated by the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative’s grantee teams.


Sara Wescott
Learning and Love in
Constant, 2012
16 x 20

 Join the American Indian College Fund and the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative in celebrating the first international exhibition of the Wakanyeja ECE Initiative mono-type print series.

Flying: A Trans-national cross-cultural print exchange

Switchback Gallery:


Posting by: Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Program Officer, Wakanyeja ECE Initiative