SIPI’s Native Harvest Feast Creates Sharing, Community Bonds

Thanksgiving is a time of sharing and community bonding. The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) Youth Development Incorporated (YDI) families engaged with one another during our Native Harvest Feast on November 24, 2014.  SIPI YDI families and Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones”/Ke’ staff worked together to provide a Native inspired meal to share in honor of the “giving thanks” season. The event commenced with a prayer offered by SIPI YDI parent Donavon Barney.  Before he prayed he set the mood, and expressed the importance of being thankful for the SIPI YDI staff and teachers, Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones”/Ke’ initiatives staff, SIPI YDI parents, and the greater community.  Following the prayer, a heartfelt welcome was shared by the project director Dr. Danielle Lansing and her staff.  Adults and children then shared a delicious meal as one family and community.  Many parents contributed a homemade Native dish to share such as; potato salad, corn and squash, blue corn mush, a variety of desserts, and the Lakota blueberry dessert, Wojapi!    Happy emotions were shared amongst all the families and many families appreciated the hard work and dedication of all staff.

One of the many activities that took place during the event was the papier-mâché turkey project! This activity involved every child and all family members to take part in the process and completion of the project.  The children were glowing with pride and were very proud of their craft accomplishments, and some even suggested that they wanted to make another turkey! The parents were also filled with warm feelings and pride when they noticed that this was no ordinary turkey, the children’s handprints were the turkey’s wings!  The SIPI early childhood student interns facilitated this activity, in which the students spent many weeks preparing materials for the project. All in all they gained a valuable experience in family engagement lessons!

During the event we were privileged and honored to feature a guest appearance by Miss SIPI 2014, Cheyenne Mitchell.  She was excited to share in the thanksgiving spirit and festivities with all attendees. Miss SIPI awed the audience with her melodic singing and traditional songs to get families in the spirit of reflection and gratitude of thankfulness.  Cheyenne sang a traditional Navajo song that reminded us to honor our elders and the guidance and wisdom they bestow upon us.  She also encouraged and shared her appreciation to the families that were in attendance to always stay involved in their children’s academic endeavors.

As the event concluded, parents were glad to see such happiness in their children. The children were happy to make their own turkey and showed them off to their family and friends. The children traced their own hands and parents helped them cut it out.  All the participants left feeling the joy of community.  Families were reminded of the meaning of the Thanksgiving season, and this event inspired a new start to an existing tradition.  The children, families and staff look forward to the next Thanksgiving when we get to do this all over again!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stacie (Jicarilla Apache/Navajo) is from Cuba New Mexico, but currently residing in Albuquerque, NM. She is the proud mother of two children, Aisha, and Daeghen. Stacie will be receiving her bachelor of science degree from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in family studies. She is also attending Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and UNM concurrently for the Spring 2015 trimester to receive credits towards her bachelor of science degree from UNM. Stacie is the vice president of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic (SIPI) Youth Development Incorporated (YDI) Head Start Parent Task Force,an active team member with the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” early childhood initiative and also serves as a parent intern with the SIPI Ke’ Family Engagement Initiative. She is the co-founder of Plus Light Productions a Native American owned production company in Albuquerque, N.M. and of the American Indian Albuquerque Network, a social media outlet that serves as a communication source for the Albuquerque surrounding area. She is a singer an actress on her down time and was featured in Native American films. She is driving life force and is committed to the empowerment of her Native American people.





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


SIPI’s Ke’ Family Engagement Initiative Pumpkin Patch

Every year for Halloween, families and communities come together to give children an experience of laughter, festivities, and pumpkin carving!  Halloween is an opportunity for our children to have fun dressing up in costumes, but more importantly celebrate the fall season! The children at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) YDI Head Start and Early Head Start decorated their homes with a pumpkin and other arts and crafts projects from the child’s classroom courtesy of the Ke’ initiative.

Bobby and his mom found a nice pumpkin.

Each family was given one ticket to choose a pumpkin from the garden.  SIPI early childhood students worked very hard to transform the community garden into our very own pumpkin patch, by placing the big round pumpkins amongst and beneath the corn stalks to resemble a pumpkin Fall harvest!  Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers took pride in examining each pumpkin and chose one that was just right for them.  Parents shared stories with their children about their pumpkin experiences.  One parent said, “It was amazing and it felt awesome to have our child choose a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch that was grown this past summer!”  Their testimony represented the entire parent consensus.

Stacie and the Children chose their favorite of the harvest.

Other parents were happy to have an engaging time with their families during Halloween. Like myself, I enjoyed that following night with my family members and children by finding pumpkin carving ideas that were themed to this year. My daughter was very excited to know she choose her pumpkin and decided to make her pumpkin Curious George!  Personalizing the pumpkin will make for a positive childhood memory she will cherish.

The pumpkin this year brought to our family a memory flash back of family times that involved pumpkin pies or using the pumpkin and cooking it in the oven like slices. For my family, another memory shared with the kids was a family recipe of boiling cutup pumpkin pieces, and eating them sprinkled with brown sugar.  The pumpkins helped us carry on oral traditions.


Kaya and Rudy enjoying the experience.

We were able to have our children dig out the insides of the pumpkin with their hands. It was squishy and we were able to wash the seeds and try to preserve some for next planting season.  This emphasized preserving culture, and thinking ahead for next season. Our daughter was so curious she tried to taste one seed but found it not pleasant to her taste buds. We will see what next year holds for my family and community! A nice gesture to have pumpkins given to us this year by Ke’ Family Engagement Initiative, it made our evenings for Halloween that much

more festive and exciting!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stacie (Jicarilla Apache/Navajo) is from Cuba New Mexico, but currently residing in Albuquerque, NM. She is the proud mother of two children, Aisha, and Daeghen. Stacie will be receiving her bachelor of science degree from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in family studies. She is also attending Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and UNM concurrently for the Spring 2015 trimester to receive credits towards her bachelor of science degree from UNM. Stacie is the vice president of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic (SIPI) Youth Development Incorporated (YDI) Head Start Parent Task Force,an active team member with the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” early childhood initiative and also serves as a parent intern with the SIPI Ke’ Family Engagement Initiative.  She is the co-founder of Plus Light Productions a Native American owned production company in Albuquerque, N.M. and of the American Indian Albuquerque Network, a social media outlet that serves as a communication source for the Albuquerque surrounding area. She is a singer an actress on her down time and was featured in Native American films. She is driving life force and is committed to the empowerment of her Native American people.

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