THE HONOR IN AN HONORARY DEGREE -­‐-­‐-­‐ By Hattie Kauffman

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On June 15, 2013 Eastern Washington University presented me with an Honorary Doctorate. Yes, we all know that honorary degrees aren’t the same as real ones. I didn’t spend years in a PHD program or sweat over a dissertation. Yet when the honor came … I felt an immense relief, as if someone had just pulled a sliver from the bottom of my foot. I could finally stand upright. You see, decades ago I had dropped out of a graduate program and it had always haunted me, no matter how successful I became in my career as a network news correspondent. In the 1970’s, I was a young married mom of two attending the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota. My then husband and I had married as teenagers. Young and foolish, we made many mistakes and when the marriage ended, I thought, “I can’t stay in school. I need to get a job to support these kids.” Recalling those days, I can’t help but applaud the many Native college students who today juggle parenting and term papers. Thirty-­‐four tribal colleges serve more than 30,000 students and according to a recent study, 92% of scholarship recipients in tribal colleges are considered “non-­‐traditional”… meaning they are older than the typical American college student, they have dependents and most of the time they are female. In other words, they sound just like I was back then: a mom with kids to support. I take my hat off to you students!EWU Commencement 2013-135.jpg
(My tasseled hat, which came with the honorary degree.) Your determination will make a straighter path for your children. I know that to be absolutely true. Because, abbreviated though it was, the journalism program gave me the skills that made me a reporter; and from there,  an anchorwoman; and from there, a network news correspondent. They were all building  blocks. Standing on the podium at Eastern Washington University, I felt the blocks had finally come full circle. There I was at a college commencement, receiving a degree in honor of my life work and at last  I  was able to exhale that old regret about leaving grad school early. It was okay. The sliver pulled out, I stood tall and said, “Thank you.”

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NOTE:  A member of the Nez Perce Tribe, Hattie Kauffman is the first Native American to ever report on a national network broadcast. Her memoir, Falling Into Place, is being released in September.

Sacred Books for Little Ones

Nestled between the Lummi Bay and Bellingham Bay in Northwest Washington State, four tribal college early childhood education programs brought their knowledge together among the thicket of tradition and scenery on the Lummi Indian reservation. The Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education Initiative tribal college grantees of Northwest Indian College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and Ilisagvik College gathered last week for their annual Sacred Little Ones convening on the Lummi reservation.

The grantees of this Kellogg-funded initiative joined up to share their experiences at their tribal college sites and expand upon each other’s emergent specialized knowledge and give a report on how their initiatives are impacting not only the young learners, but also the programs, communities and the tribal college students studying alongside in the program. This break-through initiative on how we teach young learners incorporates the cultural aspects of learning while preparing the needs of the students to be more successful in the classroom.  The TCU grantees presented their expertise and conveyed their best practices they have identified in now their third year participating in the program.



Incorporating their curricula to their early learning centers, the team from the College of Menominee Nation presented the 17 original picture storybooks created by the student teachers in one of their courses. These books are comprised of stories about the Menominee, the seasons, animals and other lessons for young children. Then they had the other three groups create their own books during the break-out session. Here are their descriptions of the activity they participated in:

Northwest Indian College
“We did an activity where we choose a Lummi legend, The Crow and the Bear story. The moral of the legend is to not be a copy cat because you might get hurt. Instead of following the assignment (and being a copy cat) to use the Gingerbread Man framework, we did a Lummi legend. We worked together to illustrate the legend for Lummi children.” Sunshine Bob and the Sacred Little Ones team will be submitting their storybook to the Lummi culture commission for approval and feedback before they are distributed for use in early learning centers serving Lummi children and families.

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

The SIPI team discussed the complexities of integrating tribal language into literary text.  The team would like to respect local tribal values regarding sharing language in text.  The SIPI team would like to develop books with the collaboration of local community.

Ilisagvik College

During the Saturday session, the CMN team presented a workshop on making storybooks that we can use with our young children in our Learning Environment. It was an abbreviated hands-on practice to give an overview of the process. The team  feels it is easier to go back home and produce its own. The team realized that this doable and it has the resources and the basic skills. to produce fun, culturally relevant classroom material.

Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, the Program Officer for the Kellogg-funded initiative from the American Indian College Fund describes the TCU programs and their best practices as exemplary models “driving the early childhood conversation from the Native [American] lens.”

For their participation in the activity, some freshly-harvested maple syrup from the Menominee Nation was presented to each cohort by the College of Menominee Nation.

SIPI Early Childhood Student is accepted into the Charles Carl Program at Yale University

Andrea Vicente is from Isleta Pueblo. This is her second year in SIPI’s Early Childhood Education Program.

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) is proud to announce that Andrea Vicente, a student in the Early Childhood Education program, has been awarded the opportunity to participate in the Charles Carl Program for Students and Faculty at Yale University’s Child Study Center.  This intensive one-week program will provide participants with a unique introduction to child development and child mental health.  This includes a series of faculty speakers from Yale University who will provide an overview of research and clinical activities conducted at the Child Study Center.  Round trip transportation, lodging, and a stipend for meals are included in this week-long internship.  This program is especially designed for Native American College and University students.  As a partner of the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” grant initiative, Yale University has provided this opportunity to SIPI’s Early Childhood program (visit to read the press release).

Andrea Vicente is from Isleta Pueblo.  This is her second year in SIPI’s Early Childhood Education Program.  Upon completion of her Associates degree, Andrea plans to continue her education at the University of New Mexico where she plans to study Special Education.  Andrea’s parents, Carol and Patrick Olguin have been very supportive of her endeavors.  Andrea receives much inspiration from her aunt Emelda Chimoni and her grandmother Josephine Lente.  Andrea is heavily involved in her community and is also a member of the Kateri Tekakwitha Circle.  She recently participated in the canonization of Saint Kateri.  Andrea is an excellent example of hard work and dedication.  She successfully balances community involvement with her studies at SIPI.  We are confident that Andrea will contribute greatly to her community in the near future.  Congratulations Andrea!

Andrea Vicente is from Isleta Pueblo.  This is her second year in SIPI’s Early Childhood Education Program.  Upon completion of her Associates degree, Andrea plans to continue her education at the University of New Mexico where she plans to study Special Education. 

American Indian College Fund Hosts an Open House and Opening Night of “Open Identities” a Printmaking Art Exhibition

The American Indian College Fund (the Fund) is hosting an open house, Friday, May 17, 2013, at 8333 Greenwood Blvd., Denver, CO.  The event begins at 5:00 p.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m.  The open house was initially envisioned by Fund President Cheryl Crazy Bull as an opportunity to visit with the Fund’s local supporters, Native community members, family, and friends.  This evening is an excellent opportunity to share the work of the Fund and to celebrate our national impact on educational access for Native students attending tribal colleges across the United States.

To mark this special occasion, the Fund hosts this same evening, the opening night of an invited art exhibit entitled “Open Identities” by Native artist Cody Saint Arnold.  The evening will include a welcome by Fund President Cheryl Crazy Bull, and a few words by Cody Saint Arnold contextualizing the works presented in this special exhibition.  Guests will enjoy viewing the art, visiting with the Fund staff, listening to Native flute music, and tasting delicious Southwestern “Fresca” themed appetizers and beverages.

“Open Identities” by Cody Saint Arnold will be on display at the American Indian College Fund through September 2013. The American Indian College Fund plans to invite artists to show their work for the enjoyment of the Fund staff.  Invited exhibits will be open to visitors on special occasions into the future.  For more information about the art exhibits at the Fund, please contact Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, member of the art exhibit acquisition committee (

It is an honor to welcome our local supporters, Native community members, family, and friends to join us for a special evening of art, music and light refreshments.

RSVP for this event to Darrick Silversmith (

About the Artist

Cody St. Arnold

I am a printmaker from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I am currently based in Boulder, Colorado. In my fifth year of study at CU Boulder, pursuing a BA in the Ethnic Studies program, I was forever turned to printmaking by a series of Silkscreen, Relief, and Intaglio classes presented by world-wide recognized printmaker and associate professor of Printmaking at CU-Boulder, Melanie Yazzie. In the presentation of her Navajo culture in her works, it opened my mind to how much in flux I carry my identity as a Jicarilla Apache/Keeweenaw Bay Ojibwe Indian and as a current U.S. citizen invested and living in our rapidly changing state of American culture. I wish to pursue many perspectives of philosophy that has carried me further through these seemingly troubled times for the Native American identity.
Art has always had a transcendental purpose for human beings, as if to take what we have already and create a world of matter that makes sense to us and fills our souls with an impression. I try to understand what kind of impact from things like indie rock and psychedelia, Eurocentric academia, living in the white Northeast Heights of Albuquerque, and many other events have all shaped my perception of my life. Being a Native American challenges these notions further because it is knowledge and an inescapable mission to give respect to the generations of Indians who brought us here to this world in the first place. And to challenge the notion of being Native American is further accentuated by the fact that I didn’t grow up on a reservation. Where does one feel like one can belong with such a large quantity of knowledge and inherited responsibilities?
The exhibit, “Open Identity” draws out issues of identity, belonging, cultural representation and notions of becoming.  The exhibit presents the artist’s journey with earlier prints to current works responding to the notion of educational access and success.

Comcast Cares Day at the Denver Indian Center

On Saturday morning in Denver, the city got a respite from a month of freezing temperatures and several feet of snow. The weather worked out perfectly for volunteers from the American Indian College Fund, who teamed up with about 100 volunteers to participate in the Comcast Cares Day at the Denver Indian Center, Inc.

Volunteers helped with improvements including planting gardens, installing a new playground, converting the children’s bathrooms to adult bathrooms, painting, cleaning, shredding documents, priming an exterior wall for a mural project, and hanging artwork donated from the Denver Art Museum in the gym and a flat screen TV in the lobby.

Many of these improvements were desperately needed for the facility, a former elementary school that now serves as the center for Native community programs to fulfill the Denver Indian Center’s mission “to empower our youth, families and community through self-determination, cultural identity and education.”

It is was truly a fulfilling day to know that we were making a difference by giving some time to help improve a place where many Denver natives come for services and programs. The day was made possible by the support of Comcast, the local employees of Comcast, Rotary International (who provided a component of the playground), and the community members and service organizations that donated their time to spruce up a place some never knew existed.

Apple Device Users click here to see a slide show on

Updates from the Wakanyeja Early Childhood Education Initiative

The ECED Special Topics course attended the Native American Child and Family Conference on Wed. March 20th at the Hotel Albuquerque.  Students attended conference sessions of their choice and also helped facilitate a workshop from 3:00-5pm.  Over 50 people attended the session!  Conference attendees included Indian Head Start staff and administration from the southwest.  SIPI’s workshop focused on sharing information regarding how SIPI works to engage Head Start families in developing a cultural curriculum.  Audience members were engaged in the process and had many questions regarding the Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” project.  Following the presentation, Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz- Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” program officer from the American Indian College Fund, engaged the group in a debriefing session where students reflected on the experience.

Students who participated include: Shelby Holt, Brandon Barney, Christine Lucero, Kim Dominic Ray, Sasha Brown, Michele Morgan, Jody Lucero, and Sandra Sandoval (not pictured)

A big thank you to everyone who supported our efforts to include students in meaningful learning experiences that allow them to contribute to the greater community.  Many tribal Head Start teachers and administrators attended the session.  Students are helping to solidify SIPI’s reputation as a community college that engages students in meaningful experiences.  Look for more to come from our future Indian educators!

by Danielle Lansing, Ed. D
Early Childhood Instructor/Coordinator
Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Project Director


Program Leads present their research at Society for Applied Anthropology

The Wakanyeja ECE Initiative tribal college grantees, Northwest Indian College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Ilisagvik College, presented their respective research on strengthening early childhood education in Native communities at the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) in Denver on March 23, 2013.  Each funded tribal college developed a research poster to highlight model programming implementation, parent empowerment, language and culture educational opportunities, and development of high quality instruction in early learning programs serving Native children and families.  Presenting at national scholarly conferences and on research-based practices is new for these project directors, and they received ample engagement of their ideas from a number of participants representing scholarship in the fields of education and anthropology.  Feedback from participants included increased praise of the American Indian College Fund’s activities in supporting research-based practices and accolades about the new knowledge emerging from Northwest Indian College, College of Menominee Nation, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Ilisagvik College.

Funders Meet Little Big Horn College President and Student

by Rachel Piontak

On Friday, the Fund’s staff was given a rare treat: the opportunity to hear from both a TCU president and TCU student in one day. The presentation highlighted their challenges, successes, and overall vision for their tribe’s future. Sharing these words were President of Little Big Horn College, Dr. David Yarlott, and a first-year business student, Riley Singer.

Dr. Yarlott opened the presentation by introducing himself in his tribal language of Crow, one of the many Native languages in danger of extinction. He briefly shared his own history of growing up on the reservation and his early struggles with education until he realized its full value and went on to complete a doctoral degree in education. It was during this time that Little Big Horn College (LBHC) invited him back to teach business courses in 1998.

LBHC was established on the Crow reservation in Montana in 1980 with just 13 students. Now, less than 25 years later, the school has been the educational home for as many as 417 students each year as they pursue one of the many options of accredited associate’s degrees available. What began as a mad dash to sit beneath one of the two lights in an old gymnasium for class has now developed into an expansive campus full of intricate designs and cultural symbolism.

According to Dr. Yarlott, culture was a heavily weighted factor in their campus architecture, layout, and overall design. For example, the campus is laid out in a semi-circle pattern, reflective of the early Crow encampments. The home of the leader represented wisdom, knowledge, and leadership and would be situated at the far Western end of the camp so they will be first to see the sunrise. Likewise, at LBHC, the statutes of wisdom, knowledge, and leadership are represented by the archives, library, and administration buildings located at the far Western end of the campus.

In this way, LBHC’s campus is able to both maintain its history as well as tell its story to everyone who passes through.

Part of the school’s vision, as shared by Dr. Yarlott, calls LBHC students, staff, and faculty to “make our own future, not wait for it to come to us.” This is evident in the school’s progressive initiatives to encourage continuing education, environmental sustainability, and expanding program offerings.

Dr. Yarlott continued to make connections between education and Crow culture throughout the presentation. It was summed up perfectly by his words that “mountains are our heart, the river is our blood, and the college is our mind.”

When a devastating flood hit the Crow reservation in May 2011, LBHC was at the forefront of organizing relief and aid efforts. This is just one way that tribal colleges and universities have served as not only an educational hotspot, but also a gathering place for local communities to gain support.

The second speaker, Riley Singer, “Bull in the Clouds,” also spoke about his experiences on the reservation and as a student at LBHC. As a Fund scholarship recipient, Riley demonstrated the importance of determination and traditional values in his educational career.

Raised by his grandparents on their cattle ranch in Lodge Grass, Riley learned the value of hard work and respect at a young age. Throughout his informative slideshow, we learned of the traditional upbringing and cultural practices that defined his youth. One of the most striking features, however, was the emphasis he gave to the value of education. This was demonstrated very strongly through his own life choices and through the lives of his ancestors.

Riley is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in business administration with an emphasis on small business management and plans to complete his bachelor’s through Rocky Mountain College afterwards. This education, he believes, will best prepare him to take over his family’s cattle ranching business.

Both Dr. Yarlott and Riley brought inspiration and valuable information through their presentations. It was inspiring to hear recounts of their educational journey while upholding cultural traditions and an incredible reminder as to why the Fund exists to support this journey.



Community-Oriented, Inspirational, Cutting-Edge Education

A Navajo Technical College (NTC) nursing student demonstrates in the lab during a tour for the American Indian College Fund staff. NTC graduated their first class of nurses this past year.

by Megan Thoms

What do you think of when you think of a community college?  I simply think of a two-year institution that students attend before transferring to a four-year institution. That was before I visited Navajo Technical College (NTC), a tribal community college that just recently became a four-year institution.

Navajo Technical College is located on the Navajo reservation in Crownpoint, in northwest New Mexico, a town with a population of about 2000 people.  The closest ‘city,’ Gallup, is about an hour away and has a population of about 21,000 people.

Community oriented, inspirational, and cutting edge are just a few of the words I would use to describe Navajo Technical College.


photo by Megan Thoms



Community Oriented.  It is immediately noticeable when stepping onto campus that NTC is not only a part of the Navajo community, but embraces the community.  The community is part of their history.  The Navajo Nation chartered the college in 1979.  NTC exists to serve their community, the Navajo Nation.

Like most community colleges, NTC provides practical degrees so that their students can find jobs and succeed after graduation.  However, unlike most community colleges, NTC provides housing for families and single students, transportation, and even a daycare center.  Due to the fact that many students commute up to 100 miles each day to get to NTC, NTC provides a van for students to get to and from campus, from as far as Farmington (82 miles away) and Pueblo Pintado (43 miles away).

If anything demonstrates commitment to community it’s the Internet to the Hogan project.  Due to its rural location, NTC immediately realized that a fast internet connection is absolutely necessary in order to advance their programs and their students, essentially in order to run a successful college.  The Internet to the Hogan project creates a hub at NTC from which high-speed internet access will be extended to chapter houses and other sites in the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas.  NTC realized that getting access to high-speed internet is not only necessary for the college, but it’s necessary for the Navajo Nation as well.  As a result of the project, NTC is able to provide an online learning environment for its students and internet access to Crownpoint and Whitehorse Lake chapter houses.  As NTC continues to gain access to cell towers, the connectivity project is expected to grow.

If you have any other doubts about NTC’s commitment to their community, their vision makes it clear.  “The vision of Navajo Technical College is to educate Navajo individuals; to utilize state-of-the art technology; and to enhance desirable character traits of integrity, self-discipline, loyalty and respect, which give the Navajo people hope, courage, and the resiliency essential to their survival as a people, using the strengths inherent in the Navajo cultural values and traditions.” The school wants its students to be complete people, intellectually, personally, and culturally.  They want to ‘educate the mind and spirit’ of their students.  They care about their students, because that is their community.  It’s one and the same.

Inspirational.  NTC is inspirational.  Their student enrollment is inspirational.  Their retention rate is inspirational.  The fall 2012 enrollment was 1777 students, which is up 53% from last year.  Their retention rate is 81%.  Compare that to the national average retention rate of 51% for all colleges and universities in the U.S.  These are students who are not well off, and who are travelling up to 100 miles each way to get to campus.  It’s clear that these students want an education, not only for themselves but for their community as well.  They understand that the only way to improve their situation is to get an education.

The staff is inspirational.  They are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach, and they strive to provide hands-on learning experiences for their students.  They know that is the best way to learn, and they know that having hands-on experience with advanced equipment are skills they’ll need in a job.  In the IT department, one of the courses created their super computer cluster that was located in their classroom.  They acquired the equipment, put it together, and used the cluster for advanced data analysis.  These are skills necessary to manage any computer cluster, and the students are ready.

NTC incorporates the Diné philosophy into everything they do. The college is committed to a high quality, student-oriented, hands-on-learning environment based on the Diné cultural principles: Nitsáhákees, Nahátá, Īína, Siihasin.  The college is not ignoring their roots or their culture.  Every instructor is encouraged to incorporate these principles into their courses.  There are posters everywhere explaining the principles (see photo).  Essentially, every person has a physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional component that needs to be cared for.  This is inspirational.

Cutting Edge.  NTC is looking to the future, always.  In the past year, the Higher Learning Commission approved two new bachelor’s degree programs for NTC: a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering and a bachelor of arts degree in Diné culture, language, and leadership.  The college is planning to add more advanced degrees, including a master’s degree in Diné culture, language, and leadership.

NTC makes sure that it has the latest technology in their courses.  The engineering, math, and technology department has a 3D printer and laser scanning equipment.  The laser scanning equipment was recently used to scan a building for NASA to determine if it was big enough for a piece of developmental rocket hardware.  The laser scanning equipment was also used to scan a lava tube in Louisiana to determine its exact dimensions.  These are exciting, cutting edge opportunities for NTC students.  NTC’s location, size, or any other factor does not prevent them from acquiring cutting edge technology for their courses and making sure their students get that hands-on experience.

NTC is Community Oriented, Inspirational, Cutting Edge, and so much more!  All mainstream community colleges could strive to be a little more like NTC.

By American Indian College Fund staff member Megan Thoms

Staff Reflects on First Experience at Tribal Colleges

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and Navajo Technical College (NTC).  As a recent addition to the American Indian College Fund (the Fund) staff, the TCU movement is new to me, and I am continuously learning about its history and future.  However, until I visited these two schools, my education was through articles and other people’s stories I was excited to see the schools in person.

My excitement was matched by the fervor with which staff and students shared their stories and the comprehensive introduction we received to both schools’ programs and services.  At NTC, our tour took us into several classrooms, all of which had something to teach me about innovation in education and learning.  In the Information Technology department, students are getting hands-on experience using the latest technology and then applying it in real-world situations through the school’s partnership with NASA.  We also visited an environmental science class where both the professor and several students received scholarships from the Fund.  The students were engaged in a study session identifying the scientific and common names of plants as well as their medicinal uses based on Navajo tradition.  Later on, we met a girl who received a Fund scholarship during her years at NTC and returned to work in the on-campus veterinary office after graduation.  Not only was she sharing her technical knowledge with current students, but she was also making sure each and every one applied for our scholarships.  What commitment to her community and education!

On day two, we visited SIPI. The school likewise “wowed” me with their forward-thinking programs. Learning about one program, the Wakanyeja Sacred Little Ones grant, which is sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation and administered by the Fund, was the most powerful moment of my trip. Through the Wakanyeja program grant, SIPI was able to introduce an innovative research methodology into their early childhood education (ECE) curriculum, build a new on-campus childcare center in conjunction with a local Head Start program, and present exciting new research about adapting ECE to cultural needs. The program connects all aspects of ECE: from the staff and students conducting research to the early childhood center staff and parents’ participation in the research to assessment and development of new curriculum. It was in the second part of this circle of innovation that I saw the biggest impact of my work. We sat with a parent who explained her experience so far, equal parts sharing how the research is conducted and her role in that, and how it has personally impacted her family. At one point, she teared up, explaining that after joining the program her daughter has learned to introduce herself according to Navajo tradition, which is to state one’s lineage through the names of one’s clan. She went on to tell us how much her daughter was learning about her own culture and others’ cultures and in turn, how much she was learning from her daughter. That moment and the rest of the trip showed how the TCUs and their students are working with us to innovate, share their knowledge, and commit themselves to their communities.



Idle No More Brings Native Voices, Tribal Education to the Forefront

by Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull

Round Dance gathering at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 11, 2013.

A group gathers for a round dance at the Colorado State Capitol on a cold Friday evening on Jan. 11, 2013.

Like many Natives and our allies across our Grandmother Earth, Unci Maka, I have joined the Idle No More movement, attending round dance gatherings, praying for Chief Theresa Spence and her supporters, sharing the stories I hear and read and perusing news and opinion pieces. Like many indigenous people, I am acutely aware that our voices in the mainstream of American, Canadian and Central and South American societies are often unheard, and that we appear silent when in fact our voices are singing out with stories of our lives. Defining this movement is our responsibility. Each of us should learn about this movement and find our own place in it. We can add our voices to songs of our relatives and allies across the earth.

The new calendar year can be a time of renewal and re-commitment for many – but for most Native people, our annual calendar is seasonal or ceremonial, related to the changes of our Grandmother Earth or the rituals of our people. For me the year goes from summer to summer, from the time of sun dances to the next sun dances. I know that measuring time in this manner comes from my identity. We may adopt the calendar year and New Year celebrations, but we find our renewal as tribal people in the seasons and rituals of our people.

As the Idle No More movement has gained strength, like many, I have pondered its meaning.  For me, it is our voices, singing out from the place inside of us where our identities as “the people” live, it is the rhythm of our shared heartbeat and the movements of our bodies as we dance a shared dance – a social dance of hope and friendship and affirmation, in a circle, around the drums and the voices that are singing out who we are.

Each tribal people have a unique identity given us by our Creator and our understanding of Creation.  Our identity emerges out of our knowledge of how we came to be as a people. Our oral knowledge is intact and the stories of our creation remain essentially untainted by western influences. Often we are viewed by mainstream America in the context of what educators call the three F’s – food, fun, and fashion. We are the celebration of Thanksgiving, the Indians in popular movies, feathered headdresses, geometric designed pottery, and lilting flute music. A deeper understanding of who we are, philosophically, spiritually, and socially is elusive to most of mainstream America. I often think this elusiveness is exacerbated by the fact that it would require a painful acknowledgement that we, as the First Peoples of this hemisphere, are really human beings subjected to devastating military and political policies of the very governments that still lead our countries.

Tribal people have their own teachings about their Creation, their family relationships, and how they came to be on this earth. Native people have teachings about plants and animals, about gathering in celebration, and about the meaning of each item of decoration or clothing that they wear at their ceremonies.

Our stories reflect the richness of our heritages which are such an important part of today’s democracy.  Although the experiences of Native people with the arrival of Europeans on our shores are filled with tragedy, we have not lost our identity or cultural ways. Idle No More is the story of our shared identity.  Like all social movements, it has roots in history and connections with the social actions of other movements, including the Occupy movement and environmental actions.

Tribally controlled education is a vital part of the foundation of tribal knowledge that underpins the Idle No More movement. In today’s society the education of our people is essential to our prosperity, our identity, and our activism. The tribally controlled education movement emerged during the last modern great wave of social activism among our people–the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s.  In the last 45 years, tribal educators and our schools and colleges have been at the forefront of the restoration and preservation of our identities. Our work ensures that our ancestors and descendants will recognize us.

Now is the time to affirm that we are entitled to an education that honors our identity, our knowledge of Creation, and our relationships. We are entitled to the best of public education – a tribally controlled education – that culls content from our knowledge with teaching methodologies and assessment that uphold our ways of learning.

As our social activism grows, look to our Native educators and encourage them to bring Idle No More into their classrooms. It is a modern-day teachable moment in the context of our cultural ways and the histories of our people. It is a moment that can last a lifetime. It is the work of a lifetime that will be felt for seven generations.

Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.


Video from a recent Idle No More round dance.