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Education in Our Backyard

The heartache over education extends into our backyard across Indian Country, no matter where you’re from. We have placed such a high value on an education that it’s sitting right on the table next to your daily meals, cup of coffee, first breath or the last thought on your pillow. Of late and locally, it’s a stress-induced topic and quite sensitive when we start peeling back the layers of accountability, performance, change in administration, hiring practices and more.

For some educators, the topics can range from innovation and a strong desire to give it all you got every day, all the way to sitting in a corner wondering how you are going to manage your workload on top of your life outside of the classroom. For parents, community or onlookers, we might get excited about the annual activities, the cute performances, award ceremonies, new classroom activities, looking forward to conference time and for some, seeing progress as a smile, a complete sentence, some demonstration of a year-long goal and the joy that our kids express about coming or going to school.

I would be remiss, maybe even negligent, if I didn’t mention the complacency or turmoil that permeates the shaky foundation of Indian education. We are facing continuous turnover in leadership for a lot of reasons. Most often we don’t ever get to know or come to understand, as a lot of it is handled under the auspices of an Executive Session, followed by resignation, administrative leave, termination or non-renewal of a contract. Those vague methods of replacing leadership are the nature of the beast in tribal controlled schools with their own policies and decisions. Hopi schools are now all tribal controlled, each with their own school board governance.

While we might attempt to form relationships with new leadership, hear their intent to work within our schools, maybe put a little faith in their experience… with our track record, it’s hard to believe that they will be there in a year, much less three months. I do say this with a grain of salt, that it is a very political endeavor to work in your own community, be supported and make progress. You learn to celebrate small wins. This year in education, like any other, aims to be a surprise and a big one for our junior high and high school.

CURRENT ADMINISTRATION AT HJSHS

Hopi Junior Senior High School (HJSHS) did not renew the contracts of administration for Principals at the end of the 2015-2016SY. The school has seen two Superintendent’s in 2 School Years (SY). Citing a personal decision, the prior Superintendent left in December 2015 after being in his position for a little over a year. A new Superintendent came in April 2016 and stayed for about three months and left citing health reasons. Both of these accounts were shared in a local newspaper. As of current, I am aware of the appointments of new leadership within our high school as well as the questions that people have of certification. Though I have not asked directly for the certification of any individual in acting/interim or newly hired positions of Administration, I am sharing links to what is available through Arizona Department of Education’s certification page for “interim adminsitrators.” Basically, if you are planning to go into administration and enroll in an appropriate pathway through a university, you are now qualified to apply for an interim certificate and be suitable for employment in districts or schools that are accepting this.

The traditional and most commonly known route would be to complete a Master’s level course of study (degree or certificate seeking) that includes a requirement of ‘x’ minimum years of teaching, an internship (unpaid) and an Institutional (University Program) recommendation. In addition, you would take the proper Administrative exam identified by your state and submit required documents with associated fees to the certification unit to be issued your certificate.

While attending the Hopi Education Summit on July 20, 2016, Mr. Alban Naha was introduced as the interim/acting Assistant Superintendent. He seemed very jovial and supportive in his welcome to attendees as well as in his participation in the summary forum. I went to enrollment activities on Monday and Tuesday, July 25 & 26, 2016, at the Hopi Junior Senior High School and was informed that Mrs. Lucille Sidney was going to be the Junior High Principal. I did see her signature as such in the paperwork that was issued. Last night’s Special School Board Meeting was posted and I did attend as there were a number of recommendations for hire and my concern has been that there may not be enough teachers to start the school year. I became aware that Mrs. Sidney is in the position of Head Teacher for Junior High (official capacity/title). It was shared with me in passing that she will, however, be the new Junior High Principal. At this time, there is no High School Principal. There were two items on the agenda last night under recommendations for hire that were moved to an added agenda item, as Executive Session. One of those was a teacher position and the other was the High School Principal. I did not stay to hear the outcome, but you are able to call the school to ask what the outcomes were with that item and recommendation.

CERTIFIED OR NOT?

To be clear, I have not personally seen the advertisement or the requirements of the job for Hopi Junior High School or High School Principal. There are questions raised around experience, degree programs, and certification of individuals in or soon to be appointed to administrative leadership positions. Without any direct knowledge of the credentials of persons, there appears to be an interim certification option. At present, we have one employee in a separate position who is signing as the Junior High School Principal and it is confirmed that Mr. Naha has officially been hired as the Assistant Superintendent. I don’t know if either of those positions were advertised (for any length of time) or created and appointed. You can inquire with high school administration for those School Board minutes pertaining to their hire, job descriptions, qualification or any other such information at 928-738-5111.

http://www.azed.gov/educator-certification/files/2011/09/application-for-interim-administrative-certificate.pdf?20190328/

Here is an excerpt from the link pertaining to interim administrative certification; “Interim Administrative certificates are issued in the areas of supervisor, principal and superintendent. The certificate entitles the holder to perform the duties described under the specific certificate. The certificate is valid for one year from the date of issuance and may be extended yearly for no more than two consecutive years. The candidate must be enrolled in an Arizona State Board approved alternative path to administrator certification program, or an Arizona State Board approved administrator preparation program. Verification of Structured English Immersion (SEI) training is required for initial issuance. An individual is not eligible to hold the interim administrative certificate more than once in a five-year period.”

Technically, you could be enrolled in a program towards Superintendent or Principal certification and apply for the interim certificate to serve in that capacity. Many assumptions can be made, though ultimately, you have a School Board that establishes or approves criteria for positions, directs or approves posting of open positions, might participate in interviews (if available) and approve the hire of persons to fill the positions for Hopi Junior Senior High School. If you have questions or concerns, you can call the school for details. I’d encourage you to attend a school board meeting or send your inquiries in writing to the attention of the school board. If you wish to address the board directly, you would have to write in and ask to be placed on the agenda, you could also attend a meeting and utilize their forum of Call to the Public, though there are limitations to that as well. Utlizing Call to the Public can mean that your questions or concerns may not be addressed or answered if you don’t follow up with anything in writing or indicate that you want a response. Be specific if there are things you are wanting addressed that have not been answered and follow the internal protocols/process first. Save yourself any confusion or miscommunication by starting the process and asking for a point of contact for follow up.

NEW HIRES, NOT CERTIFIED IN ARIZONA

For purposes of time and word count, I am using few examples here. A recommendation to hire an out-of-state applicant was made and questions of the start date were asked of one acting administrator, to which the board member received a smile and no verbal response before they answered their own question with, “You’re working on that.” A nod and more smiling seemed to suffice. The additional question was of this person’s certification.

Based on School Board review of supporting documents of the applications, some applicants are not certified to teach in Arizona. One recommendation for hire did not include an application but what appeared to be a typed, one page, double sided submission of something. A board member did ask that an application be submitted and there was some discussion about the way in which the interview went. While some attendees shared among themselves that they had questions, this was a Special Meeting, there was no call to the public. The meeting was carried out between the 3 School Board officials in attendance along with the Administrative Secretary, Business Manager, Assistant Superintendent and Head Teacher for Junior High. Mr. Naha and Mrs. Sidney provided their information of applicants along with their recommendations, as they were handling the interviews along with a couple of other staff that sat in when available.

Alongside the recommendations for hire, there was mention that the school was in dire need of teachers, that they would be taking a chance in hiring some of the applicants and that there was some trust in the current leadership that things would work out. Some discussion was entertained around the new 5 block instructional schedule. School Board members had been issued packets with more details and a few questions were asked, along with some acknowledgment of the work that had been done to date in preparing for the school year. As a parent, this was certainly a tough meeting to endure. As a community member, it’s hard to know how much the rest of our parents and families in the community will be aware of the impact of these decisions for education. As an individual with educator and administrator experience, it was without question, creating a deep fear with great uncertainty for the future of HJSHS education that I have ever witnessed. All one can do is HOPE, PRAY, and stay involved to the extent that one can be.

A YEAR TO GET CERTIFIED

Most of the candidates who were recommended for hire, without certification, are being given one year to obtain their Arizona certification. Although, the link below also indicates what is required of reciprocal teaching licenses, as this was the option that one administrator indicated would be used for those applicants. A reciprocal teaching certificate or license would mean that possibly a teacher coming from another state is certified (in that state). He or she would bring their current certificate and supporting documents to the Arizona certification unit and submit them to receive an Arizona certificate to teach.

In all fairness to practicing educators or those holding a teaching or administrator certificate, one is able to walk into the certification office with all documentation in hand and walk out with their certificate within an hour or less. You do have to have current items, but it is doable.

Reciprocity

PARENTS RIGHT TO KNOW

If you are among the public concerned about certification and having a qualified educator in the classroom to provide instruction to your children, you have rights to this information. You can walk into the school or call and ask to review the certification and credentials of your teachers (paraprofessionals and administrators included). While it may not change the outcome, these people could still be employed, you can keep open communication with your student and be an advocate when you are concerned with anything related to their academics. This means everything from struggling students, inconsistent grading or grade reports, missing grades, homework (including lack of it), etc.

This link is the highly qualified professionals flier that shares a “Parents Right to Know” that reads:

Parents Right-to-Know (Teacher Qualifications)

SEC. 1112. LOCAL EDUCATIONAL AGENCY PLANS.

(e) PARENTS RIGHT-TO-KNOW.—

(1) INFORMATION FOR PARENTS.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—At the beginning of each school year, a local educational agency that receives funds under this part shall notify the parents of each student attending any school receiving funds under this part that the parents request (and in a timely manner), information regarding the professional qualifications of the student’s classroom teachers, including at a minimum, the following:

(i) Whether the student’s teacher— (I) has met State qualification and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction;

(II) is teaching under emergency or other provisional status through which State qualification or licensing criteria have been waived; and

(III) is teaching in the field of discipline of the certification of the teacher.

(ii) Whether the child is provided services by paraprofessionals and, if so, their qualifications.

(B) ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.—In addition to the information that parents may request under subparagraph (A), a school that receives funds under this part shall provide to each individual parent of a child who is a student in such school, with respect to such student—

(i) information on the level of achievement and academic growth of the student, if applicable and available, on each of the State academic assessments required under this part; and

(ii) timely notice that the student has been assigned, or has been taught for 4 or more consecutive weeks by, a teacher who does not meet applicable State certification or licensure requirements at the grade level and subject area in which the teacher has been assigned.

http://www.azed.gov/highly-qualified-professionals/files/2016/07/parents-right-to-know-sec-1112.pdf

GUT CHECK

I say this on the end of a heavy sigh, that educators who are well aware of what it has cost them in an education, internship, certification fees, in time and effort to hold that certificate and credentials, it is a straight gut check to morale in hiring non-certified staff at any level that requires specific certification.

As parents or guardians, you hear first hand from your kids what is happening in their classes or across campus. As a teacher or colleague, you know what kids have to share about their other classes, you may also see the difference in what you put in versus what is happening elsewhere.

Education is a job of great faith and commitment. Though we have many great individuals who are in it for our kids and work with their hearts every day, we also have complacency in classrooms and in staff. A great deal of turnover in leadership is due in part to the politics of the culture of resistance to change. This resistance gains momentum with  rumors, creating petitions, infiltrating staff break rooms and makes its way to dinner tables. All of this negativity plants seeds in the decisions that are not about or for kids. These types of efforts eventually overshadow the work that needs to happen in order to support academic changes. I know there are a multitude of reasons that are created to justify these types of behaviors and conduct, although I don’t know that there is any good reason to indulge in legitimizing it or to perform a job as status quo. Start thinking now about how you want to be involved in the positive change that needs to occur… there’s still more.

TEACHER ASSIGNMENTS

Having attended the recent Hopi Education Summit as well as speaking with community members, there are questions about teachers from the junior high (or elementary) levels being moved to teach high school courses. I wasn’t aware of the accuracy of this until last evening. The link below is a faqs sheet for the secondary (high school) certificate grade level changes to certification requirements. These items spell out for us that the Arizona Department of Education has moved to approve that individuals with elementary certification which used to cover only k-8, can now be considered and hired for high school, content specific areas, if they can demonstrate content knowledge in that area or subject that they will be teaching (Re-read that at least 2 or 3 times before it settles in).

This can be taken to mean that if a certified teacher of grades 6, 7, or 8, have taught or have taken courses to be certified in history, math, science, english or other areas are now eligible to be placed in that same content area or subject of a high school (grades 9-12) classroom. This document legitimizes those moves of teachers from junior high to high school. This is however, content specific. It does not include self-contained classes where a teacher would provide instruction for a subjects or content areas to a specific grade.

If you aren’t sure of a teacher’s qualifications, that Parents Right to Know document indicates you are within your rights to ask and be provided proof of their qualifications. It is a simple request and I think this can be done respectfully, with a quick turnaround from administration in providing documentation. Talking to the teacher helps too. Every year it is a huge undertaking to plan effectively for instruction and I am sure that if this is a change they are embracing, they are more than willing to share how they are doing this with you.

I don’t want to discount the fact that we have some AWESOME, AMAZINGLY TALENTED and EXPERIENCED teachers who will be an asset in high school classrooms. As mentioned before, you do have people in our schools with hearts in education and they are doing great things for the students and families they get to serve. I look forward to seeing how this changes and contributes to the progress needed for Hopi education. And yes, I am fearful that there will be decisions made that are not reflective of the intent of this new facet of utilizing resources in education to move students along. We can no longer wait to see if it’s going to work, there has to be a means of accountability and structure that I hope is going to be explained to us soon. Students who are in these classes are going to be able to tell if these changes are meaningful and I would hope that administration is able to call attention to and make effective adjustments when this is not the case. We won’t know if we don’t ask, so please keep your ears open and ask questions of your kids and the teachers when you don’t know something or have a concern.

http://www.azed.gov/educator-certification/files/2015/02/faqs-for-secondary-certificate-grade-level-change.pdf

CHANGES FOR 2016-2017SY

You are being issued a two sided document about changes at HJSHS for the 2016-2017SY at the completion of your Enrollment adventure. I suggest you read it and ask questions of the Administrative Leadership Team that is noted as having developed this document. No names are listed as to who the team consist of. Call 928-738-5111 to ask who you would speak to about your questions.

New Student Background Checks” is a notation on your enrollment checklist. When I asked, I was told by the Assistant Superintendent that this was pertaining to Parent Volunteers. I did redirect him to the notation that indicates it references New Students and he again deferred to it being about Parent Volunteers. He also shared that the individual responsible for signing off on that item was not present to address my question.

I do think it’s important for administration to be aware of and be able to answer questions that we have. If you are not sure about this part of your enrollment process, please ask and make sure you are directed to the appropriate people who can answer your questions. If you do not get an answer, please continue to ask who is next in line that you can address your question to. It does feel redundant at times, but be persistent and don’t give up. You are the model for your children in advocacy, they watch everything we do and they will eventually be thankful for what they learn or take away.

MINDFUL WANDERING

I have had a lot of thoughts since I first began my career in education, then administration and my year-long break from it all. My heart has not stopped beating for Education, if anything, I’m a tad more riled up and I still want to put my efforts in the elements of change. As a community member, it makes me proud to know that regardless of what is served in an education, we all have a power over of how much we learn from it or put into it.

I observed a different side of things last evening and I went home thinking and later praying that at the end of every day… I hope people practice reflection and ask themselves/ourselves if what they contributed to was a valiant effort, that what they committed to in that day was having a positive influence and resting on that thought. If you should ever think or feel that the investment you made could be better, then pray on that and wake up to Be better and Do more than you did yesterday. Every day, every breath is a choice. Let’s make this year our best year ever, but start with TODAY.

GET & STAY INVOLVED

It’s the beginning of a new school year and we are all committed to things. In any way you can, big or small, start thinking of how you can get and stay involved. Is it parent involvement, school improvement, attending school board meetings, volunteering or you have some other way to contribute? Make that your goal. Talk to people, encourage the positive and always strive to be a part of the solution. I am working through my own goals and commitments, but it starts within my own heart and home. So here we go people, challenge yourself and your family to be involved. Blessings to everyone for a healthy and happy school year!!

COMMENT & SHARE

I hope this was helpful and that you are able to form your own thoughts about how the information will guide you to be a part of the change and support. Please feel free to leave a comment and share this. You never know who you might inspire to become involved.

 

FYI

STATE LEVEL ADVOCACY FOR INDIAN EDUCATION via NIEA; Public Comment Due August 1, 2016.

I just received this email link from NIEA and am sharing the link to post or submit your comments related to how states will be held accountable under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We need more voice from Indian Country as it is not always clear or evident that the state has any direct link to tribally controlled schools for resources in the area of school improvement or accountability measures.

“The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is developing rules for how states must be accountable for the achievement of all students under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ED is accepting comments on draft regulations from education advocates and those who are interested through next Monday, August 1st.
As Native education advocates, you have the important and unique responsibility of ensuring that Native students are accounted for through adequate support. By submitting comments, you can help amplify the needs of Native students. We have drafted a short and simple letter that you can use to submit comments. “

The Native American Vote in 2016

What are we looking for in a President-Elect?
This is a broad and open question that could go on for days, many moons. For a long time, I just sat back and watched elections happen like the Grammy’s or opening presents on Christmas Day. That shouldn’t be the case if you’re truly concerned about the status and progress for Indian country.
Where do we start? Perhaps you’re looking for someone with certain qualities of leadership, a business minded individual, a veteran, a husband/wife, a minority or humanitarian. Whether it is the nation, state, city or tribal government, the issues that Native people are most struck by will most likely be relevant to where you spend the most time working and living. While Rural and Urban Indians fall into minority categories, for statistics sake, there is diversity in the politics we face (or ignore). By politics (at any level), this can mean anything from social welfare to warfare; including areas of education, sovereignty, economic development, human rights, natural resources, social services, etc.

With that said, in reviewing Presidential candidates, you need to look at your own needs and the community you live in. Evaluate the services you use most or are affected by, alongside the next 4-8 years of a Presidential term. Who do you want to stick it out with? Who would you want at the dinner table making decisions about the world you live in?
While not everyone keeps up with the televised debates, how many of us even read a newspaper anymore? Set aside your “Netflix & Chill” state of mind to consider the above and how personal this decision truly is to you and your family, your future.

Virtues & Character of a Leader
I’m not sure how to tell you that expectations can be a real kill joy when considering elected officials. I mean, we all come with a history, a past. It’s how we come to know the value of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses or just how much more we want to be involved or coast through the rest of life. If you’re looking for someone who you can trust or is honorable, those qualities and just about any other can be shot down in a minute with the reality of who a person is or what we are allowed to see. I’d encourage you to be wary of making quick assumptions. Give it enough time, people will reveal themselves and their character… although, you might have to be listening.

While we may all enjoy our personal liberties of freedom and the right to privacy, that doesn’t keep people from their curiosities or from their interpretive manners in evaluating who you are as a person. Truth is a fascinating thing. Your truth is different than any individual’s truth, only because we have our own experiences and observations of the world. The best I can offer is to encourage you to do the research and get as much information or access to Presidential candidate platforms and town halls as you can. Be wary of the media or what’s out there via social media, not everything is valid. Create conversations with family, colleagues and friends that will allow you to listen to others to add to & form your own perspective. You’d be surprised at where these kinds of conversations take you. You end up learning a lot about others and yourself.

The Craft of the Media
I love having choices of news outlets, but it’s their job to tell a good story with a headline that makes you want to read, watch & listen more. VIEWERS & RATINGS!! Just be sure you are doing your own fact checking. It’s easy to get angry, jump on a bandwagon and be negatively affected by what is being promoted. Avoid undue stress by knowing and visiting your trusted news outlets, writers or sources and be informed of the issues. You don’t have to be an expert or connoisseur of politics, you should be aware of what matters most to you.

If you’re interested in knowing a little more than nothing about what’s going on in the world, I’ve found the Skimm to be quite entertaining. It’s an easy daily read and jam packed with things I’d never find the time to review in a single day. You can easily find other sources using the apps in your smart phones, tablets or computers. Find what works for you.

Why am I so invested?
I care. I wasn’t always politically mindful and I didn’t realize or care to understand how elections affected me. My children are teenagers and mostly independent thinkers, but they depended on me all their life to make the tough decisions. So I make time to understand the issues, for their future.

A few years back, I made an appointment with a campaign group to see if it was something I wanted to lend myself to. If you’ve never been inside of a Presidential campaign headquarters, you’re missing out.

First of all, I felt OLD as dirt (I was 30-something). There had to be 18 year olds and twenty-somethings literally driving the ship. Walls plastered with whiteboards, top to bottom with markings of motivational quotes, schedules, volunteers, to do lists and more. File cabinets upon file cabinets, floors littered with paper & boxes stacked to the ceilings of campaign literature and posters. Ponytails, fresh cuts, buns, loose strands of hair flying as flannel t-shirts, jeans, fully suited ‘kids’ whizzed past me… some stopping to ask who I was there for, pointing me in the next direction or waving for assistance from a friendly face organizing a table. These were the movers and shakers of Obama’s campaign and I was deeply inspired, overcome with pride at how involved every person was and the amount of work being done.

That 60 minutes of my time, in that space, was a blur in comparison to how I see things happening across Indian Country. It reminds me of the inside of my head and heart when I get into a fit of creativity. We need that in our tribal offices, in our community buildings. We need to catch that bug and pass it on to any willing tribal member who wants to see and enact change.

What are the concerns of Indian Country?

Therein lies the power. You get to decide what is most critical. What are you most affected by? Start there. I can see the smirks in real time – So who’s listening? Your tribally-elected officials and/or appointed representatives should be. It’s your choice how involved or passive you are and I do understand if you are shaking your head right now. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to feel powerless and even muted. Keep trying. Make appointments with your tribal leaders. Write letters. Start community conversations. As tough as it seems, nothing changes without us.

Lately, there’s a myriad of information on the internet ablaze with topics of Presidential candidates and Indian Country. I won’t spoon feed it to you, but do have a look for yourself. Whatever you do, don’t let a politician, especially a Presidential Candidate, tell you what the imperative and critical issues are for Indian Country or Native Americans. You live it, you need to tell it like it is. Be empowered to share the realities and make a difference for the current and future generations.

ALL LIVES MATTER
I’m going to end with this. Regardless of race or ethnicity, social class, education, work experience… we all deserve a chance to cast a vote for the individual that is going to lead this country for the next 4 years. I’ve been fortunate to hear Bernie & Jane Sanders speak on their intent and platforms. I’ve been just as disgusted with the performance of candidates who have publicly humiliated the diversity of our country, governmental structure and its’ people.

I can’t say that these candidates completely understand Indian Country or that they will be able to immediately overhaul our systems to benefit our people. A lot of that work belongs to our own tribal governments and our people.

Upon my own experience & research, I’ve come to believe that the Sanders are the closest we are going to get to having representation of the average citizen in the White House. I’m looking at what their actions have been over the past 2-3 weeks of this campaign, as well as what they’ve committed to in public service over the years. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that a lot of their recent visits are capitalizing on and leading up to today’s Presidential Preference Election. However, they attempted to visit tribal communities, met with tribal leaders and are learning about long standing issues.

Like anything, I anticipate the Sanders campaign will get better at communicating what it is they can realistically focus on doing for Indian Country when they can catch their breath and evaluate the power of the President and the future work with Tribal Governments. For now, it’s still a campaign.

Time for homework. Educate yourself, your family and friends, encourage them to vote. The greatest difference is in the choices we make. Invite your children and grandchildren to sit at the table during these conversations and ask them what they think. We’re learning to be better advocates, to fight their fight. We should be teaching our babies these same values and tenets of identity & empowerment.

When our families tell us to go out, get an education and come back to help our people, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to a formal education. Life is an education. Take what you’ve learned up to this point and make a difference by your freedom and personal right to be heard & VOTE. That’s it folks, thanks for reading to the end.

RESOURCES

NYT: Who is Running for President? By WILSON ANDREWS, ALICIA PARLAPIANO and KAREN YOURISH

Democratic Candidate Links

 

http://feelthebern.org

https://www.hillaryclinton.com/

Where can I VOTE TODAY??

http://www.azsos.gov/elections/voting-election

 

 

Meal Planning Rez-o-lutions

Meal planning for Indian Country, say whaaaat?? Indeed, it is happening and we are on that bandwagon. Since when has any Native not cooked for 8 with a family of 4 or considered how nutritious are our eating & shopping habits? We’re up to our headdresses (pun intended) in our ceremonial calendar, football pools, third grandbaby’s birthday dinner or playing in some tournament Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and if we win.. for Championship on Sunday. Round up the kids, grab a variety pack of hot flavor chips, the Gatorade, $20 bag of pinons, cash for the popcorn and nachos, my seat cushion, gym bag and let’s roll!!

Guilty.

While raising my children in the early years, I was that tote packing mom that had a ton of toys, snacks, drinks, blankies, diapers and change of clothes running from school-to work-to appointments, after school or local events, birthday parties… and at no time was I checking the ingredient labels or contemplating the sugar dosage or carbs of anything I was putting into our bodies. Don’t worry, no Diabetes or High Blood Pressure lecture is pending. Just good ‘ol sharing information.

It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I actually sat down for lunch with my co-workers over their home-cooked meals. And me with my drive through lunch bowl or fried, greasy goodness. Of course, hospitality ran deep, so I’d be invited to share their meal. Let me tell you… the flavors running through my mouth were so delicious, I started asking questions. At the time, I didn’t actually think, “Ahhhh, meal prep.” Looking back, my friends shared their super quick & easy recipes that were the pre-fad meal prep design. Boil a huge pot of beans on Sunday, package it and use it in everything all week. Every head nodding. Someone else would pipe in one ingredient and the rest would take their turn to add in… I always keep fresh garlic, spinach, limes, cilantro, tomatoes, Serrano chile, onion and rice stocked.

Those meals & conversations were the best lessons I’ve ever had during a lunch that was over if you blinked your eyes. I started to think more about what I was actually feeding my family, how much processed crap I was shoveling in out of convenience and then I started to try different things, not just eating but creating. Cooking has become one of my better talents (and self- therapy time). I have fun doing it and I love feeling good about what I consume and feed my family (& friends).

If you’ve run across diet fads, infomercials or the latest ‘lose weight fast’ self-help books, that’s not where I’m going with this. To truly change your eating habits, it has to become a part of your lifestyle and you should feel good about it. If you’re not quite there, start small. *Story time. That epiphany I had about healthy eating while I was away from home, the reservation, invigorated my joy for cooking and eating. Fast forward to coming home to rural Native America. I was devastated. First, I really missed my friends and the life we created in a small, but growing, town. I loved that my supermarket choices were within a .25 to 3 mile radius and mostly, I now greatly appreciated the quality of food choices I had in an urban setting.

THE DILEMMA

Coming home, I am 45- 60 minutes from the nearest town or commercial grocery store slash super center. Sadly, no farmer’s markets included. I get super excited about the 90 minute excursion for access to a farmer’s market and other choice grocers. Locally, I have a few choices of grocery options… you would take your chances at the quality of the produce and your cash flow is significantly impacted with the semi-outrageous mark ups. As early as a month ago, I spent nearly $3 for 2 small in size, half ripe (anything’s possible) Roma tomatoes. Partially my fault for not making a list when I went into town just 2 days prior. Some weeks I have good experiences shopping local. Then I go back and it’s a total nightmare and I kick myself for trying to have a little faith.

One early shopping trip I had upon moving home, was mid-week and I had not yet come to terms with my predicament of limited access to groceries. [Seriously, some weeks I’d go into town for 2 grocery trips, not counting the weekend fix.] I was second in line to  check out and had some revelations. Please remove all judgmental thoughts from this scenario because it was more of a reflective celebration for my own habits. I observed the belt loaded in front of me with at least 3 family-size bags of chips, 6 – 12packs of soda, 2 Ramen cases, and a ton more processed & packaged items. The tab was just over $300.00. It wasn’t until I’d set my items on the counter, that took up maybe 1/3 of the belt, when I made a comparison of my grocery choices that included some meat products, vegetables, fruit, and juices. Number one, the visual of fresh vs. packaged captured my attention. Number 2, I was proud of myself because I remember when I used to be that shopper in front of me. Number 3, I wanted to be able to keep the habits I’d established with my family as we transitioned home.

Some of the challenges of preparing healthy meals while living in a rural area, are the local quality of groceries, the distance to travel to maintain my grocery needs and reminding myself of the benefits of eating healthy. At the time, I was going to be able to afford my food choices. However, there are times that the overall cost & commitment could be a barrier for an of us – rural or urban. It’s easy to slip into old habits and the limitations can be frustrating. Brace yourself. This is a big area that I try to share with friends, family and new comers to the area so that they can make adjustments and have a better transition to the rural lifestyle.

So what I have to offer you here are a few items I am also working to continuously implement. Up to now, winging it on grocery lists and no meal prep, has worked out. Where I have my own challenges are in wasting food and in not planning meals, a healthy-balanced meal may not always be an option.

The benefits of planning meals can be overly simplified by saying…

Meal Planning saves money. How?

Less waste, as all foods purchased will be used. Reduce expenses of unplanned trips for groceries (locally or 30-90 minutes). Alleviates impulse buying (if you stick to your lists). No frazzled mid-cooking crisis of missing ingredients (less stress). Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom/dad, single-parent household or someone in the home who makes dinner, meal prep will not only reduce the anxiety of “what’s for dinner?” but will add some continuity to the home. At least where food’s involved. That’s a good thing. If I wanted to dump on you, the multitude of studies that show either negative or positive impacts of eating healthy, I may as well write a book and get paid for this.

You might be asking, “Exactly how is my life better for spending time planning my meals?”

INVENTORY

Meal planning can be fun. If you’re not the organizer, maybe delegating the task of inventory to the kids or a spouse as a weekly chore would be helpful. Some people are just great at it and they LOVE it… I am not one of those people, however, I am that person designated. So I try to carry over my “Do what you Love and Love what you do” attitude into the process. Why fight it? Rock with it, roll with it, lean with it… whatever works.

There are online templates for meal planning. If you use social networks, they can be overwhelming. It’s important to find and save links to pages that speak to you. Not every internet personality is for you. I’ll continue to update and add any links I find helpful.

LISTS

Do what works for you. I’m the last person that would tell you how to go shopping, but do be purposeful and try to stick to your lists for meal planning. Too many options might be more of a distraction. Using grocery ads is good if you are shopping on a budget. If you’re not a guru with supermarket apps, find out what days your local papers have the circulars if it’s going to help you stay on budget. Ads also have sale items of your favorite ‘go-to’ items that you can freeze. I don’t know about your part of Indian Country, but around here, some of us have an extra freezer or two. If they’re not stuffed with deer meat. Lucky ladies I say.

What’s an item that I would stockpile?

I do go a little ape over fresh berries. Every now and then, I run across the .99 frenzy and take 3 of each, wash and freeze those suckers!! I use them in smoothies, salads, pancakes, pies and fruit topping. I get a little sad when I’m down to my last freezer bag and there’s no sale in sight. You feel me?

My husband and I love seafood. So we do occasionally splurge a paycheck on some wild sockeye salmon, swordfish, shrimp or something that sounds exotic. The boys also enjoy seafood, my daughter not so much. Win some, lose some. They’re really great for a quick 10-20 minute grilling and eaten as a main dish or in fish tacos. Shrimp is awesome in pasta or grilled with a quick fruit topping as glaze (freezer bag style). In the case you have a picky eater, try as best as you can to make the meals reasonably flexible so that you’re not prepping 2 completely different meals. It might even be just one main dish item that they can’t stand but the rest of the family loves. This might be a good time to let them be their personal chef for the night. It’s good practice to incorporate a picky eater’s delight into the menu once in a while. Now who’s the picky one (or bunch)?

In consideration of having to rack up some miles for a good grocery run, you do want to have an idea of what you’re cooking up. I’ve read and I think it’s a great idea, to be flexible. Once you get the hang of what your family enjoys, seeing something on sale will perk your ears up. Don’t be afraid to change up a meal and modify your list accordingly. As for the unexpected, it’s good to know your local grocers and products. This will help you in the long run, to know what you’re willing to negotiate. They may not have the best of what you need, but there are items that you can get away with for one or two meals.

In my local store, I’ve found and used the random generic mushroom soup to work up a mighty tasty brocolli-bacon-potato soup that was pretty darn awesome! So, don’t write the local grocers off, just be willing to experiment and let go of the mishaps.

RECIPES & MENU

As I mentioned earlier, we all know the meals our family loves. Keep a list of recipes, keep recipe cards (if you’re into that) and try new things. Incorporate more fresh veggies, create salads or meals that you’ve had in a restaurant, experiment with the varieties of rice and beans or lentils. Having been raised in a cultural-social structure, we often get teased about how good or bad of a cook we are. Don’t be afraid to pick up a cookbook. I’ve come to acquire different tastes for food and desserts that sometimes require a little order that calls for a recipe.

Start a seasonal or traditional fruit bowl for the house. This was actually one that scared me early on. I had this warped idea that buying fruit was going to cost me more financially than I could keep up with (as a full-time working, single parent with 3 kids in the middle of my Master’s program). In the beginning, it did. Not because the fruit was expensive, but my children LOVED it!! They were eating it up. They were STASHING (more like hoarding) the fruit that they enjoyed. I’d find random plums, strawberries or peaches in their beds, closets, bathroom drawers… it was getting a little crazy.

The conclusion I came to after talking with the kids, was that I wasn’t going to put more fruit in the bowl and they’d miss out. So we had a family conversation and came to the understanding that we’d keep fruit in the house as long as we didn’t let it go to waste. And we were all in agreement that having one or two pieces of fruit a day would get us through the week. In addition to replacing soda for fruit juice, I was totally excited that we easily transitioned potato chips and sugary snacks off the grocery list for fruit. Who knew?

You’ll decide what format works for you, but know what and when you’re cooking. Some households may not do all meals. Whether you eat at the staff dining room, pack a lunch, or you only prepare dinner… make a plan. Start with Google and type in the search bar: ‘menu planning template’ then click on images and you will have a variety… a slew actually of options. Pick one and get started with a draft menu with items you have on stock in cabinets and the refrigerator.

But I don’t have a printer.

You don’t need a printer… map it out on a piece of paper. Use the format from the internet options and run with it. Into the kitchen.

There are some serious meal planners out there. If you’re on facebook, you might think it looks like so much work. You’re going to cook anyway, why not be prepared? Try not to associate the ‘meal prep’ photos of people packing up on protein or for weight gain/loss. This is about you and your home, your healthy lifestyle. However little or more you can handle, just start. You’ll feel great about it and I hope that it becomes a habit.

That’s it folks.

May the force be with you.

 

 

 

 

Plural Ethnicity; A call for indigenous cultural sensitivity

In the folds of cultural sensitivity lies a new age of cultural dissonance, or what can be translated to a disharmony in embracing and/or participating in one’s culture(s) due to non-acceptance. In my own observation, over the past 10 – 15 years, I’ve witnessed changes in the local community and personal views of what makes one an ideal Hopi. I’ve thought about making this topic more broad and all-encompassing, but I can’t speak to what is going on in other Native/Indigenous communities by experience or with changes to policy related to cultural identity.

Aside from the requirement of being 1/4 Hopi descent to be an enrolled Hopi member, there are a number of qualities, values, teachings, practices and so on that would support how Hopi one might be. This particular call to the public is not about how qualified you are to be a Hopi, but our own indigenous cultural sensitivity; where we, as Native or indigenous people, create boundaries and self-monitor our level of sensitivity toward our children who have a plural ethnicity. And yes, one might sum it up by relating this to how we are practicing being Hopi.

For as long as I can recall and as recent as Saturday, people around the world speak in awe of our culture and the people of Hopi. It’s amazing how long we’ve endured and continue to practice our culture and maintain our language, even with the argument of, “To what degree?” What’s far more jaw-dropping is the lackluster idealism that eats away at our community through every imaginable avenue. We are absolutely our own worst enemy and you don’t have to be Hopi to see it.

Recently after hearing about the mongering of adults around a child with plural ethnicity, I found it harder to settle my own mind around this concern. I did however, mull on it and decide that this was too important an issue to leave untended. While we all have our own ideas of quality of life, whether that is spiritual or physical, we all have a responsibility to leave this world a better place for our children. This is my contribution for today.

Children of parents who choose to have a family (regardless of their tribal enrollment), have a right to explain to their own child(ren) who they are or where they come from. Even a parent will not be able to define that child or their children; who they become or how they contribute to the world. What we as parents can do is contribute to their existence. If we are fortunate enough to have a cultural or spiritual connection greater than ourselves, we provide only what we know and offer it to them through practice and experience. How it is interpreted and what a child chooses to do with that knowledge, is out of our hands.

People who are concerned with how Hopi (quantity or quality?) a child is or isn’t shouldn’t make it their business to interfere in what their parent or family is providing for them culturally. Out of respect for how each person chooses to maintain culture for their family, please remember that words hurt and the affect it has on a child, one can never know.

As we grow as a community, we can create opportunities to have bigger conversations about concerns with tribal policy or cultural practice. While we are in the presence of children, we should all aim to recognize their individual qualities, strengths and encourage them to learn more about where they come from and who they want to be. There is strong data to support long-term success in individuals with a strong link to cultural identity. Wouldn’t it be a greater investment to contribute to their success by encouraging them to learn more about their culture and language than the contrary? Let that be your challenge in this month, November 2015, being recognized as National Native American Heritage Month.

When A Warrior Returns

The idea for this piece came from a connection to the realities of Native American Servicemen, Warriors with a lifeline to the complexities of the transition “Home.”

I’d had friends in high school whose desire and sole mission was to enter a branch of the military and get off the reservation. It wasn’t until my son was fueled with a passion all his own, that the words and intent of “serving your country” invaded my heart and home. Mind you, he was in the first grade when he self-proclaimed he was going to be a soldier. Having that experience early on, I thought it might be a phase of Cowboys and Indians that he would outgrow and I could settle my nerves.

One night a few years later, I was jolted awake by his whimpering and heaving sobs. I sat next to him, trying to wake him from a dream. When he opened his eyes, behind the tears was a dark and heavy fear that he had just experienced. He started to tell me he dreamt he was at war and his best friend had died in combat. His account of the dream was so vivid and the details jarring that I came to tears realizing this was not just a childhood phase, my son had made a life decision in his early years that I would have to come to terms with.

I’m not sure that all mothers, parents or families have the same experience or similar epiphany. I spent a number of moments, like many of you, anticipating the day you’d have to say good bye to the child or children you so carefully tried to mold into a responsible young man or woman, preparing them to be independent with just enough spirit and courage to take risks that will improve the quality of their lives. When you can tell your children apart from the next room by the pitch in their laughs, the way their feet shuffle down the hall or just how quiet or loud the room gets in their presence, it’s hard to imagine their absence. All of these familiarities become the pitter-patter of your heart. Parenting and letting go is nearly as painful as their first moments tearing into this world. Our children are born Warriors.

Fast forward to reconnecting with friends who had gone to war or entered into a life of service. Some went in and came right out when they paid their dues. Others reenlisted and held tight to their commitment.

I’d later come to meet people who were dating or married to military men or who were military themselves. When the occasion arose, I got to visit with friends who returned from active duty and the experience in itself was not as heartfelt as it is to me now.

In my 20’s, brushes of conversations were limited to quick updates and I might have been more interested in where they’d been and what they saw than how they were doing. Not because I didn’t care, I wasn’t close enough to the experience to  be a better friend or support.

My early 30’s wouldn’t have been much different, except that I’d become more interested in making my experiences with people, more meaningful and intentional. I think I’d always had that the desire to be connected to people in my life, for any given amount of time, even acquaintances.

My role through this piece as an advocate has me rallying behind efforts, lending my passion to push for results that will benefit not only those close to me, but for indigenous communities with families just like yours or mine who may have sons and daughters who will or have taken on a life of service and may not return as the child they nurtured and adored, however, coming home needing ever more to be loved and understood after the complexities of war or active duty.

What wars are being fought today depends on the unintentional or intentional method of word placement to any given internet search site. Wikipedia hosts a front of documented American Indian Wars while search results for “American Indians prepare for war” draws up surface level interpretations of war paint, symbolism and an artist’s depiction of indigenous people gathering with spears and shields. Closer to home for my community, Wikipedia’s account of The Pueblo Revolt  does little to capture the significance of a day or days of revolt amongst Pueblo peoples across New Mexico and Arizona enacting vigilance in acts of war to reclaim their cultures, identity and end the deprecating and invasive practices of the Spaniards. The accounts of this personal war from the mouths of our elders draw anguish and tears, as oral history does not minimize or water down the horrendous events where so many shed their humble lives to afford their children and grandchildren a future rich with culture and humility.

Onward through centuries & decades, across history and wars that paint grotesque pictures of devastation through massacres  aimed at the genocide of indigenous peoples, termed rebels and savages, the original hosts of the land we now call America. Throughout these times, many a tribal member has aided the opposition, promised riches or access to the resources that made life in our quiet and remote lands a bit more glorious.

Today, we are moving into new frontiers where our history and warriors are acknowledged for their roles and contributions to past wars. A report published in September 2012 titled, American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Servicemembers and Veterans does a phenomenal job in the Introduction for acknowledging warriors, followed by a dry presentation of tables that compare the data of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans or servicemen against “All Other Races.” In the area of Veteran Analysis, two bullet points speak to income, educational attainment, unemployment, health insurance and disabilities. Whether you are well read or have a vested interest in the statistics, or the outcomes, of American Indian and Alaska Native people of any age, you know that it is merely a game to interchange the words low/lower, high/higher, lack or likelihood in front of any of those named categories to distinguish minority representation of the data. This is true not just of our warriors of service to America, but our warriors in the classroom in a one-size fits all educational system.

Just as teachers are preparing our children to lead lives of social accountability through civic service, independence, traditional values, character and innovation, our men and women are enlisting in service and sent into conflicts on behalf of an America that once treated them as the enemy in their homeland (and maybe continues to). This is the fork in the road that I’ve come to in observation of my fellow classmates, tribal members and friends who come home with little support for the transition back to a life they once knew. Family is still family, dirt roads remain unpaved, the solitude of a rural landscape does little to quell the war they’ve waged with themselves by strapping on a uniform, shelving cultural values and practices in hopes that the life of service will provide everything the recruiter said it would. An affordable education, employment preference, leadership skills and service to the great America.

In reality, Warriors return home to reservations, with limited opportunities for employment or professional development, and little support for transition back to civilian life. If one has significant medical needs, veteran’s hospitals are located in cities that  may require a couple hours for travel time. There may be additional delays in re-acclimation, having compromised cultural values and expectations based on their experiences and conflicts with war and active duty.

While some communities have local veteran’s affair offices that help with applications for specific assistance for veterans, a friend tells me that a large part of the transition lies with the individual. I came into my desire to advocate for veteran services after several experiences of veterans hit close to home. Some of these individuals have left this world while others are still fighting their internal wars.

The most common battle is that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. I’ve watched and listened to stories of how one’s PTSD has led to domestic violence, inability to communicate stresses, difficulty establishing routines of sleep, rigidity and the list goes on. Friends who have taken prescribed medication and attended counseling have expressed that they dislike the feeling of being on medication and most often resort to substituting alcohol or drugs, which later results in dependency. Counseling is sometimes interpreted as a sign of weakness and if traveling to larger cities for treatment, the cost can become a deterrent. Local counseling is not always favorable with the uncertainty of confidentiality and fears of being judged.

Some have tried local medicine men only to find that this does not help to absolve them of the haunting realities of war and active duty. Church or religion outside of the culture may be frowned upon, so a veteran must be resolute in their attempts at faith in order to seek counsel or refuge of this form. I believe this is true with any undertaking, big or small, personal or professional.

Limited access to adequate care for the variety of dispositions a veteran returns home with can fill one with feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy and maybe just plain resolve that there is no help.

Stark realities.

Each year that I hold off on posting this because I fear that there isn’t enough information, maybe I’m shooting too far, perhaps I missed the opportunity to say something profound. I’ve met people who have learned to live day to day, some who have absolved to chalk up their losses in returning home in exchange for life moving forward.

Thank you to the communities at large, advocates and partners who are working their tails off to develop creative services for our Warriors who make it home. Countless prayers and blessing to all who have served… and their families.

Social Networking & The Mama Bear

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.

Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot, nine days old.

I like my porridge hot.

And why wait 9 days to tell this story?

After a long 3 days, I woke to discover that my 10-year-old had a facebook account.

I can tell you right now, that I have counted to 10, then 30and one hundred. Rest easy, I’ve deleted her account – including the hideous picture of mom, fast asleep, titled “Always Sleeping.” My little sister, the only one having any sense to comment: “She’s going to be mad at you. ;P”

Half sleeping, half eavesdropping on breakfast conversation, I was seething.

I blog, facebook, tweet, and text but when my parental rights are sidestepped by a pair of uncles, Mama Bear comes out to play.

Social networking has its place (with purpose or not) in the lives of  many, including the comfortable palms, thumbs, ear canals, and pupils of my household. So whilst I confront the culprits with a mere question, DENIAL is not a river in Egypt, Denial is the muse for this post. As a mother and educator, I want this to be a teachable moment for anyone who’s interested, or the victim of brothers without children (sounds a lot like, wars without borders).

Crushing dreams.

My daughter is crushed that I’ve single-handedly erased her mini-facebook adventure. As I deleted her posts, pictures, and information, I was equally devastated. Mostly because she probably had more friends in 24 hours than I had in a week. So why should I feel guilt over being her parent and protector? I believe that social networking takes some immense responsibility and sometimes, that comes with learned lessons. I’d like to spare her some heart-ache & embarrassment. My teenage sons have illegal accounts and on more than one occasion, I’ve had them delete their accounts, only to see them merely re-activated or to have opened a new account.

What’s a mom to do?

Create a partnership with freedom to explore.

As a single-parent, trying to maintain the head-of-household status, sometimes it’s a compromise. They have facebook accounts created under the guidance of cousins, friends, and uncles. They also get to friend mom – not a choice, a privilege. With inappropriate posts or comments, they know they may suffer the consequence of a comment or intimate conversation with their lifetime stalker – you got it, mom. A price they willingly pay as it comes with being connected to friends so they might tell each other when…

they’ve had the worst cafeteria lunch,

how cute or swagged they look in a cheesy bathroom photo.

update a relationship status every other week,

or to have mom butt in on a 27 comment conversation to say…

“Go to bed or I will deactivate your phone. Love you.”

(I personally, love that one.)

Link in. Unplug.

I once walked into Safeway as a passerby stared at my son, then commented – “Nowadays, they’re coming out born like that.”

I didn’t quite catch her drift until she laughed and clarified that my son was plugged in to technology by his thumbs, eyes, and ears. Sure I took offense (not to her, but my lack of parenting), but it also had me stopping in my tracks to have him “unplug” so we could have a conversation while we shopped for our groceries. Most times when I am irrational, it takes some agitation before I gather my wits and think about how to creatively approach a situation.

With social networking, it involves ensuring that you have developed a relationship and alternate ways to communicate with your children or any member you connect with. Today, I sat with my daughter and asked her how she got her account. Lucky for me, we have built trust without fear. She did not hesitate to explain every detail, while I listened. I’d already scolded my brothers, indicating my permission was not given and they should know better. It took me all of 10 minutes to deactivate her account and tell her what I was willing to do. With a smile on her face and pep in her thumbs (ipod), she took to searching for “family social networks” and “social networking for kids.” We came across this link to acceptable sites for kids. While I don’t vouch for any of them, I gave some responsibility back to my daughter to explore them and see which she might like to try.

She has picked imbee, yoursphere, and scuttlepad as potential kid-friendly social networks. It’s actually exciting! We sat together and set up user accounts, with parental access. imbee requires a $1 verification fee, I was glad to pay because we are doing this to encourage safe risk-taking and exploring of technology as a resource. Many of these sites will allow her to blog, create small networks of friends, and be expressive. All great attributes I encourage her to develop and refine. She is creative, an amazing artist-musician, conversationist, and loves to laugh! She’s shy. Yea, I know, how does my description of her equal shy? It takes her time to be comfortable and nurture her spirit to be her total self around people. She’s like every other young, adolescent, coming into her own.

Choose.

I want my daughter and sons to know that they have choices. With their choices, comes added responsibility. But I also have a role to nurture their curiosities, inspire them to explore their opportunities, and guide them as they seek my advice or live to learn that as a parent, I will always be involved – to an extent. I choose today, to embrace technology as a resource and build an understanding with my daughter, that she too, has a choice. For now, it just doesn’t include facebook.😉

To each his own.

Pease porridge hot.

Developing Intentional Partnerships for Indian Education

Have you ever wondered about the opportunities that lie in waiting for you and why they took so long to present themselves?

I’ve been exploring the power of giving life to my passions by putting them out into the world to be delivered to a person, place, or idea where I can be an asset. Much like the germination process where pollen is released, carried by the wind or clinging to the wings of a hummingbird, without much intent, invoking the process of life. Sounds simple right? I’m learning that it can be. The power lies in embracing your journeys and being able to inspire others to do the same.

With that, I want to share the product that’s developing out of a thought being nurtured. I’ve just returned from presenting at Native Education Alliance’s (NEA) Gathering of Educators (GOE) in Sells, Arizona where I had many revelations about what I have to offer and the opportunities that are spurred by sharing information. If you know me, I make it a point to share as many experiences as I can for the benefit of bringing perspective, creating new meaning or understanding, and hoping to inspire people to enact change. The GOE is an event that is organized by Native Education Alliance, a small cooperative group of inspired educators from Tucson, Arizona and supported generously by committed indivudals who submit voluntary presentation proposals. Selections are conducted by a committee of NEA with the clear and distinct purpose of providing culturally relevant best practices to interested stakeholders and educators. Its inception is both ingenious and much needed in a time where Native or Indian Education moves towards innovation and establishing deep-rooted connections to the students we serve in all sectors of education.

The two presentations titled Creating Meaningful Partnerships; Engaging Families & Community in Support of Student Achievement along with Exploring Opportunities for Tribal Partnerships in Education were meant to engage practitioners in reflective thinking, evaluating current structures and resources in order to begin planning to engage in partnership development (both I am willing to share and make readily available to you via email). With hour presentation slots and 10 of those minutes set aside for evaluations, the opportunity to expand and take this into strategic planning for partnerships fell short. However, I’m excited to work towards that and will share what takes shape as it develops.

There were so many rich experiences that developed out of the 2012 GOE and I’ll take you through the realizations I’ve come to in the hopes that you are able to nurture, restore, guide & inspire 1 action to develop partnerships for your link to education or community. Here we go!

Gathering of Educators attracts the spectrum of educational practitioners and most times, the hosting organization requires their faculty to partake in the opportunity to increase their knowledge base for serving Native populations. A small twist of the arm, nonetheless, it’s a Saturday and we all know educators are unpaid, time and a half employees. In anticipation of this, I embedded opportunities to engage my audience. Indian Oasis Baboquivari School District of the Tohono O’Odham Nation, a true oasis in the desert, is rich with scenic views, an amphitheater style auditorium, and my favorite part – technology. It started out feeling like it was going to be a tough crowd to engage, but it quickly turned around as we got into inserting relevant stories to bridge content into context. While I don’t consider myself a cultural expert, I also know I tend to undersell my assets. I know this about myself and I still do it regularly. Go figure.

As we maneuvered through age-old topics with links to historical implications and building understanding for broken partnerships throughout Indian education, stories told from the perspective of our cultural elders furrowed brows and painted compassion. It actually made a whole lot of sense to me that we have to work harder to make these connections in order to break down barriers, even in adult education. Too often, as we progress (not really), we forget that across Indian country, there aren’t many exemplary stories (know any?) of attempts to restore the partnership between tribal communities. Historical impacts live on in the daunting tales and hollowing experiences of imposing a formalized educational system on indigenous communities across our nation, as well as globally. There is still hurt and anguish over the stark realities housed in museums, books, and now webspace, memorializing the pain.

Recognizing this allowed me to dig deep and change the direction of my presentation to encapsulate knowledge from the heart so that the relationships I was creating could be given some clout for the work ahead. If we are ever to move forward in education for indigenous populations, we have to make change relevant and purposeful.

As we moved through the recognition, then comparison of education structures of public education and the skeletal postulations of tribal education, it occurred to me that what I was attempting to do was monumental and not going to be covered in 50 minutes. In these moments, you have little time to restructure an entire presentation, but you have opportunity to leave an imprint.

Ask yourself these FUNDAMENTAL questions:

What are your educational aspirations for children?

What do STUDENTS want from an education?

How do we see education impacting our communities?

Where will students be able to apply their skills to come home?

*Think outside the frame of what is here for them vs. what they will bring back.

Whenever we come of age and choose to leave the reservation, we hardly think twice about when we’re coming back. You hear and read about the remote lands, equipped with little to no resources, poor housing structures under systems that do little to support their people, much less education. Grim? Desperate.

I’m here to tell you and remind those of you who may have forgot, WE are not a reflection of the print in newspapers or the statistics in databases that leave our schools with labels and our children facing their success one assessment at a time.

You need evidence? More Than That, a YouTube video in response to ABC’s 2020 documentary titled Hidden America: Children of the Plains (full video is now difficult to find, then again, it could just be me or Aliens). The filming of  2020’s Hidden America: Children of the Plains takes place on an Indian reservation and offers a small glimpse into the lives of 3 children who face difficult challenges in their life through family dynamics and personal choice. If you’ve watched it and your reaction is that it painted a pretty good picture, I can assure you that this documentary is a mere corridor into the soul of a child facing struggles such as those reflected. Surface.

I watched this video with my 10 year-old daughter, whom I consider fortunate, alongside her two older brothers. Heartwrenching, yes. Real? More than you could ever know. However, it’s the stories like this that get pushed to the forefront in order to justify poverty, poor conditions, and lack of progress for Indian country. Stories like this leave politicians with their foot in their mouths over statements that there’s no need to worry, then assuring the American people that there is a system in place for the poor and disadvantaged. From where I sit, ineffective systems that have been handed to us without the input from the communities they are supposed to support are a poor standard of accountability.

I’ve learned that there is little we can do about stories that capture hearts and boost ratings, except to respond and act. And that’s exactly what the tribal students of this community did. We need to support our students being their own advocates and develop the 21st century skills that empower them to respond and ACT. The power of technology is evident in their response.

So where do we go from here?

YES, I am going to make that BIG leap from poverty to partnerships. We see it all the time. Social media feeds RT messages of support and sponsorship for struggling people and programs. So how do we get from there, into our own backyards?

Back to the fundamental questions and a quick look at blending two worlds (wink-wink… presentation). The societal structures of indigenous communities everywhere were so far advanced, they carried us into this world and have sustained our people & cultures for hundreds of years (if not more). From the dynamics of cultural roles & responsibilities, social calendars (yes, we were planners), onward to clan systems. We need to take more credit for the ingenuity that runs through our veins. Long before Marzano and Understanding by Design, our entire existence (including today) revolved on systemic values and process.

Reciprocity. The “Pay it Forward” model sustains Hopi society. From the day we are born, the process has been set in motion into the time and belief of the journey to leave this world.

What does reciprocity look like in an educational setting? Partnerships. We’ve got to apply self-evaluation to our own tribal and school-based education systems. Evaluate our practices as a people and embed those factors that contribute to success into educational systems of support. This includes establishing a purpose (fundamental questions) for education and reviewing policy and practice to determine if they support one another. Engaging in strategic planning to clarify goals, who will be responsible for what, and how we are going to measure our progress.

We can’t do this alone and we shouldn’t. Shooting back up to some of my initial statements of imposed systems, we’ve got to build understanding and gain consensus in order to solicit partners to support the vision. Knowing what we are aiming for will help us prioritize immediate and long term goals.

When you have a destination, you almost always know who you want to travel with. Get out and engage your parents and community, local businesses and organizations in efforts to share the journey. Be expected to know what you’re talking about because your partners will want to know how they can help, who they need to contact, where they can be an asset, and when they should show up. Create intentional partnerships by setting clear expectations and the level of engagement you desire from stakeholders. The investment may take time, but you will see your rewards as you continue to evaluate, refine and nurture your partnerships.

Be transparent. Share the purpose, how you came to establish that goal, and how you expect it to support the learning community to benefit students. Invite them in to see the opportunities they have created for children to be successful and celebrate your progress with your partners.

I have some insightful and creative ways I end my presentation, but I am going to leave you wondering. So send me an email to request the powerpoints. If you aren’t satisfied, I’d be happy to talk about potential partnerships to work with your organization or learning community to develop a deeper understanding of how to build effective partnerships.

Thank you for reading to the end.

nrgi1@yahoo.com

Balls for Accountability: A Response to Matt Damon

After reading the article, “Matt Damon Slams Obama, Democrats: ‘One Term President With Some Balls Would Have Been Better'”the urge to respond from an educator’s perspective has been looming over the comment that brought me most concern, “He’s doubled down on a lot of things, going back to education… the idea that we’re testing kids and we’re tying teachers salaries to how kids are performing on tests, that kind of mechanized thinking has nothing to do with higher order. We’re training them, not teaching them.”

Regardless of where you sit under the umbrella of education (in the rain, out of the sun), being informed of and educating the public of the intent in responsible decision-making and accountability measures has to be a priority. Building awareness provides each of us, as stakeholders, the opportunity to respond and act.

We are no longer a society in waiting, each of us has the responsibility to become informed, engage in the practices of accountability, and provide a voice for our children. Education is a large forum and one significantly tied to mandates for reform. YES, there are several issues concerning testing and teacher salary, however, our data across the nation (and the world) reflects the urgency to improve the quality of instruction, create a means to evaluate progress, and give our children the skills necessary for innovation, leadership, and resourcing.

It is one thing to have influence and a sort of earned privilege for a quality education and quite another to be serviced in an educational institution imposed on diverse communities with limited access to resources, as a learning community, educator, administrator and most importantly, as a learner. As an educator, we have to learn to do more with less. Not because we want to, but in the light of the financial reality. Instead of shooting loaded words at the President and educational initiatives, perhaps one should take the time to understand the educational reform models of public education and decide if you would like to serve as an advocate for education by any means, large or small.

Mr.Matt Damon, my question to you would be, “What do you know about Transformative Leadership?” I for one have been working at embracing this leadership style and  reflecting on how my qualities and developed experiences have shaped me to become such a leader. It takes work, dedication, and a long-term commitment to developing systems and resources for the generations of children we are nurturing to take the lead. I sincerely hope that you have had time to reflect and come to resolutions to act on behalf of the children, through education, as an agent of change.

While I disagree with your loose tongue and quick judgments, I believe that we all have within us, a chord to be struck that will spur a movement to enact change. Your children may not have to grow up in the public education system and for that, they are blessed. My children are in this sytem, my commitment to supporting their educational outcomes has been to lead in education and work these trenches. How will you lead?

Continued blessings to you and yours,

Sahmie Sunshine Wytewa

nrgi1@yahoo.com

“Every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people is to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others so that the lives they are leading make sense.”

from Red Earth, White Lies by Vine Deloria, Jr.

Women in Leadership; Inspiring Women Towards Leadership

What are your thoughts about Women in Leadership? Take the poll before you read this blog, watch the video then post your thoughts.

Inspiring Women Towards Leadership

Social Good for 2012

How many of our modern-day heroes are women?  Media and society project a male dominant hero, but that’s not to say that the qualities of great leadership have not presented themselves through and for women.

Leadership is a natural quality in so many women that has not been nurtured to its full potential.  The capacity for women in leadership is exemplified through accessible personalities like Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg and the likes of the financially influential members of society who advocate for great causes that include Angelina Jolie and Jenny McCarthy. All have a desire to utilize their knowledge, talents, and influences to create change and opportunity.

As my contribution to changing the world in 2012, I would like to assist in creating direct opportunities that assist women in nurturing their skills of leadership through avenues of advocacy, committee representation, engaging in government & politics, and organizing community efforts. This can be accomplished through the sharing of knowledge, collaborative efforts amongst women & men with specific talents under a shared responsibility to nurture, restore, guide and inspire women towards leadership.

Through this contribution to Social Good in 2012, my dream of starting an umbrella organization called NRGI-1 (Nurture, Restore, Guide & Inspire-1) will be rooted with women building capacity for leadership. I have long sat on the bench, dutifully filling roles of mother, community member, and contributor inside the invisible lines. I am committing to painting the world with shades of women whose collective talents, aspirations, and qualities will present opportunities to enhance and drive leadership to its greatest potential.

My goal is to engage in activities or reading, develop networks of people, plan events or provide presentations, and gather feedback that will provide opportunities for women to nurture their talents, restore confidence, and guide and inspire each potential leader to share their experiences with 1 other; individual, community, cause, or personal commitment. I welcome and challenge you to undertake this same commitment, however large or small, in your own networks and communities. Together, we can change the world.

Sahmie Sunshine Wytewa

nrgi1@yahoo.com

“Every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people is to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others so that the lives they are leading make sense.”

from Red Earth, White Lies by Vine Deloria, Jr

Self-Identity; “WhoooOOoOooo are you?”

From the multiple frames of self-identity, in the voice of the Cheshire Cat, “WhoooOOoOooo are you?”

In a time when we are eager to create opportunities to develop individualism and nurture the talents for creative intellect; what are the factors, inspiration or driving forces that have shaped who you are and how you contribute?

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