⚓ Heritage Special: Honoring and Understanding Traditions, Customs and Beliefs

By NAT Staff

(Homepage image courtesy of artist Russ Docken and Wild Wings LLC)

running strong for american indian youth
(Photo Credit: Running Strong for American Indian Youth)

Native American Heritage Month

In 1990, President George W. Bush approved a congressional joint resolution, designating November as "National American Indian Heritage Month," now known as Native American Heritage Month in honor of American's first citizens.

Early Proponents

One of the proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca and Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans" and for three years they adopted such a day. In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association formally approved a plan endorsing “American Indian Day”. It directed its President, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, to call upon the nation to observe such a day. Coolidge issued a proclamation, the first appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.

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Photo of Red Fox James. Curtesy of Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress Public Domain

Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfoot Tribe, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor America’s first citizens. On December 14, 1915, he presented endorsements from 24 state governments at the White House. However, there is no record of a national day ever being proclaimed.

State Celebrations

The first official American Indian Day celebrated by a state was declared in May 1916 by the Governor of New York, Charles S. Whitman. In Illinois, legislators enacted such a day in 1919, and other states designated Columbus Day as their Native American Day.

Pow Wows and Festivals

A Pow Wow (also Powwow or Pow-Wow) is considered the most popular event held by tribal communities, and Native organizations serving urban and rural populations. Pow Wows are a gathering to meet and dance, sing, socialize and honor traditions. There are generally dancing competitions featuring traditional dances, often with prize money awarded. Pow Wows vary in length from a one-day gathering to well-known Pow Wows which can be up to one week long.

The Gathering of Nations three-day festival is the nation’s largest. It features over three thousand traditional singers and dancers competing for prizes. (Photo Credit: Derek Mathews, Courtesy of Gathering of Nations Limited)

There are six types of dances generally performed. They are the Men's Traditional Dance, Men's Fancy Dance, Men's Grass Dance, Women's Traditional Dance, Women's Fancy Shawl Dance, and the Jingle Dress Dance.

Each one signifies a meaning and is considered a celebration of history. And, there are inter-tribal dances where anyone may join and dance within the arena circle.

The participants who dance are not considered “performers” per se, as their motivation is to honor tradition and pay homage to their ancestors’ beliefs and way of life.

(Photo Credit: Derek Mathews, Courtesy of Gathering of Nations Limited)

Eleanor Spears Dove, Narragansett elder, samples a strawberry from a basket passed at the Narragansett Strawberry Thanksgiving, another popular event.

A Pow Wow is a great opportunity for photographers. However, there are instances where it is not permitted to photograph dancers. Ask the MC or an organizational staffer when it’s appropriate to take pictures. It is also suggested to request the permission of performers, as well.

Honor Thy Family and Elders

Jones Benally Family
The Jones Benally Family (Photo Credit: Rachel Running)

For Native Americans, family can extends further than parents and siblings. Some families are known to form an extended family. In these extended families, other households come together and represent a separate community within the tribe. Some family structures are matriarchal and others more patriarchal but being part of an extended family allows each individual to claim or be delegated responsibilities.

running strong for american indian youth
Young people and others revere elders as mentors and leaders. (Photo Credit: Running Strong for American Indian Youth)

Elders are regarded as highly respected people who provide wisdom and council. One is regarded an Elder when they reach their older years, although the age may vary from tribe to tribe. In some instances, if a person is a source of spiritual and meaningful wisdom, they are considered an Elder regardless of age.

The majority of tribes and Native American urban organizations maintain Elders’ programs, which signifies how much they are appreciated. It is not uncommon to see children serving Elders food at community gatherings, or acquiring comfortable seats for them.



Sacred smoke created from burning medicinal or sacred plants is a footprint of many cultures and religious followings worldwide. In North America, the practice is called smudging. The general purpose of a smudging ceremony is to purify and cleanse the negative thoughts and energy of a person. It is also used to purify a physical location.

There are four elements involved in traditional ceremonies. The first is a shell container to represent water. The earth plants which comprise the second element are cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco. The fire produced from lighting the sacred plants (one or more) represents the third element, and the smoke produced from the fire signifies air, the fourth element.

Elements included in ceremonies are cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco. (Photo Credit: Mother Earth Essentials)

The smoke which heals the mind, heart and body is wafted over the person (by hand or with an eagle feather) and the person being smudged ushers the smoke toward their direction and gently inhales. Afterwards, the ashes are returned to mother earth by disposing them on bare soil, where all negative thoughts and feelings have been absorbed by the ashes. Some enthusiasts smudge themselves, and others can lead a smudge by holding the container and directing the smoke to cover others.

In recent years, hospitals and health providers have modified their policies and procedures to accommodate smudging, because it is vital to so many Indigenous patients. Some school districts acknowledge smudging is important for Indigenous students, and there are written guidelines and protocols for schools to follow.

Connection to Mother Earth (Unci Maka)

native hope
Photo Credit: Native Hope

Every day is Earth Day throughout Indigenous communities, and the connection to Mother Earth is deeper than that of many conservationists. All life passes through Mother Earth, and perhaps most profound are the words of Chief Seattle in his Treaty Oration of 1854:

"Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event of days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”

Painting depicting Native American Harmony stereotype. (Photo Credit: Historic Ipswich)

As Ojibwe legend reads, the Creator sat alone in deep thought and created Mother Earth. From the soil of the Earth, two companions came forth, a man and a woman. Beside the man the Creator placed a bow and arrow. This signified the man was the protector and provider of food. Next to the woman he placed a birch bark basket filled with seeds, representing the natural resources given to the Ojibwe people. Then, the Creator blew life into the woman and the man and proclaimed, "Take care of Mother Earth, and she will take care of you. Take only what you need and remember to put down tobacco before you accept this gift from Mother Earth."


Photo Credit: NAT Archives

Before the age of global positioning systems or compasses, people looked to the stars to find their way. And before civilizations knew what stars were, people formed their own beliefs about their significance. In North America, indigenous tribes had differing ideas about what the stars meant, some believing that the night sky had spiritual meaning, and some attributing human-like qualities to the twinkling objects.

Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people of the past understood the stars and the sky, however this broadly applies to all ancient cultures. The Mayans, Celts, and Egyptians alike all had their own methods for tracking the movement of the stars and heavenly bodies, but all of these cultures have the common belief that the phenomenon above their heads was somehow larger and greater than they were. As such, the vast majority of ancient cultures associated the origins of everything, including the sky, moon, sun and earth with some form of mythology related to the stars. Astronomy played in an important role in early Native American cultures, serving as the basis for governance, agricultural practices and more. And studying the stars also caused tribes to theorize about the beginning of life in the universe.

The Pawnee’s Guiding Principles


The Skidi band of the Pawnee Indians referred to a ring of stars in the sky as “The Council of Chiefs.” The Pawnee believed the circle represented their governance style of elders holding council to resolve important matters. This constellation was paramount to the way the Pawnee interacted daily as well as their religious beliefs. They used the stars to set agricultural patterns and embody their own societal values. The Council of Chiefs was connected to their “Chief Star,” what is now referred to as Polaris, which represented their primary god Tirawahat. They built their lodges with openings at the top – not only to allow smoke to escape from warming fires inside, but to allow a clear view of the “Council” stars. Today, those stars are known as the Corona Borealis.

The Anasazi

crab nebula
The Crab Nebula

In New Mexico, researchers found a cave painting that appears to depict a supernova explosion; the orientation of a crescent moon and stars indicate that the art may represent the Crab Nebula, formed in 1054 A.D. by supernova. The Anasazi way of life remains somewhat of a mystery, but researchers found that the tribe built a solar observatory, suggesting that the sky was extremely important to the Anasazi way of life.

Navajo Creation of the Sky

A Navajo legend describes the Four Worlds that had no sun and the Fifth World, which represents Earth. According to the legend, the first people of the Fifth World were given four lights but were dissatisfied with the amount of light they had on Earth. After many attempts to satisfy the people, the First Woman created the sun to bring warmth and light to the land, and the moon to provide coolness and moisture. These were crafted from quartz, and, when there were bits of quartz that were left behind by the carving, they were tossed into the sky to make stars.

Hopi Blue Star

Like the Navajo, the Hopi believe there were worlds before this one. The modern era is believed to be the Fourth World, and each world that came before this one ended with the appearance of “the blue star.” In carvings created by the Hopi in the American Southwest, it seems what they saw may have led them to a belief in aliens, a belief that certainly retains a place in the culture of the U.S. to this day.

The divisions between Native American cultures were not unlike the divisions between the societies of today, so few myths extend beyond a single tribe. With the same sky overhead, ancient myths from around the world do share much in common. The History & Culture channel of the Chickasaw TV website features the tribe’s myths about Creation and the Great Flood, two stories repeated again and again throughout most cultures of the world, proving that, even when the world seemed impossibly large, many people were not far from each other, in terms of what they believed under the night sky.

R.C. Gorman
Photo Credit: R.C. Gorman. Available at Amazon


Photo Credit: The Stay-at-Home Chef

According to the Navajos, frybread was founded in 1864 at the time the tribe was force-relocated 300-miles to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. It was difficult to farm the new land, as it could not support the tribe’s needs for vegetables and beans. In turn, frybread was created as an additional food source using flour, sugar, salt and lard provided by the government.

The delicacy connects one generation to the next and reminds many of the painful narrative of the past. Served both at home and at gatherings, frybread varies from region to region, meaning there are different recipes. One can generally find frybread at State Fairs and Pow Wows.

the sioux chef instagram
The Annual Honoring Native Foodways event at UNC Pembroke, where many original dishes are celebrated. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef Instagram)

The recipe contains flour, water, salt, a small amount of oil, and baking powder. Ingredients are kneaded into dough. It is then rolled into small balls and placed into frying-hot oil. Some variations of this popular recipe include substituting mayonnaise for the oil, which produces a crispy, crunchy texture. In many households, frybread is mixed early in the morning and left in a large bowl covered with a cloth to leaven, and used throughout the day to prepare fresh bread when needed.

Frybread was named the official state bread of South Dakota in 2005.

Death Ceremonies

chris parfitt
Photo Credit: Chris Parfitt

There are 574 tribes across America. Many have their own variation on funeral proceedings, which includes the use of languages, symbols, ceremonial objects and practice. Traditions say the natural world is a sacred place and birth, life and death exist in an endless cycle.

Tree Burial was a Sioux tribal tradition and practiced by other tribes. It was also the custom of aboriginal peoples in Australia.

In traditional funerals, the family attends to the deceased, where they wash and dress the body and place it in a shawl or casket. The body may be honored for days prior to burial and embalming is avoided. Through modern technology, the body is preserved with refrigeration techniques, as well dry ice.

The Shoshone-Bannock protocol is the body lies in state, inside a tipi with a fire burning outside. Women feed visitors and children are taught the manner of how to enter the tipi and other traditional ways. Some families dress the deceased in moccasins, to wear as they travel to next world.

Around the year 1500, the conquistadors of Spain and missionaries introduced Catholicism to the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. Native Americans added those religious practices to tribal ceremonies, which resulted in a mixture of Indigenous customs and Catholic beliefs.

Historians believe burials similar to this re-enactment may have taken place in Readington Township, New Jersey, in the Cushetunk Mountain area. (Photo Credit: Hunterdon Review)

In all, every family and tribe follows their chosen way to honor the departed, and the length of mourning can vary by tribe.

Medicinal Peyote and Worship

Photo Credit: ICEERS

Peyote is a small cactus and Mexican Indians have consumed the plant for over 2,000 years to cure any number of ailments. Over the past 200 years, peyote use has been noted among Native Americans, mostly tribes located in the Southern Plains.

Medicinal uses for Peyote vary. It is applied externally for rheumatism, wounds, burns, snakebites, and skin diseases. The cactus can be boiled in water to produce “peyote tea”, its purpose to help heal medical ailments including tuberculosis, pneumonia, scarlet fever, intestinal diseases, diabetes, and the common cold. The peyote ceremony (or “meeting”) may differ among tribes, but it is always dedicated for healing a chosen individual and during ceremonies, everyone prays for the person who is ill.

Photo Credit: Transpersonal Spirit

It is important to remember peyote is considered a narcotic. Many people feel it is improper, and the healing ceremony should be restricted to pray for the medically challenged. Over the fifty-year period (1880s-1930s), the federal government attempted to ban peyote. But with the establishment of the Native American Church (NAC), they failed in the effort. Federal law now permits peyote use among members of the NAC, and to non-Natives residing in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon.

Vision Quests

A Vision Quest is a “rite of passage”, and generally undertaken by young males entering adulthood. Individual Indigenous communities have their own names for the rite of passage, and "Vision Quest" is the English-language connotation.

Among the cultures who practice this rite, ceremonies are generally led by Elders, and supported by the young man's family, friends and community. The process entails fasting for four days and during the Vision Quest, the young person prays and cries out to the spirits fr a vision, one that will help them find purpose in life, their role in a community, and how they may best serve the People. An elder monitors the participant over the four-day period, and the experience is interpreted by the quester and elder together.

canyonlands national park
A Vision Quest site located at Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah. Most locations feature a circle of rocks about ten feet wide. (Photo Credit: Emaze)

Sweat Lodge

A sweat lodge is a low-profile hut, typically dome-shaped or oblong and constructed with natural materials, for example saplings covered with blankets and animal skins. The structure is called the lodge, and the ceremony is regarded as a purification, or simply a “sweat”.

andrew soliz stands next to his sweat lodge
Andrew Soliz stands next to his backyard sweat lodge. (Photo Credit: Don Leach of Los Angeles Times Coastline Pilot

In all cases, the sweat is intended as a spiritual ceremony – it is for prayer and healing, and the ceremony is led by elders (or qualified parties) who understand the associated language, songs, traditions, and safety protocols.

Many tribes conduct sweat lodge ceremonies. The Chumash of California build their sweat lodges in coastal areas in close proximity to their residences. The ancient Mesoamerican tribes of Mexico, Aztec and Olmec, practiced their ceremonies as a religious rite of penance and purification.

first nations health authority
Photo Credit: First Nations Health Authority

The ceremony often includes traditional prayers and songs and in some cultures, offerings to the spirit world may be a part of the experience. Or, the sweat may be a component of a longer ceremony, like a Sun Dance.

Some key elements associated with sweat lodges include:

Training – It is necessary the leader of a lodge go through intensive training, where they are able to pray and speak fluently in that culture’s language. As well, they understand how to facilitate the proceedings in a safe manner. Leadership roles are generally granted by the Elders, not self-designated.

Orientation – The lodge door may face a sacred fire and be orientated in cardinal directions representing symbolism from that culture. The physical location of the lodge is considered an important factor in the ceremony's connection with the spirit world.

Construction – Sweat lodges are built with care and knowledge, holding respect for the environment and the materials being utilized.

Clothing – Participants usually wear simple garments, like shorts or a loose dress. Modesty is important, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water!

Due to some peoples’ underlying health issues, there have been reports of lodge-related deaths resulting from overexposure to heat, dehydration, smoke inhalation, or improper lodge construction. Before joining a lodge, be certain to ensure the facilitators are spiritually qualified and follow proper safety protocols.

(Editor’s Note: The Mythology section of this article was culled from NAT Archives, and its author is Grady Winston from Legends of America

Homepage image courtesy of artist Russ Docken and Wild Wings LLC.

Black Eyed Peas' Taboo Finds His Stand in Native Roots

"Rumble" Executive Producer/Co-Creator Tim Johnson (left) and Taboo

By Sandra Hale Schulman

News From Indian Country

“I owe it all to my grandmother,” says Jamie Luis Gomez, better known as Taboo, an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor and DJ, best known as a member of the hip hop group Black Eyed Peas.

His Shoshone grandmother showed him his heritage as he was growing up at fairs and powwows and Indian markets. He has carried that heritage onto an international stage, having won six Grammy Awards and sold an estimated 60 million records worldwide. His striking stage presence has always carried some beadwork or turquoise to keep him grounded, but the larger image of the group overshadowed him.

He had some well publicized problems with addiction but overcame it all over a decade ago. In 2008, Taboo was in the process of creating a solo album, but also focused on music he has co-written and performed that has been featured on many movie soundtracks, including Coach carter and Legally Blonde. His autobiography,

“Fallin’ Up: My Story”, was released in February 2011, but his real battle came after its release.

He was diagnosed with stage 2 testicular cancer in June 2014, he went through 12 weeks of intense, aggressive chemotherapy out of the public eye. Taboo says he was diagnosed after going to the emergency room for what he thought was the flu. He now is cancer-free.

“I had pain but I never dealt with it. I didn’t listen to my body. I went on tour until it got worse. I had tumors in my spine that had come from my testicle.” The six-time Grammy winner had been suffering from chronic pain after he fell off a stage in 2006. In 2014, he was feeling the pain intensify in his back and abdomen, and went to the emergency room. After a few tests, the doctor told him he had testicular cancer.

“The first thing I felt was shock and confusion. I could only think about my kids,” Taboo said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego. The next day, he went into surgery, followed by an aggressive chemotherapy. “There were times I wanted to give up,” he said. “It was brutal.”

His cancer is now in remission.

This battle gave him new ammo to help provide better health care access on Native reservations. He’s also visits cancer centers to give patients emotional and mental support.

In May 2014, Taboo released his solo single, “Zumbao,” which is “all about having fun, being infected by positive energy.”

In November 2016, Taboo released the single “The Fight” about on his successful battle against testicular cancer. The track was made in partnership with the American Cancer Society, for which Taboo is a global ambassador. The ACS receives all funds generated by the song. Taboo said “I’m so proud to release The Fight because it’s truly an anthem of survivorship. I want to use this song and my story to inspire and motivate people all over the world to live their best, healthiest lives possible.”

Then Standing Rock happened.

“This was my call,” he said “this was something I could get behind and do something about with my people.”

Hip Hop Caucus, creator of People’s Climate Music, partnered with Taboo, to debut “Stand Up/Stand N Rock”. This song and video were created in support of the Standing Rock Reservation and the Sioux Tribe, when they lead a peaceful, powerful, and diverse movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The anthem song was produced by Printz Board, the video directed and edited by Johnny Lee.

Taboo created the song which features actress and activist Shailene Woodley, and the Magnificent Seven, seven Native American artists from across North America. Also making appearances is Wind River actor Martin Sensmeier. The song gave a rallying cry to the movement and was awarded an MTV Video Music Award on live TV last fall.

Taboo At Seminole Fair

Earlier this year at the Seminole Tribal Fair and Powwow Taboo brought the Mag7 for a live performance and to premiere another video song called “We Are One” that calls for unity in these current times of division. Taboo has his own traveling tribe now and they are making some serious noise, much like rapper Litefoot did before he became a national native issues advisor.

Marvel Comics has been doing a series of videos called Becoming Marvel where they show cosplayers putting together and donning their costumes. It shows a lot of the work that viewers don’t normally see that is put into the design and look of elaborate costumes. The latest one features Taboo who grew up a fan of comics, but didn’t see any Native American heroes when he was growing up. But upon when he learned of the Marvel character Red Wolf, he wanted to embrace the character but not by dressing as him or portraying him — Taboo wanted to become Red Wolf. With the help of costume designer Lauren Matesic of Castle Corsetry, Taboo got his chance.

Red Wolf first appeared in Avengers #80 (1970) as a man named William Talltrees. After the success of his first appearance and a move to incorporate more female and minority heroes, Red Wolf got his own nine-issue series, except it was set in the old west. He appeared as an Anachronaut in the Avengers Forever run, but Talltrees was still the Red Wolf of the modern era until now.

Taboo As Redwolf

In the video Taboo speaks about the character in a way that it means more to him than just putting on a costume. The character and the outfit represent his heritage and his grandmother. He caresses his sharp red claws and smears black across his eyes. This seems to be a test, and if Red Wolf were to ever appear in one of Marvel’s live-action films or television series, I think Taboo would be first choice to play the character.

In music, films and life, Taboo has hit his hip hop stride and found his native voice.


⚓ 27 Navajo Criminal Investigators to Cover 27K Miles

Gallup Independent


GALLUP, N.M. (AP) _ Dale West, an experienced investigator with the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations, broke down in tears on his way to 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike's funeral May 6, 2016, and could not make it to the Farmington Civic Center where more than 1,600 people gathered to say goodbye to the beloved child.

``Everybody has different reactions when they break down,'' said West, who in recent months was promoted to director of the department. ``For me, it did not hit me until I was tasked with going to the funeral, and I was on my way there, and I couldn't do it, and I couldn't make it. It's those kinds of challenges that hit you.''

West was the supervisor of criminal investigations in the Shiprock District when Mike was kidnapped and taken to a remote location in the desert where she was raped and brutally murdered. West had been to the crime scene, and was instrumental in processing evidence that lead to the capture of Tom Begaye Jr. _ who was ultimately found guilty in connection with Mike's death.

Begaye Jr. was sentenced to life in prison Oct. 20, 2017.

``We've had other cases where an individual came by, picked up a girl, and then took her out to the middle of nowhere, but not to that level,'' West said. ``We have a lot of homicides on the Nation, multiple assaults, especially with domestic violence. You'll have an individual take a girlfriend or a wife out to the middle of nowhere and assault them. Those kinds of dynamics are fairly similar and, unfortunately, they happen more regularly. But children are not too common.''

For Gilbert Yazzie, a former police officer with the Drug and Gang Enforcement Unit of the Navajo Police Department who was recently promoted to criminal investigator, the breaking point was March 15, 2015, when Navajo Police Officer Alex Yazzie was gunned down and killed while responding to an active shooter call in the Sanostee area.

Gilbert Yazzie said he was among a group of officers with the Navajo Nation Police Department who had been deployed to pursue a suspect who reportedly beat up his mother and wife with a pistol. The suspect, identified as Justin Fowler, led the officers on a high-speed chase to Red Valley, Arizona, where Fowler fired an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing Officer Alex Yazzie and wounding officers James Hale and Herbert Frazier.

``It was pretty much the hardest thing that ever hit me in my 18 and a half years with the Navajo Police,'' Gilbert Yazzie said, recalling the shooting, and the moments the officers fell. ``That would stay with me forever.''

Frazier was shot in the shin and Hale was shot in the right leg, which had to be amputated. The suspect was also shot and killed. Gilbert Yazzie credited the late police officer, Houston Largo, with saving Hale's life.

``He was the one who basically saved James Hale after he got shot. He was bleeding. (Houston Largo) had a tourniquet on him. Put the tourniquet on to almost stopping the bleeding. Otherwise, we would have lost James.''

Two years later, Houston Largo was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call in Casamero Lake. The suspect, Kirby Cleveland, was arrested, charged with murdering Largo and is in custody awaiting trial.

``I responded there as well,'' Gilbert Yazzie said.



Both Gilbert Yazzie and West said they decided to become criminal investigators because they were moved by a desire to get more involved in the investigation and prosecution of crime on the Navajo Nation, where most crimes or 90 percent of the cases _ are related to drug or alcohol abuse, and the top cases in terms of volume include aggravated assault and sexual assault, according to West.

``The violations against not just women and children, but where we are seeing the rise is on sexual assaults on men on men,'' West said. ``So that's where we are seeing a spike. It's increasing.''

West could not immediately release statistics on the number of cases investigated by his office because data is kept manually, a challenge the department is trying to overcome with the collaboration of the Division of Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar and Navajo Chief of Police Philip Francisco.

``One of the things that CI is different than patrol, they are on electronic data base where they input in a computer. CI is all paper files,'' West said. ``We never had the funding to implement a data base. What we are working on, currently, is on a comprehensive computer program that would integrate public safety. So that's where we are working ... to get everybody on board and that would help our statistical base in tracking a lot of those numbers.''

In March 2016, the Navajo Division of Public Safety reported an average annual criminal statistical data of more than 250,000 offenses, 30,000 arrests, 12,000 DUIs, 250,000 calls for services within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Nation.


On top of investigating homicides, the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations also serve as the Nation's coroner, which means the staff investigates all deaths, including death of natural causes.

``We are the OMI for the Nation,'' West said. ``Sometimes people joke we are the grim reaper because we show up at all the death scenes.''

The number of deaths on the Nation ranges from 500-700 a year, with spikes in suicide in certain years such as 2015 and 2016, where at least one of the seven districts reported 20-30 suicides in one year, West said, adding the number of homicides ranges from 30-50 a year.

The task is monumental, considering there are only 27 criminal investigators covering a population of about 300,000 on a landmass as large as West Virginia, or 27,000 square miles. It's a monumental task, he said, that depends on strong collaborations from partners such as FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He takes the recent visit of FBI Director Christopher Wray as a testament to that partnership.

``It's a big deal,'' he said. ``For a director to take notice and recognize the close working relationships that we have was a very positive thing. A lot of times we have policy makers in Washington, D.C., because that's where we get our funding to operate our police department and criminal investigation as well as our department of corrections, through funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior.''

Wray, who made a quick day's trip to the Navajo Nation early March along with the heads of the FBI divisions in Phoenix and Albuquerque, Michael DeLeon and Terry Wade, respectively, visited a homicide scene on route from Gallup to Window Rock, where he met with the Navajo leadership, including Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. West said his department provided Wray and his group with different crime scenes they could visit to get an idea of the remoteness and challenges processing crime.

``We gave them a variety of scenes and from there they picked and chose. And that's something they didn't want to disclose, their travel routes,'' he said.

West said one of the challenges working with the FBI has always been ``their high turnover because the agents are here only for a few years and then they are transferred to another location.''

``So when you bring somebody in from the outside that starts working enforcement and individuals who don't understand the communities, the tradition, the culture the taboos and the large vast areas that we cover, that can be sometimes a challenge,'' he said. ``If you have a good FBI agent that comes in, the better working relationship they have with the CI, the better the case goes because the CI is familiar with the relatives and who needs to be talked to, the criminal histories, the family histories, the locations where they need to go.''

West said Navajo criminal investigators are recognized not just as tribal employees but also as a federal nexus of federal employees.

``We are very unique because we not only do tribal enforcement but state enforcement and federal enforcement. You don't have any other agencies like that within the Nation that have those duties and responsibilities,'' said West.


Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com

Wells Fargo Donates $13M to Native Groups in First Phase of $50M Commitment

One grant recipient is the GRID Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund. The organization helps tribal communities achieve clean energy goals while providing financial savings and job training opportunities. (Photo Credit: GRID Alternatives)

To support greater economic empowerment in tribal communities, the Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded nearly $13 million to nonprofits supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities as part of its five-year, $50 million commitment to expand its focus on tribal philanthropy. The funding will help increase homeownership, energy sovereignty and workforce development on tribal lands, promote development of native owned small businesses, and help build capacity for nonprofits to better serve their clients in Indian Country.

The grants to 25 organizations range from $50,000 to $5 million and fall into four broad focus areas:

  • Helping tribal members succeed financially. Grants to organizations like Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition and Cook Inlet aim to help tribal members build financial assets that can be passed from one generation to another or leveraged for post-secondary education or starting a business. Grants to ONABEN and American Indian Chamber of Commerce Education Fund will promote entrepreneurship and development of native owned businesses.
  • Advancing tribal homeownership. Grantees First Nations Oweesta, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Minnesota Housing Partnership and the National American Indian Housing Council are among several focused on tribal housing initiatives including down payment assistance, affordable housing solutions and expanding the capacity of Native Community Development Financial Institutions.
  • Advancing energy sovereignty. A $5 million grant to GRID Alternatives provides seed funding for the organization’s Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund to catalyze the growth of solar energy and job training opportunities on tribal lands.
  • Capacity building for native nonprofits. Native nonprofits serving critical needs in Indian Country — including the National Indian Council on Aging, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society — received awards to build their organizational capacity and expand services.


“We believe it is important to support nonprofit and community organizations that empower tribal communities to determine their own way of life on their own lands — according to their time-honored cultures, traditions and beliefs — while also providing access to the tools and opportunities that can lead to financial success and well- being,” states Jon Campbell, President of the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Spearheading the initiative is veteran banker Dawson Her Many Horses. An enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, Her Many Horses brings 16 years of banking experience to the dedicated role. As senior vice president and senior relationship manager, he works closely with Cora Gaane, head of the bank’s National Tribal Philanthropy, as well as a cross-functional advisory council focused on identifying and addressing challenges within American Indian/Alaska Native communities through Wells Fargo’s business and operations, stakeholder and community engagement, policy and philanthropy. Based in Las Vegas, Her Many Horses serves customers throughout the United States.


Dawson Her Many Horses with Dr. Crazy Bull at the 25th Anniversary Gala for the American Indian College Fund. (Photo Credit: American Indian College Fund)

Wells Fargo has served tribal governments and communities for more than 50 years and currently provides capital and financial services to more than 200 tribal entities in 27 states. In 2016, the company developed and published an Indigenous Peoples Statement in consultation with tribal leaders, indigenous stakeholders and their representatives, to help guide Wells Fargo’s decision making for projects where proceeds of Wells Fargo financing may potentially impact American Indian, Alaska Native or other indigenous communities.


“We want to play a larger role in the development of tribal economies because we believe once tribes become financially successful, they also become more sovereign,” states Patty Juarez, National Diverse Segments Director. (Photo Credit: Wells Fargo)

The following organizations received funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation in 2018, the first year of Wells Fargo’s five-year commitment:

  •  Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corp.
  • Americans for Indian Opportunity
  • American Indian Chamber of Commerce Education Fund
  • American Indian College Fund
  • American Indian Science and Engineering Society
  • American Indian Graduate Center
  • American Indian Higher Education Consortium
  • Cook Inlet Lending Center
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • First Nations Oweesta
  • GRID Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund
  • Housing Assistance Council
  • Indian Land Tenure Foundation
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation
  • Minnesota Housing Partnership
  • Native American Finance Officers Association
  • National American Indian Housing Council
  • National Congress of American Indians Fund
  • National Indian Council on Aging
  • Native Americans in Philanthropy
  • Neighborhood Reinvestment
  • Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition
  • Operation Tiny Home
  • Prosperity NOW

How to Apply:

National nonprofit organizations serving individuals, families and businesses in Indian Country who wish to be considered for a grant under the foundation’s commitment should contact AIANPhilanthropy@wellsfargo.com to determine eligibility. Community-based, local 501(c)(3) organizations serving the American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities can continue to apply for grants through Wells Fargo’s online tool.

National Center Awarded $75,000 UPS Grant

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (The National Center) was recently awarded a $75,000 grant from the UPS Foundation. The National Center will use the grant to further develop and promote the Native Edge portal – the organization’s innovative online platform that connects Native job seekers with employers and provides interactive educational business content to its users. The UPS Foundation drives global corporate citizenship and philanthropic programs for UPS.

“The National Center is honored to have the support of The UPS Foundation as we further develop the Native Edge portal,” said Chris James, National Center President and CEO. “UPS and The UPS Foundation have been tremendous partners with our organization through the years and have shown incredible corporate leadership. We look forward to continuing this partnership as we work to provide yet another valuable tool to Native American businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Chris James, NCAIED's President and CEO

The Native Edge portal is an online community designed to be a one-stop-shop for doing business in Indian Country. It has four distinct components:

  • The Hire Edge, which helps Native American business owners find employees, and job seekers to find potential employers. It also helps Corporate Diversity Recruiters exceed their diversity goals by matching them with Native American workforce.
  • The Native to Native (N2N)Edge community allows businesses and entrepreneurs to network with each other and initiate new relationships.
  • The Training Edge, which provides business owners and their employees with interactive tools and training sessions to help in their professional development.
  • The Procurement Edge, which is a database for both federal and corporate procurement opportunities, and also allows for Native-owned businesses to partner and team with each other.

Established in 1951 and based in Atlanta, GA, The UPS Foundation identifies specific areas where its backing clearly impacts social issues. In support of this strategic approach, The UPS Foundation has identified the following focus areas for giving: volunteerism, diversity, community safety and the environment.

On an annual basis, UPS and its active and retired employees have invest more than $125 million in charitable giving around the world. The UPS Foundation can be found on the web at UPS.com/foundation. To get UPS news direct, visit pressroom.ups.com/RSS.

“The UPS Foundation is honored to support the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s mission to increase economic development and entrepreneurship in Native American and Alaska Native communities,” said Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS. “Our goal is to fund powerful programs that make a lasting difference to the global community.”


About The National Center: The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. With over 40 years of assisting American Indian Tribes and their enterprises with business and economic development – they have evolved into the largest national Indian specific business organization in the nation. Their motto is: “We Mean Business For Indian Country” as we are actively engaged in helping Tribal Nations and Native business people realize their business goals and are dedicated to putting the whole of Indian Country to work to better the lives of American Indian people- both now… and for generations to come.