Strawberry: The Food of the Skyworld

by Doug George-Kanentiio


Among the traditional Mohawks there is a special appreciation for the strawberry plant-called Niihontesha. It is a unique plant as its seeds are outside of the skin of the berry and is the first one to ripen in the early summer.

The strawberry plant itself comes from Karonhia:ke (the Skyworld). It is said that when the first human type being descended to the earth from the sky world (Karonhia:keh) she brought three plants with her: Niihontesha, Onenstateh (corn) and Oienkwa:onweh (tobacco).

Called Atsitsakaiion (Mature Flower) Skywoman created the current dimensions of the continent we call Anowara:kowa (the Great Turtle) as she danced counter-clockwise, her feet caressing the land as the seeds of the plants took root and grew. The rhythm and style of her dancing is carried on by the Mohawks to the current day with the “Women’s Dance” songs said to be the first ones sung by human beings in this part of the world. It is also the food which sustains us once our physical bodies die and our spirits begin their journey along the great star path back to Karonhia:ke which lies beyond Teka:tsi:stoh:kwaieron:nion:ha:ton (the “many constellations” aka the “milky way”).

Sky Woman

When Iroquois Mother Goddess, Sky Woman, fell from the sky she was clutching strawberries in one hand and tobacco in the other.

When the strawberries are ripe in their natural state in the fields a group of female and male spiritual advisers called “faithkeepers” (Iakoterihonton for the women and Roterihonton for the men) will counsel the leaders of the nation (Iakoia:ne-clanmothers and Roia:ne-male “chief”) that the time is right for the people to gather at the longhouse to celebrate the return of the plant.

A one-day ceremony will be held during which the people will prepare a special drink of strawberry juice and maple syrup, blended to be light and refreshing. The leaders will address the plant itself as the Mohawks believe that which grows, whether tree, animal or earth, responds to the human voice. The Mohawks have long held that water and other earth elements have what is referred to as their own way but interlocked with our lives. They react to what we say and particularly the music we make with our voices and minds.

Harsh, angry music or words deter a plant’s growth, just as it will a child, and actually effect the energy and appearance of lakes, rivers and streams. Music of this kind also has a negative impact on the water we consume and since our bodies are mostly liquid that kind of angry human expression may bring harm to ourselves.

By outwardly expressing thanks to the strawberry, we release its curative and nutritional powers. The Mohawks are careful in their selection of which berry to pick and will always leave the first plant as it is the guardian for the rest. As the picking takes place the Mohawk harvester is saying words of gratitude and apology for taking the fruit of the plant, assuring it that enough is left behind to regenerate and that it will be used for the right purposes. No chemical is permitted as this may bring harm to the fruit.

festival attendees

Attendees at the annual festival.

Once assembled the people will bring the strawberry to the ceremonial place and will take their seats according to which of the three clans (bear, wolf, turtle) they belong. The individual will rise and give thanks using a quiet and respectful tone. After this is done the clanmothers will announce to the people that in the past few months a certain number of girls (Ieksa:ah) have been born since the Midwinter Ceremony in winter. They are now ready to be shown to the people to be welcomed into the longhouse family. The female infants (boys are named at another ceremony months later) are carried by the Roiane to the centre of the longhouse and show to the people and to the four directions with their new names spoken so that all of creation will know of this new being.

The names given to the girls are theirs along and will be used throughout their lives as the primary means by which they will interact with the plants, medicines, animal live, the earth and by the spiritual beings. These are called Rationhia:kehronon (sky people). Others may call them “angels” but to the Mohawks the relationship is much more dynamic and involved. The sky people will, depending upon need and specific request, provide guidance and direction to the infant throughout their lives.

The Strawberry Ceremony is one of the most ancient of all Mohawk rituals. Throughout the year the preserved fruit will be used to give thanks for the gift of life. Since it is in a heart shape, with long root threads resembling arteries and veins, it is an excellent natural medicine for that organ. People who have heart disease or are recovering from a heart attack are advised to heal by consuming the fruit and drinking tea from its roots and leaves.

Eleanor Spears Dove, Narragansett elder

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

It is said the strawberry plants likes to be among humans and can be found in its natural state near the homes of the Mohawk people. It is also taught that other humans from across the salt water will bring about great environmental destruction to the Great Turtle to the extent that indigenous plants and animals will disappear. In time, natural strawberries will no longer grow, a certain sign of the great ecological changes now imminent.
While the strawberries carry on their original instructions it seems human beings are now far from theirs. Yet the Mohawks continue to celebrate this most wonderful of Skyworld gifts.

(From News from Indian Country)

Poems by T.W. Martindale

About the Author

T.W. Martindale is the daughter of Yona and Oginali and has two sons.  She was born in Montgomery, Alabama and spent the majority of her life in Tennessee.  Known as Sagwu Usdi, she is proud to say, “I am Cherokee by blood.”  Ms. Martindale writes her poetry as a tribute to her ancestors who suffered indescribable hardships and abuse.  She hopes that her readers will be blessed by her creative expressions and wishes them internal light and healing.


What do you, if I may ask, worry about in your “perfect” little world?
Grant me the pleasure of knowing this one thing
Is it for the safety of your family that you yearn?
Or is it your wish to possess that which you do not, but others have?

Come travel with me on a journey through another one's mind
Become one with me as I ponder the reason Yonah cried.
Can you open your heart to receive the unknown?
Or are you afraid of it Afraid to see the person you really are?

Come and see Hear the man, Yonah, as he cries.
Feel with me the heartache he feels for the pain of others from long ago.
IF you feel at all, you will feel as I feel.
Our spirits are ages past due for a release of feeling for others and our uncaring ways.

In his hand, he holds a book One he hopes will lead him home.
He is on a quest for his family and a people long ago.
As he reads, he begins to cry But Why?
Others walk by and see his tears Tears of sorrow, which can not be contained.

Those passing by can not understand these tears
The tears he sheds are crystal clear, for they are pure of heart.
They are shed in sadness for loved ones he has found.
Shed not only for them, but those that they knew.

Yonah is in search of his family but See what he has found.
He sees The Trail Of Tears shed by his family and those of their friends!

In his mind, he has walked with them hand in hand.
He has run with them for eternity, it seems, from those who oppressed and murdered them.

Have you yet to understand the reason for his tears?
Or are his thoughts so different from yours that you do not see?
Little does one understand the mind of another who is unlike them.
Many are those unwilling to identify with those who dare to be different.

I feel for each and every people who are or have ever been.
Do you care for others and the injustices they have born?

Are you able to cry with those who cry?
Have you ever cried for those who cried?

We need to learn to cry for those who longed to be free
Reach into your soul for the crystal tears you have long forgotten.
These are perfect drops, like Yonah's, and shed because of the cruelty of man.
Those who cried before him are the reason for the crystal tear drops that Yonah shed.


Perception is a wonderful thing

So unfortunate are we to be caught in a web of loneliness.

Struggling in this uncaring snare, we yearn for a loving heart to call our own.

Speak into the wind for it will carry our cries to the right ears.

Is there an escape?

Perhaps, yes If only in the recesses of our minds.

Wait and listen Hear the one searching for you.

Reach out with your soul and touch another to embrace it ever so close.

Restless, empty hearts Stand still!

Listen to the sounds of silence as the wind softly kisses your skin.

Reach out, eyes closed… To touch another just like you.

They too need one to trust, to share themselves, not wanting to be alone.

Love is like the wind with many ways to go and so many stories yet to tell.

Speak then listen…Someone is waiting to hear and answer your pleas.

Open your arms to welcome the one calling for you.

Like a kiss in the wind, they’re feelings are there, carried by and through the wind.

Answer the heart that is YOUR heart

They too are alone and have need of someone they can trust with their love.

Reach out, hear and FEEL them speaking to you!

Softly, yet so loudly hear the voice say, “Just kiss the wind For I AM HERE.”


Gracefully and silently he moves through the night the wolf.
He is searching but for what he does not know.

There is something something special uniquely HIS.
It must be there, For it is just like him alone.

He cries a woeful, lonesome cry.
There is no answer just the echo of his pleas into the night.

He cries, ” Is someone there?
Someone who cares? One like me also alone?”

Listen! The silence roars!

Looking. Searching. Needing
A yearning need.

Stop! Look. Listen.
Yes. Yes. He hears it. His quiet companion.

It whispers in the darkness, ” Here I am. Here I am.
Do you see me? Do – you – see – me? Remember me? “

Gently and softly it caresses his senses “I am here.
Reach out to me. Sing to me. Feel me. Know me. Love me

Yes, I too have need of you.
Remember me? Someone alone just like you”.

” Where? Where are you? “,
The lone wolf cries.

” Here. Let me caress your face your soul.
Sing to me your soothing love song and I will bathe you with my presence.”

” Yes, yes, I remember.
We are not alone, you and me

And to you, I gladly sing my song of love and longing
My friend my lover, the moon, my quiet companion “.


My thoughts are forever restless. So endless.
Echoing questions come
rushing through my mind.
They are questions that refuse to be silenced!

So many in numbers. Yet they linger unanswered.
Many are the dreams
that continue unfulfilled.
Dreams that began so innocently. But still.

Perhaps a little selfish in nature.

A path seemingly for the purpose of self-fulfillment,
Thinking to establish who this person is. Such arrogance!
In the search, my eyes have finally opened.
They have opened to the significance of my journey.
In my conceited mind, I thought I knew, but did not.
It is of greater consequence than searching for one’s self.
Much greater. For it is to seek out truth!!

The truth and nothing else will put my mind at rest.
But this truth seems to be beyond my reach.
For to reach the truth, I must find the past,
And to find the past… I must reach the truth.
As my mind frantically grasps for it, I can feel it. Hear it
I hear truth whisper softly in the still of the night.
It touches my face and down into my soul.

Its answering pleas are written in the wind.
Yes, truth reaches out and soothes in a gentle caress.
It speaks with the voices of loved ones long since past.
I can hear many voices thought silenced long ago.
Just as I,these too refuse to be silenced.
They are the voices and shadows of families lost.
Lost.Seeking to be found by kindred blood.

Listen to the voices as they echo in the night!
Feel them as they are carried by the fingers of the wind.
Hear the lonely sounds of their anguish and pain!
They reach out in the dark silence of the night.
Reaching out to me..AND to you.
Torn from their homes and loved ones. They cry out!

“Here we are. Do you not feel our presence? Hear us!”

Yes.I hear them. and you can too.
Voices like whispers, will us to rest from our frenzied searching.
As we frantically sift through endless information, they wait.
Waiting..Waiting to show us where the true journey lies.
It is not merely a search for our OWN identities.
Granted.this is a truth that one must seek, but not just so.
We must reach into the past for those deserted and forgotten.

A journey that began as a search for me has changed directions.
But no! It has not changed its course altogether!
It has altered its path to become one with that of forgotten loved ones.

They have subtly merged their paths like a flowing mountain stream.

They seek to be reunited with those of us, their kindred blood.
Yes, this too is what I truly wish!
To finally find, not only me, but also all those I hold dear.

I have felt their sorrow AND their pain.
Where once they knew the freedom we so proudly boast,
This same liberty was quickly and ruthlessly stolen!
They cried out, but there was no one to hear and none who cared.

Their freedom, their lives- even their dignity was torn apart!
Even so, this merciless massacre of human worth may still be mended.
But not by apologies, nor by human platitudes can it be done.

This mending must be done by us, their surviving descendants.
Although the damage can not be totally repaired, we CAN ease their pain.

They call to us as voices whispering in the wind, to bring them home.

We must listen! We MUST for upon us they rest their hopes.
NOW is the time for us who love them to BRING THEM HOME!
Their echoing pleas can be heard if we will only listen!
Listen! Answer! Bring them home and give them rest.

They gave up their lives for the ones they loved.
And for these same people, we search our family ties.
Yes we too love them just as they loved before.
Our endeavors to bring the past to the present prove this is true.

Time for blind eyes to be opened no matter the tongue or nationality.

We must bring them home and give them rest.
We must listen. Listen to the whispers in the wind.


An insignificant creature am I
I’ve nothing to boast but that I exist.

Thought quite unimportant, I can be more.
Come look upon my pitiful form and you will see

I am looked down upon and sneered at by some.
Totally overlooked by others, I’m of no consequence at all.
Oh, meaningless wretch that I am! This is my life.
One day at a time, step by step, inch by inch I WILL BE MORE!

Having so little to offer, but I offer ALL that I am.
Asking what I have to give, I answer, “I give you me.”
Not much am I now, but someday, somehow, I will be more.
Watch me. Tend to me. Nurture me, and you will see!

Slowly but surely, a day at a time I am changing.
I feel the growing pains come and retreat to my shell.
All who have laughed me to scorn believe to have proven their opinion of me.
But deep inside my haven, the metamorphosis begins

Having withdrawn for but a while, I only wait
In the world I have cocooned about myself, I am growing changing.
Taking on the life of a recluse, I know not how long I must wait.
But after the storm of mocking and scorn, I will emerge and….Enter The Butterfly!

LA Skins Fest Launched 13th Annual Film Festival

Patrons attending the Annual Skins Fest at the famous TCL (Grauman's) Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (Photo Credit: Antonio Gilbreath, AG Media Enterprises)

The LA Skins Fest, presented by Comcast NBCUniversal, took place November 19th-24th, 2019 in Hollywood, CA, and it was a resounding success. Every year, several Native-made movies are premiered that feature Q&A’s with Native American filmmakers, panel discussions with industry professionals, professional mixers that feature new musicians and an award ceremony. The ceremony honors the filmmakers, leaders and youth who show great talent and make a genuine difference in Indian Country.

“NBCUniversal embraces the power of diverse storytelling and has great respect for the rich traditions of Native Americans,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at NBCUniversal. “Our partnership with the LA Skins Fest helps us share these unique narratives with the world.”

“We have seen Native Cinema grow into a genuine force with a voice that is finally being heard,” states Ian Skorodin, Executive Director of Skins Fest and its writing labs geared to support future Native filmmakers. 

 Schedule of Events That Took Place

Amazon Prime Video presented the LA SKINS FEST Opening Night Industry Mixer. Amazon Studios hosted the event on the historic studio lot in Culver City. The mixer celebrated Native American filmmakers, writers, actors and community leaders.

The LA SKINS FEST conducted the annual Native Writers Pitch Fest, sponsored by FilmLA. Native American writers pitched creative executives, literary representation and corporate partners. This was followed by an Original Content Panel, presented by Spectrum, that offered advice on following up with executives, maximizing the pitch session and learning about the Spectrum Originals brand.

A staged reading of Native American scripts from the LA SKINS FEST Writers Labs followed the panel, and concluded with a celebration and announcement of the fellows of the inaugural Native American Animation Lab in December of 2019, sponsored by COMCAST NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Studios, Crunchyroll, Fullscreen, Rooster Teeth, Cartoon Network and Sugarshack Animation.

 A free Casting and Audition Panel featured industry professionals and Native American actors Tantoo Cardinal (ABC’s Stumptown), Zahn McClarnon (HBO’s Westworld), and Sivan Alyra Rose (Netflix’s Chambers). Burgeoning indigenous actors received valuable information about working in film and television.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a special selection of short films from Native American filmmakers who are local to Los Angeles. Each film tackles hard topics, cultural questions and offers new insight into the indigenous community of Southern California. Film programs highlighted Native American history, youth from around the US and female filmmakers. Topics addressed in the films ranged from Native American youth activism, learning to heal from trauma, and life on the reservation. A Q&A followed each screening program.

The 13th annual Awards Gala took place at the Hard Rock Event Center on Hollywood Blvd. Hosted by world-renowned Native actors Q'orianka Kilcher and Kiowa Gordon, the gala honored filmmakers from across Indian country and the great achievements in Native American cinema. The celebration featured an exquisite banquet, live music and guest appearances from Native American actors presented by COMCAST NBCUniversal and the Paramount Network.

LA SKINS FEST hosted its 2nd Annual Hollywood Pow Wow in the courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theater. Dancers, drummers and singers presented a traditional dance, music and cultural performance.

The festival closed with a series of short films that reflect the cultural diversity within Native America, and a special event in the Chinese Theater VIP lounge.

 “I really hope more Natives get into film making. This festival is making that possible.”
– Derek Quick; Ottawa Nation and LASF Filmmaker

For over a decade, the LA Skins Fest has offered exclusive, unique and original development programming for Native American writers, directors and actors. The film festival has become the premiere showcase for Native American filmmakers taking place at the world-renowned Chinese Theater and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood.

Every year, the festival has grown and developed its creative programs to offer new and genuine opportunities for artists and tribes. After thirteen years of service, it seeks to do more for the Native American community and seeks new partnerships to bring endeavors to fruition.

The LA Skins Fest is privileged to partner with some of the world’s most renowned consumer and entertainment brands, including Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, ABC 7, HBO, Warner Media, Sony Pictures, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, A+E Network Television, Wells Fargo, Sony Electronics, Kung Fu Monkey Productions, Santa Ynez Band Of Chumash Indians, CBS Corporation, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), United Talent Agency, Mike Royce, Motion Pictures Association of America, Sundance Institute, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, SAG/AFTRA, Bad Robot, Lionsgate, STARZ,  SAG AFTRA, SAG INDIE, MGM Resorts International, Paramount Pictures, Southern California Indian Center, KCET, Final Draft, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.


Native American Participants Selected for Animation Lab

The LA Skins Fest recently announced they have selected the 8 participants for their Native American Animation Lab, a talent development program that aims to boost the careers of Native American in the field of animation.

“We have a talented community in need of exposure, access, and opportunity. This new endeavor will get more Native American voices in front of the right people who can develop their animation projects and build their animation careers.” stated Ian Skorodin (Choctaw), LA Skins Fest Founder.

The participants will take part in a five day curriculum that will have them meeting with executives from Universal Pictures, Cartoon Network Studios, Kung Fu Monkey Productions and many others. The lab will consist of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each participant develop a project for the pitch panel at the end of the lab.

The five day total immersion lab will be mentored and guided by Writer/Producer Donick Cary (Simpsons/Parks and Recreation/Ap Bio). At the end of the program, each participant will pitch a panel of executives from the program’s corporate supporters.

The Lab was created to expand the amount of Native Americans working behind the camera, as a way to increase fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans on television.

Its sponsors include: Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, Cartoon Network Studios, Sugarshack Animation, Women in Animation, and Otter Media brands, Crunchyroll, Fullscreen and Rooster Teeth.

For more information, visit

The 8 participants:

Ben-Alex Dupris is Mnicoujou Lakota, and also an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes where he grew up. Dupris creates work that pushes the boundaries of modernity and traditionalism in hopes of changing perspectives of Indigenous concepts without censorship. His directorial debut "Sweetheart Dancers" won Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film at Outfest 2019. He recently directed an American Masters "Masters in the Making" for PBS and Firelight Media about the artist Bunky Echo-Hawk that premiered at DOC NYC 2019. He is developing an animation series based on tribal legend stories that reflect the changing nature of Indigenous relationships to the earth in the 21st century.

Pasquale Encell and Steve Encell. Pasquale (Modoc) and his partner, Steve (Modoc), who is also his father, started a small animation team in Thailand. Steve served in the US Army and studied Agricultural Business at Cal Poly, and realized that the Native elders he knew were disappearing and soon they would be gone forever. Because of this, he decided to study with several medicine men and leaders before their knowledge disappeared. With his partner and son, Pasquale, they created Thunder Eagle Productions and chose animation as their main conduit of production. They have made several animated movies that have played in film festivals all over the world. They have won awards including Best Animated Film in the New Hope International Film Festival for their animated feature film Eagle Feather.

Jeanette Harrison is a director, writer, actor, and producer, who has spent most of her career in theater. For television, she co-wrote with Sharmila Devar a half-hour comedy about family and cultural identity, FEATHERS AND DOTS, DOTS AND FEATHERS. She created and was Head Writer for the webseries The Breakdown (3 seasons); and was a staff writer for the webseries Coach Dan. For SPASigma, she was Head Writer and 2nd Unit Director for their most recent documentary, and a staff writer on Personality Quotient (2018). In 2004 she co-founded the award-winning AlterTheater in the San Francisco Bay Area. At AlterTheater, she architected the ground-breaking AlterLab playwright residency program. She has shepherded more than 20 new plays to world premiere productions. A Native New Yorker, she is of Onondaga descent.

Chag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi ancestry from northern California.  He is an author, filmmaker, and educator.  His most recent publication is the graphic novel titled Soldiers Unknown with art by Rahsan Ekedal.  This book was published by Great Oak Press and focuses on the Yurok Native American military experience in World War One.  Mr. Lowry has a M.A. in Education and is currently writing a comic anthology titled Reflection.

Vladimir Perez  (Taino) is a comedian from Brooklyn NY. As an actor he can be seen in network sitcoms that include Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Unicorn and the upcoming Disney+ show Diary of a Female President. As a writer, Vlad was honored to be a part of the LA SKINS FEST Native American TV writers Lab. Vlad is also a proud recipient of the Groundlings NBC/Universal Diversity scholarship 2018. Vlad’s sketch "Resting Gangster Face" was selected to be filmed for the 2017 IFC Showcase during the San Francisco Sketchfest. At UCB, Vlad hosted the LA Weekly Top Pick show The Hip Hop Source Awardz and performed improv on UCB Mess Hall team Fresh Kicks. He is a proud alumni of the CBS Diversity Showcase as a writer in 2016 and an actor in 2017. Vlad is currently working on an animation series based on a Taino super hero.

Sierra Revis (Yuchi) is a Graphic Designer currently working for the Native-owned marketing agency, Buffalo Nickel Creative based in Pawhuska, OK. Her design work on the Native Now and Indigenous People's Day campaigns was praised by audiences throughout Indian Country. Sierra has also put her video editing and animation skills to work on various documentary-style shorts for a state-wide campaign on commercial tobacco-use cessation and prevention among Native American tribes.  A graduate of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology with a degree in Visual Communications, Sierra recently developed an animated language video and created the story board, illustrated the visuals and animated the components.

Jason Turner (Potawatomi and Kickapoo) is an accomplished filmmaker, producer, editor, and director. A music video he shot and directed won the Art at Work award in 2013 from the Arts Council of Kansas City (ArtsKC). Many of his films have screened at film festivals. His motion comic, The Iron Detective: Sentinel, won the Achievement in Animation award at the 2017 LA Skins Fest and streamed nationally on Xfinity Streampix. Those same shorts have screened at Planet Comicon in Kansas City. Jason has also served on Planet Comicon panels. For four years he ran the Kansas City 48 Hour Film Project (KC's branch of the 48 Hour Film Project). He is also a published comic book author. His comic book "Sentinel" can be found on Amazon and has been made into an animation short, The Iron Detective: Sentinel.

President’s FY 2020 Budget Proposes $936.3 Million for Bureau of Indian Education

President Donald Trump proposed a $936.3 million Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). The BIE’s primary mission is to provide quality education opportunities from early childhood through life in accordance with a tribe’s need for cultural and economic well-being, in keeping with the wide diversity of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes as distinct cultural and governmental entities.

For the first time in its history, the BIE’s budget request is being presented in a separate budget justification.  All BIE budget activities are shifted out of Indian Affairs’ Operation of Indian Programs account into a new Operation of Indian Education Programs account.  In addition, the Education Construction budget activity is shifted to a new Education Construction account.

“The President’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the Bureau of Indian Education supports his goals for tribal self-determination by improving education services to Indian Country,” states former Acting Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt. 

“I appreciate the President’s recognition through his FY 2020 proposal of the need to elevate the BIE budget to bureau-level status within the overall Indian Affairs budget, given its broad range of responsibilities for educating our students,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Tara “Katuk” Sweeney.  “Our children are sacred and we’re fighting for their futures.  That is why having the BIE budget as a separate account will allow for greater transparency and accountability for our education responsibilities.”

The Administration reports the 2020 budget acknowledges the distinct and separate responsibilities and missions of Indian Affairs’ two bureaus – BIE and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) – by elevating the BIE budget request to the bureau level and presenting it separately from the BIA’s, the proposal will hopefully advance BIE reform, provide autonomy and accountability, streamline services, maximize efficiency, and build capacity.

The request also supports the Administration’s commitment to helping promote tribal nation-building and self-determination, empower tribal communities, foster tribal self-sufficiency, create educational and economic opportunities, ensure safe Indian communities, and preserve and foster cultural heritage.  The goals and vision reflected in the FY 2020 budget are informed by tribal leaders and the Tribal-Interior Budget Council (TIBC) who helped the Department identify the priorities in this request.

Budget Overview:  The President’s FY 2020 budget for BIE is $936.3 million in current appropriations.

The Bureau manages the Federal school system comprised of 169 elementary and secondary schools and 14 dormitories, located on 64 reservations in 23 States, providing educational services to 46,692 individual students, with an Average Daily Membership of 40,641 students.  It also operates two post-secondary schools and administers grants for 29 tribally controlled colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges.

“Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney (Iñupiat), is in approval of the request and expressed, “Our children are sacred because we’re fighting for their futures.”

BIE funding supports classroom instruction, student transportation, native language instruction, cultural enrichment, gifted and talented programs, and school improvement and maintenance.  In some schools, funding also supports residential costs, mostly in remotely located sites.  And, because the BIE functionally serves as a State Education Agency (SEA), it administers and oversees U.S. Department of Education programs in BIE-funded schools, and receives additional Education Department funds to educate and provide services to students attending these schools.

The FY 2020 budget request prioritizes direct school operations, school improvement, early childhood programs, and completing the Bureau’s reform efforts to improve service and technical assistance for BIE-funded schools.  Staffing is estimated at 2,448 full time equivalents in 2020.

Operation of Indian Education Programs:  The FY 2020 budget for the Operation of Indian Education Programs account is $867.4 million.  In 2020, priority is given to sub-activities providing for direct school operations and school improvement in line with the BIE’s Strategic Direction plan.

Foster Tribal Student Success – The FY 2020 budget proposes to accomplish this in two ways:  1) By serving as a capacity builder and service provider to support tribes in delivering culturally appropriate education with high academic standards to allow students across Indian Country to achieve success, and 2) By prioritizing funding for core mission programs and operations at BIE-funded elementary and secondary schools and tribally controlled colleges and universities.  The request includes:

  • $726.8 million for Elementary and Secondary programs,
  • $98.0 million for Post-secondary programs, and
  • $42.6 million for Education Management.

“In FY 2020, priority will be given to BIE sub-activities which provide school operations and improvements.” (Photo Credit: National Indian Education Association)

The budget requests focus on direct school operations, which includes classroom instruction, student transportation, Native language development programs, cultural awareness and enrichment, school improvement and maintenance, and in some remotely located schools, residential costs, reflects its continuing investment in activities that promote educational self-determination for tribal communities. It includes $81.5 million for Tribal Grant Support Costs for tribes that choose to operate BIE-funded schools themselves – a funding level that supports 100 percent of the estimated requirement.

BIE Reform Efforts – The FY 2020 budget proposes $32.3 million in education program management funds to improve service to BIE-funded schools and build in-house capacity and accountability.

Tribal Priority Allocations – The FY 2020 budget proposes Tribal Priority Allocation funding of $16.1 million.

Compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act – Funding from the Department of Education would provide for continued implementation of the Act and help BIE establish high quality standards, accountability and capacity to invest in meaningful assessments.

Construction:  The FY 2020 budget proposes to shift the Education Construction budget activity to a new Education Construction account and requests $68.9 million in annual funding for this activity.

Funding will continue to focus on facility improvement and repairs at existing BIE-funded schools.  In addition, available funding from prior years will enable work to continue on completing construction on schools listed on the Bureau’s Replacement School Construction Priority List published in the Federal Register on March 24, 2004, and to begin design and construction phases for schools listed on a subsequent list published on April 29, 2016.

Additional Notes:

The Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs advises the Secretary of the Interior on Indian Affairs policy issues, communicates policy to and oversee the programs of the BIA and the BIE, provides leadership in consultations with tribes, and serves as the DOI official for intra- and inter- departmental coordination and liaison within the Executive Branch on Indian matters.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission includes developing and protecting Indian trust lands and natural and energy resources; supporting social welfare, public safety and justice in tribal communities; and promoting tribal self-determination and self-governance.

The Bureau of Indian Education implements Federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools (of which two-thirds are tribally operated) located on 64 reservations in 23 States and peripheral dormitories serving nearly 47,000 individual students. The BIE also operates two post-secondary schools and administers grants for 29 tribally controlled colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges.

Reclaiming Native Truth: Changing the Narrative

Groundbreaking Research Reveals America’s Attitudes, Public Perceptions and Dominant Narratives about Native People and Native Issues, and Provides Opportunities for “Reclaiming Native Truth”

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and Echo Hawk Consulting (EHC) today released groundbreaking research about attitudes toward and perceptions of Native Americans as part of a jointly-managed effort called Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. The project also released two messaging guides based on the research findings and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples.

The project seeks to create a long-term, Native-led movement that positively transforms popular narratives and images of Native Americans. A two-year phase, launched in 2016, created a solid foundation of unprecedented public opinion research and data, building upon previous research efforts. It was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and significant financial contributions from numerous other entities and individuals.


“Some incredible findings were unearthed through this research – many of which had long been experienced and assumed but not proven,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President & CEO of First Nations. “The findings clearly validate the realities that so many Native people face in their day-to-day interactions in communities. They provide our project, and the larger movement, with a strong foundation upon which to move forward.” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), President & CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting, shared, “This research informed how we could create a new narrative that would be effective in changing misperceptions. We formulated a new narrative, created by renowned Native American artists and storytellers,  that proved to change people’s understanding of Native people and issues.  We are excited to take this new narrative and our research findings and transition into a new phase of this project, harnessing the power of a movement of movements.”


Highlights from the publicly available findings include:

  • Discrimination: Most Americans surveyed significantly understate the degree of discrimination against Native Americans. Only 34 percent of Americans believe that Native people face discrimination. At the same time, myths about the abundance of Indian gaming and free government benefits to Native Americans are widely held and fuel bias across diverse demographics and within institutions.
  • Narratives: The research found that people have limited personal experience with Native Americans but accept pervasive negative narratives that are erroneously set or reinforced by others, and that proximity shapes some perceptions. For instance, people who live near or work in Indian Country, especially in areas of great poverty, are likely to hold significant bias. Only 56% of survey respondents living in close proximity to Native communities believed the U.S. should do more to help Native Americans compared to 64% of respondents further removed.
  • Invisibility: Unsurprisingly, another key finding was that Native Americans are assigned to a romanticized past. However, one of the biggest barriers identified was the invisibility and erasure of Native Americans in all aspects of modern U.S. society. Respondents, including members of Congress and administrative officials, agree that invisibility, stereotypes and narratives set by others do impact policy.
  • Desire for Complete History: One of the key opportunities uncovered is that, across the research, people are well aware of the inaccurate historical lessons they have learned about Native Americans, and want more accurate education about both historical and contemporary Natives. This was reflected in national polling that indicated that 72 percent believe it is necessary to make significant changes to school curricula on Native American history and culture.


Narratives are broadly accepted, overarching stories that reinforce ideas, norms and expectations in society. Repeated over and over, through diverse platforms and channels, a narrative becomes the story people accept without question. Often a narrative reinforces the status quo and perpetuates unfair systems, structures and norms. The Reclaiming Native Truth project worked to identify and test a new accurate narrative that can support cultural shifts to advance social and policy change to support racial equity and justice for Native Americans and tribal nations.

  • 78% – Most Americans are generally open to hearing this narrative. A majority in this survey say they are interested in learning more about Native American cultures. Strong majorities support Native American positions on most issues — mascots excepted — without hearing the narratives.
  • 81% – The public reacts strongly to our narrative.
  • 88% – Nearly nine in 10 respondents find it credible.


One of the most significant outcomes of the project related to developing and testing a new strength-based narrative that incorporated messaging related to values, history and the visibility of Native peoples. The narrative was tested through an online survey conducted between April 27 and May 1, 2018, with 2,000 Americans over age 18. Majorities of Americans support the new narrative and find it credible. A 65 percent majority say they would be willing — 31 percent very willing — to share these ideas with others. More issue-specific narrative messages written around key issues — mascots, the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal sovereignty and pop culture depictions of Native Americans — find similar validation.

Most noteworthy is the objective difference between those exposed to the new narrative (treated group) and those that were not (untreated “control” group). Large differences emerge among the half that read the new narrative, which gave them a framework for understanding information about key Native issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act, sovereignty, mascots and other issues. For example, 39 percent of Americans who were not exposed to the new narratives support a ban on Native American mascots. Among those who read the narratives, 53 percent support such a ban.

“We are encouraged by the findings of the research and narrative message testing in this first phase,” said Vicky Stott, Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “As a philanthropic partner to the project, we are committed to telling more authentic and complete stories about who we are as interconnected people living in America. This work has the potential to transform the way we understand and relate to one another and, ultimately, co-create a new story about our shared humanity.”


The next phase of work will focus on bringing the power of many movements — of organizations, tribes, grassroots leaders, non-Native allies, foundations — each of whom can adopt, adapt and disseminate the new shared narrative as part of their ongoing efforts and work, while leading implementation of their own priority strategies. An introduction to the narrative and messaging strategies are available as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guides at The detailed research report and the Narrative-Change Strategy are also available online.


Potential allies, supporters and others can partcipate in the movement of movements. The network will contain a support and infrastructure function that will be determined jointly by core organizations working collaboratively on the initiative.  There will be many ways for allies to do their their part to shift the narrative, remove bias and barriers, and achieve the collective vision for the change that is sought: that Native peoples collectively author and powerfully lead a more equitable reality where they fully benefit from and contribute to both Native and American society. Interested partners are encouraged to download the messaging guides from

“The project provided us the critical opportunity to begin to assemble an incredible team of not only researchers, but other experts and thought leaders across Indian Country, and both Native and non-Native allies and professionals in the media, the arts, entertainment, politics and education, as well as others who have worked on successful racial narrative change projects,” noted Echo Hawk. “We have the new research foundation built, a cadre of willing and able experts at the ready, and we have the desire and ability to move this project into the next phases where we can begin to shift the narrative.”

Roberts shared, “We have also sought and received input and feedback at every step in the project, from more than 180 stakeholders, including an incredible swath of Indian Country that came together in a new and different way to support these efforts. Their voices are reflected in this project and we are all committed to work together going forward. Native Americans and tribes have faced discrimination and bias at every level of society, institutionally, and within government. They have been held back from reaching their full potential by the negative stereotypes, damaging misperceptions and lack of awareness that prevail within education, the media, entertainment, popular culture, and among thought leaders. Changing that begins now.”

For more information visit:


About First Nations Development Institute

For 38 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit


About Echo Hawk Consulting
The mission of Echo Hawk Consulting is to help create new platforms, narratives, strategies and investment that can help catalyze transformational change for and by Native Americans. It partners with Native American, philanthropic and diverse multi-sector partners to move hearts and minds and drive institutional, policy and culture change. Founder Crystal Echo Hawk was recently recognized by the National Center for American Indian Economic Development as its 2018 “Native American Woman Business Owner of the Year.” For more information, visit

Juneau's First Alaska Native Police Chief Hopes to Inspire


Juneau Empire

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Nearly a quarter-century later, Ed Mercer still remembers the night vividly.

It was near midnight on a January night in Sitka in 1994, and Mercer was in his second year working for the Sitka Police Department. He was driving near the harbor when the call came in: a baby had been found in a bathroom at the harbor.

Mercer was the closest officer and arrived on the scene first. There he found the harbor employee Kelly Warren, holding a small newborn in his arms.

``I think that was touching,'' Mercer recalled, ``and told me a lot about humanity.''

Mercer said there was certainly a negative light to be seen that night, but he saw the positive side of the story, of this man saving the baby from a dire situation.

A fire department responder arrived moments later and took over, but the instance still sticks with Mercer. That baby grew up to make headlines in southeast Alaska in 2012, when she returned to Sitka as a high school graduate with her adopted family. She had grown up and was succeeding in school in Florida, an article in the Daily Sitka Sentinel said.

Through 26 years of being in the police force in Sitka and Juneau, Mercer has encountered numerous examples of that kind of positive humanity in extreme scenarios. He's seen it as an officer in Sitka, and then in numerous positions with the Juneau Police Department since joining JPD in 2000.

Now, he's doing it as the department's chief of police, and his ascent to the position has come in historic fashion.


Mercer, by all accounts, is JPD's first Alaska Native chief of police. Raised in Sitka, Mercer is of a Tlingit of the Coho clan of the Raven moiety.

The department was created in 1900, according to the department's website, and created the chief of police title in 1914. Since then, JPD Administrative Assistant Patti Rumfelt said, the department had 36 chiefs of police prior to Mercer. Spokespeople at JPD and at Native Corporations Sealaska and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) can't recall a Native chief prior to Mercer.

``It is meaningful,'' Mercer said. ``I do get a lot of people, a lot of elders, a lot of the other Alaska Native people come up to me and say, `We're really proud of you for what you have accomplished and we appreciate that you represent us.' I don't take that lightly.''

Mercer made it clear that he knows he's representing the entire Juneau community and not just the Native population. According to, 11.8 percent of Juneau residents are Alaska Native or American Indian.

Mercer's promotion carries a great deal of meaning to leaders in the Native community. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl put Mercer's hiring in a nationwide context in a statement to the Empire.

``After 150 years of American jurisdiction in Alaska, we should celebrate the appointment of Ed Mercer as Juneau's first Alaska Native chief of police,'' Worl said. ``Implementation of the law and pursuit of justice should be color blind, but statistics and the almost daily reports in the media across the nation do not bear this out.''

Worl pointed out that Alaska Natives are disproportionately incarcerated in Alaska jails. According to, Alaska Natives/American Indians made up 38 percent of the state's prison population in the 2010 census, while Alaska Natives/American Indians make up 15 percent of the state's total population.

CCTHITA President Richard Peterson said in a statement to the Empire that those at his organization are excited and prideful that Mercer has worked his way up to the role of chief.

``There are approximately 7,000 of our tribal citizens who live in Juneau and it is encouraging to see that population reflected in our police force who is tasked with serving and protecting our community,'' Peterson said.


Mercer views being police chief as a chance to be a role model, providing motivation for Alaska Native children and others who want to become leaders in the community.

``I think it's very important to be able to show, especially to an Alaska Native, that the sky's the limit,'' Mercer said. ``You go out and apply yourself and there's opportunity out there. It could be you.''

Long before he was atop JPD and even before he was an officer in Sitka, Mercer wanted to be a schoolteacher. He grew up in Sitka, pondering a career in the military before attending University of Alaska Fairbanks to study education.

After a couple years, Mercer decided he wanted to try something new. Growing up in Sitka, he knew there was a police training academy there. The opportunity to give back to a community, he said, encouraged him to enter the police force.

``I think my main reason for getting into it was I wanted to be a public servant and go out and serve people,'' Mercer said. ``I don't think that has left me to this point. Even as the chief of police, I'm out there being a public servant and serving people.''

In the early 1990s when Mercer was looking for a job, it was a competitive field that required him to compete against others for a position on a police force. Twenty-six years later, police departments around the country are struggling to fill their staffs. Mercer is currently working to fill JPD's staff, which is undermanned and losing a couple more officers this summer to retirement.

Being in this role, Mercer hopes, will show to young people that if they put the effort forth, they can go from a young kid in a small village to the chief of a capital city's police department.

``I like to think that it shows people a role model, that they could do the very same thing,'' Mercer said. ``They could take up and head a police department as long as they apply themself and go out and do it. It is meaningful.''


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire,