How we used indigenous-based leadership CURRICULUM to promote tribal food sovereignty with our young Makah leaders
When Summer 2020 came around, we wanted to offer our young people internship opportunities. Because of the pandemic, many of our community summer opportunities were canceled or threatened to be canceled. With the help of the Makah Education and Training Department and the Neah Bay Schools, we were able to develop a 100% virtual internship platform for the Summer Youth Employment Program.
Our goal was to empower our young people by teaching indigenous-based leadership skills and connecting culture to tribal food sovereignty. For the month of August, Isabell Ides, Hi•dasubač Program Manager, and I, MichaeLynn Kanichy, Social Marketing Specialist, met with 12 interns, or the tribal food sovereignty crew, for two hours three times a week. In the first hour, we built leadership skills through the Leading The Next Generations curriculum designed by the Native Wellness Institute. We talked about balanced wellness and how this is the foundation to leading a successful life. In Makah, this way of life is called hi•dasubač, the very essence the program is named after. We believe that we prepare for success by balancing the four aspects of life; mental health, physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health. We built on wellness by talking about honoring our ancestors, acknowledging historical trauma and resiliency, speaking our truth respectfully, and recognizing the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
To teach tribal food sovereignty, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian designed an interactive online course called Pacific Northwest History and Cultures: Why do the foods we eat matter? The lessons focused on how Native Nations of the Pacific Northwest take action to protect and sustain salmon, water, and homelands. To our surprise, along with our neighbors, our very own tribe was featured starring Brian Parker. He shared his perspective as a Makah commercial fisherman. Our crew worked through lessons on salmon's importance from different tribal views. Interns read case studies on how native communities restore salmon and how tribal organizations address tribal food sovereignty injustices. And our interns processed the importance of salmon in affirming treaty rights, asserting tribal sovereignty, and strengthening cultures.
We wanted our interns to share a relationship with the seasonal foods around us. They had the option of researching traditional foods by talking to their elders and family. Or they could gather and prepare traditional foods and record their journey. Interns taught each other the process of canning blackberry jam/jelly, incorporating traditional foods into our everyday diets, smoking salmon on a stick, and commercial fishing. The project was not so much about the product but the process. For some of our interns, this was the first time they canned jam or smoked salmon. To learn these ways, they spent quality time with loved ones, thanked their teachers with a gift, and shared their teachings with younger relatives.
Our team did a self-assessment before and after the internship. The evaluation was on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being strongly disagreed and 5 strongly agreed. When asked, "I understand what historical trauma is and its effects on building a successful life, and ways to heal from it," interns who reported they agree increased from 58% to 100%. Another important issue we highlighted was healthy and unhealthy relationships. We asked our interns, "I know how to identify characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, where unhealthy relationships come from, and how to prepare for a healthy relationship." Before the internship, 66.6%, or 8 interns, agreed. After the internship, 100% or all 12 interns, agreed. And of course it was important that our interns understood what tribal food sovereignty is. We asked our interns, "I understand what tribal food sovereignty means." Interns who reported they agree increased from 83.3% to 100% by the end of the internship.
As a facilitator, I felt that our young leaders had a better grasp on topics like historical trauma than I did when I was around their age. Some of these conversations were hard to have, but they were meaningful. Although we were never in the same physical space, we connected, and we created a virtual safe space to open up about our personal experiences. After each lesson, we would share something we learned and planned to use in our everyday lives. Some interns shared that they did not realize what appeared to be endearing were signs of toxic and unhealthy relationship characteristics. Others shared an interest in spirituality and learning how to pray in their own way. As facilitators, we had our "ah-hah" moments. I, for one, recognized I have tendencies to speak passively. This communication style comes off as shy or having low self-esteem. Together we learned and took a pledge to be assertive communicators—one who stands up for their behaviors, values, and beliefs in a respectful way.
This was our pilot of the program and first time working with a group virtually. In the future, our goal is to keep incorporating Makah teachings into the lessons. As Makah women with our teachings, we as facilitators passed down lessons or shared personal anecdotes to get the lessons across. But we want more community input. We also learned that one month together is not enough time. In the future we would like to offer this leadership group with the seasons and ideally over a course of 8-10 weeks. Starting next month, we are excited to work with Neah Bay Schools to offer weekly leadership groups. We are also excited to put the work in to offer indigenous-based sex education. It is important to us that we equip our young people with knowledge of consent, sexuality, and having hard conversations without shame.
When our time together was wrapping up, it was sad to say goodbye to our first-ever virtual wellness crew. We hope that they learned as much from us as we did from them. But what made this experience bittersweet is knowing that these are our next leaders, and I can say without a doubt that we will be in good hands when their time comes.
Hi•dasubač Initiative REceives $200,000 grant to restore Indigenous birth Justice in the Makah Community
With the support of Ttáwaxt Birth Justice Center, the Hi•dasubač Initiative was chosen as a recipient for a 3-year $200,000 grant funded by the Perigee Fund. The funding aims to support the defining, design, and implementation of indigenous birth justice work for the Makah community.
What is indigenous birth justice? Birth justice is when native communities can honor their ancestors. Birth justice is making the best decisions during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and after the baby arrives to ensure the next generation continues.
There are maternal care decisions that Makah women do not have because of our rural location and lack of maternal health care access. It is typical for a Makah woman to travel almost 2 hours to receive prenatal care and give birth. In complicated pregnancies, mothers have to travel even further, as much as 4 hours. A Makah community-led work group identified that travel is incredibly difficult for the working mother. She has to use medical leave to receive prenatal care, which leaves little to no leave remaining after childbirth. Additionally, receiving prenatal care at home or being able to have a home delivery are not options available to women living on the Makah reservation.
Jessica Whitehawk is the founder and president of Ttáwaxt Birth Justice. Glenda Abbott is a traditional knowledge keeper who focuses on indigenous-led community projects. They first heard of the unique hurdles Makah women maneuver and wanted to meet us and learn more. Initially, the Makah community was on the schedule for Jessica and Glenda's Indigenous Birth Justice Tour. They would facilitate community round tables about traditional birth teachings and community maternal health needs. However, Covid-19 put a halt to that. So instead, we held a small virtual meeting with four community members. One community member shared an emotional story of not feeling heard by health care providers, which ultimately put her in a life-threatening situation.
In Washington state, American Indian/Alaskan Native women are eight times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. The Washington Department of Health reported American Indian/Alaskan Native women had the highest pregnancy maternal mortality ratio at 196.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The maternal mortality ratio for white women in Washington is 24.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines pregnancy-related death as a woman's death while pregnant or within one year after pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. Dr. David Goodman, a co-author of a CDC study on racial disparities in maternal mortality, is searching for ways to prevent these deaths. A significant factor Goodman shares is the need to consider what is happening in our communities that are contributing to our systems of care.
Maternal mortality rates for Native American women are disturbing across the country. In New Mexico, 20 percent of the 97 maternal death cases identified in 2010 to 2014 involved Native women. However community-led and grass roots initiatives are rising to the occasion. Tewa Women United, located on the Tewa ancestral lands of Northern New Mexico, offers doulas at a low or no cost and offers prenatal and postpartum care.
The Tewa Women United work came out of a survey of Tewa women. Of 131 women who responded, 49.6 percent wanted their cultural practices to be more a part of their birthing experience. 44.1 percent felt their prenatal care providers were not culturally sensitive. And 41.7 percent felt that their labor and delivery staff were not culturally sensitive. Additionally, 39.3 percent wanted prenatal care in their homes.
Are you passionate about indigenous reproductive justice? Apply to be a member of our coalition. The coalition will be passionate community members who want to address our maternal health care needs. They will be responsible for setting the project's direction to better support our Makah women. Sign up for our mailing list if you wish to receive a notification when the coalition positions are available.