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.