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November is Native American Heritage Month

The photo above was taken at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s annual Entrepreneurship Scholarship meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, last month. As you can see, we had a good turnout of JSF board members, staff and consultants and representation from almost all our nonprofit, tribal college and university partners in this program.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship program is in its 28th year and this annual convening has been an integral part. The Foundation’s persistence in this program – and in our Indigenous funding generally – is paying a dividend of improvement and these meetings seem to get better every year.

The meeting heard a presentation by Jamie Schwartz and Tiffany Gusbeth of the American Indian College Fund. The College Fund administers 200 scholarship programs for Indigenous students, two of which – the Business Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Pipeline – are matching scholarship endowments established by the Foundation.

The Business Entrepreneurship Scholarship supports students who have already obtained an associate’s degree, typically at a tribal college, and are in their junior or senior year of a bachelor’s degree. This scholarship program has a 93 percent persistence and graduation rate.

The Entrepreneurship Pipeline supports first and second year business students at tribal colleges that do not partner directly with the Foundation. Interestingly, the College Fund has also gone into the secret sauce business and has developed “student success services” such as coaching and mentoring, transition assistance and peer tutoring.

Native American Heritage Month LogoWe also heard from Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, a network of 57 radio and four television stations. Loris gave a wonderful presentation on the strengths and challenges of Native Public Media and its role and potential in education.

The best of this meeting took place at the very beginning when we had presentations from two Johnson Scholars from Northern Arizona University. Dylan Graham, from the Navajo Nation, has just obtained a degree in hotel management and was president of NAU’s student body. She presented very well and, not surprisingly, has several options. She may go overseas to work with an international hotelier or to Arizona State University for an MBA.

Elliott Cooley is also from the Navajo Nation and is in his senior year of business management. While in high school he suffered nerve damage in a car accident that partially paralyzed his left side. After two years of physiotherapy he joined the Marines and served for four years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. He began college on the GI Bill and, when it ran out, obtained a Johnson Scholarship. Elliott is an entrepreneur and won the NAU Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) business competition. He hopes to do business on the Navajo Reservation and serve as a role model for other would-be entrepreneurs.

Elliott referenced his tour of duty in Iraq and stressed how grateful he is for the freedom to pursue education and a career of his choice. Gratitude was a good theme at our meeting and for the Foundation’s work generally. A year from now it will be Native American Heritage Month and we will be back in Scottsdale, talking to our grantee partners about how we can support another year of their excellent work. We should all be grateful for this opportunity.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 17 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

My Native American Heritage

This year for Native American Heritage Month, I have been reflecting on my own Native American heritage. I am Oglala Lakota through my father and German American through my mother – and I’m blessed with this lineage. However, since it is Native American Heritage Month, let me focus on that side.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father's arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father’s arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

I was the only one of four siblings born on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota – and I’m the only one that has spent their career working with Native peoples and Native issues. I didn’t grow up on Pine Ridge – my family was part of the federal American Indian “relocation movement” from the mid-1940s – early 1960s – a policy of assimilation. After getting my undergraduate degree in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, I felt drawn to “return” to the reservation, to meet family I had only talked to on the phone and to see the place I was born, as many “urban Indian” young adults from relocated families did at the time. I haven’t “left” Indian Country since – working with and for Native peoples for more than 40 years.  To bind the tie even tighter I married into the Seneca Nation.

Being Native means different things to different people.  To me, it means I have a rich, vibrant network of relatives, friends and colleagues, both Native and non-Native, across the country and the world, who work for the betterment of Native peoples. To me, being Native means lifelong learning about the diverse, magnificent and resilient Native communities to better understand and assist in development.  To me, being Native means I have been blessed with financial support for my undergraduate education and my graduate degree which led to a career where I have been passionate about my work.  I’ve worked directly in communities with Native peoples and tribal nations, locally with Native organizations, and nationally with national Native and non-Native organizations and the federal government.  Being Native led me down a unique and rewarding lifelong path.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge village was taken during the 1950s.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge Village was taken during the 1950s.

I have received so many opportunities because of my Native heritage. Many generations of leaders, both Native and non-Native, made this possible through their work, commitment and advocacy along with sacrifices by our ancestors. What do I owe in return? Being Native means you might be eligible to receive certain benefits but these benefits come with certain responsibilities, certain obligations. The importance of giving back – or reciprocity – is so vital to Native societies.

In this month to celebrate and recognize Native Americans and their innumerable, vast and continuing contributions to this country, and in the season of giving and appreciation, let each of us, with our unique and diverse heritages, give thanks for all that we have. And do not forget to reciprocate, or give back, for your good fortune.