Native Village 
Youth and Education News

September 2013

Young Native Writers Contest Winners Announced
Condensed by Native Villag

The Holland & Knight Young Native Writers contest was created in 2006. It focuses on the richness of Native American life and history, and challenges Native youth to speak out on issues important to their tribal communities.

This year's topic:  "Describe a crucial issue confronting your tribal community today. Explain how you hope to help your tribal community respond to this challenge and improve its future."

Holland & Knight
Young Native Writers Contest 2013  Winners

Taylor Archuleta
Choctaw Nation
Stockton, California

Kaitlyn Boy
 Blackfeet Nation
Heart Butte, Montana

Constance Owl
 Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians
Murphy, NC

Shanice Britton
 Round Valley Indian Tribe
Covelo, California

Morgan Gray
Chickasaw Nation
San Antonio, Texas

In July, Holland & Knight partnered with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian for "Scholars Week." All of the 2013 Young Native Writers finalists traveled to Washington D.C. for the all expenses paid event. Their activities included an honor ceremony at the NMAI; a tour of the NMAI Cultural Resources Center; educational symposiums and a tour of the U.S. Capitol.

The winners also received a $2,500 scholarship for the college or university of their choice.

For more than 30 years, Holland & Knight lawyers have represented many Indian tribes in a variety of legal matters. The firm's Indian Law Practice has received top national rankings.

Note: The youth essays below do not include the authors' resource citations and other information. Please visit to view the complete essay. 

Why They Didn't Finish School
By Kaitlyn Boy
Heart Butte, MT

     I believe that a high dropout rate, cultural traditions regarding obligations to immediate and extended family members, and little motivation prevent young people on the Blackfeet Reservation from earning a high school diploma or a college degree. A few days ago my sister told me that her boyfriend was thinking about dropping out of school due to his drug and drinking problem. Hearing this made me worry about the outcome of this young man’s future and, especially, my sister's future. This is why Graduation Matters Montana (GMM) is so important to the Blackfeet Nation. GMM provides financial support for college readiness initiatives for all Montana students to finish high school and raise college graduation numbers. This initiative is especially important on Native American reservations in order to erase poverty. State Superintendent, Denise Juneau, Blackfeet and Mandan/Hidatsa tribal member, is helping not only my community, but also our entire reservation move forward to a future built on “hope, progress, and promise.”

     A 5-year study conducted by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) reported that 48.6% of school dropouts are seventh and eighth grade students, while 23.8% are high school students (Jawort 36). OPI’s 2012 Dropout Report stated that 7.1% of 6,943 Native American students dropped out of high school compared to a 2.2% dropout rate of 54,204 White students. These facts tell me that 1 out of 14 Native American students will drop out of high school while only 1 out of 54 White students will drop out.Native American students are four times more likely to dropout than White students.

     In the entire Heart Butte community, 2009 statistics indicate that 13.5% of this population did not obtain a high school diploma, but this number decreased to 4.7% in 2011 (“Heart Butte, Montana.” Onboard Informatics).  I was born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation, and I have witnessed my own relatives consuming alcohol along the road and selling anything they can to pay for the next drink, day in and day out. I have a vague memory of a video store that burned down and now lies in ruins. My grandma remembers when there used to be a small gas station here. Those memories are hard to believe, because the local Trading Post, our only grocery store for thirty miles, fades in and out of business.

     My father dropped out of school when he was a senior in high school, and now struggles to keep food on the table and clothes on both my and my siblings’ backs. Due to the lack of education, jobs on the reservation are minimal and those that exist are already taken. This makes it hard for members of my reservation to make ends meet. I know that if my father had earned his diploma and graduated from college, then his small mechanics shack could have become a profitable business, allowing him to employ members from our community. Instead, my father and my younger brother, Frank, are seasonal workers who make a quick buck cutting wood, fixing fences, and building the arbor for the annual Heart Butte Indian Days. Today, both of my parents remind me of their mistakes and push me to continue my education.

     Based on my own family history, I strongly believe that the dropout rate is connected to family obligations that often get in the way of a Native young person’s education either while in high school or when he goes to college. Soon after my grandfather was killed in an alcohol-related altercation, my father quit high school to take over the family ranch and provide money for my grandmother. These types of family issues affect many close-knit Blackfeet families. Another relative of mine returned home just before she started her second year of college due to her father’s failing health. Lastly, lost motivation may also be the blame for less Native American graduates. People like Superintendent Juneau who are working to help my community will help pave the way to a brighter future.

     Superintendent Juneau is determined to make sure that every Montana student is college and career ready, "In today’s global economy, a quality education is the key to economic prosperity.” (Superintendent Juneau’s 2013 Legislative Agenda 2)Heart Butte School (HBS) District is one of nine Montana schools awarded a $5,000 grant to promote college readiness. This money has been used to provide parent/student incentives for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion to meet Montana's March 1, 2013 deadline.  This grant has also facilitated focus groups for students and their families to find out what keeps students in school and helps them to graduate from college. The grant provides a 2-day trip for high school seniors and their parents/guardians to visit several Montana colleges, including the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, MT, the University of Montana and the College of Technology in Missoula, MT, and Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. The purpose for this trip is to help parents appreciate the value of colleges, what they are like, and witness the opportunities their students would miss or sacrifice if they are called home too often to meet family obligations.

     As a community leader, I know I will experience these obstacles throughout my college schooling. Overcoming these roadblocks will not be easy. I will stand my ground, say “no” when asked to come home, and graduate from college.



Carrying on Traditions
By Taylor Archuleta
Stockton, CA

     Colors of seed beads are all over the table; there are dozens of projects going on; the dining room has been transformed to a makeshift craft room. Next to me sits my sister, my mom, and my aunt. My patience is wearing thin, and my eyes are getting tired from staring at the same project for hours. Then it happens: after blood, sweat, and tears I finish my first beaded collar. After making mistake after mistake, I finally finish my first beaded project. Beading is just one of the few things that I have learned due to the Choctaw Nation’s revival of traditions and culture. Recently, the Nation has made it their first priority to spread the ways and ideas of our ancestors across the country.

     My great-grandma, Ada, spoke Choctaw the first six years of her life; but one day when a strange visitor came to her house, she was told not to ever speak the language again. She was told that she must forget her tribal ways and fit in, so she would not be discriminated against.  All things having to do with Choctaw were cut off from my great -grandma. None of her children were able to learn the ways of their ancestors or able to pass them on to their children. Everybody in my family was aware that they were Choctaw, but they had no idea what that meant. Only recently have I been able to learn about the Choctaw ways in depth.

     Due to the recent revival of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I have been able to learn how to make beaded collars and earrings, pottery, basketry, and a dress. I have learned Choctaw Nation history.I would have never been able to have the opportunity to learn how to make my beaded collar if it was not for the Nation’s cultural revival meetings. Every time that the Nation holds an event, there are always classes that one can take. They have provided an opportunity to those who want to learn more about their heritage.

     A big part of the cultural revival is traveling to spread the ideas of our ancestors. The Nation has started Choctaw cultural meetings in locations all over the country that include places like Denver, San Francisco, and Phoenix. Choctaws are encouraged to come to these events and see with their own eyes what it is like to be Choctaw. One can take a class in beading, learn traditional dancing, and see pottery and artifacts.  The highlight of these events is when Chief Pyle gives a speech on what is going on in the Nation and what his plans are for the future.

     The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is providing the opportunity for people like me to learn the ways of our ancestors, and is giving us the chance to pass down the traditions for generations to come. When I see the Nation hold events like these, I feel proud to be Choctaw. I feel that they are taking the initiative to teach people the way of the Choctaws, and I feel hopeful that the work they are doing now will be passed down for generations.

     If I were a tribal leader, the main way that I would keep the community moving forward is to make more information available to the public. To learn the real ways of the Choctaw people, one must be involved in the community. I think that it is important to make this information available to those in the public who are interested in learning Choctaw history and traditions. Having online classes about the Choctaws would also be a great way to provide the opportunity for people all over the country to learn about us. Getting the information out is very important to keep the traditions going. We also need to help new generations master Choctaw arts, so they can be passed on and ensure that we keep in touch with our native roots.

     If this revival had happened when my great grandma, Ada, was alive, she would have been able to carry on traditions that would have been passed down from our family for generations. She would be able to speak the language. I would have been able to learn from her. I am thankful that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has taught me these traditions. I have now been given the opportunity to pass these on to future generations of Choctaws. This is a responsibility I proudly accept.



  Big Shoes to Fill
By Shanice Britton
Covelo, CA

     As a Native American growing up in a small town, I know everyone. I come from a large family with deep ancestral ties to our valley.  Many family members have worked for Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT), investing their lives in strengthening and securing a future for our tribe.  My parents and grandparents taught me to respect adults and support our tribal leaders. I was also raised to have pride in our culture with a belief that to keep our traditions strong, we need to continually improve our families, our communities and ourselves.  I see my family’s investment in the tribe’s future and protection of our culture reflected in its Mission Statement.  While RVIT has developed strong programs for the protection of tribal lands and resources, I find inspiration with its recent focus on promoting tribal business and enterprise for the benefit of the “economic welfare of the members of the tribe” ( I pray for strength that my tribe is committed to its Mission Statement and continues to raise the economy and promote a self-sufficient community.

     My reservation was one of the first reservations created in California in 1856, originally called the Nome Cult Reservation and now called the Round Valley Indian Reservation. Many different tribes were removed from their ancestral land and forced to make a new home in Round Valley assimilating with the indigenous Yuki people. Economically, the valley’s tribes started with subsistence living - hunting and gathering, and then the government attempted to make the natives into farmers and ranchers. Later, timber harvesting and processing become a big employer in the valley; at one time, three mills in the valley employed many tribal members. With plenty of jobs the tribe thrived; we even had a bowling alley and a movie theater.

When the mills shut down in the late 1980’s, the valley’s economy crumbled and businesses closed, people lost their jobs and the unemployment rose to over 70%. At first, only the "hippies" were growing pot on the mountains, but when the mills closed residents became desperate. Cultivating and distribution of marijuana became the main economy, creating an "outlaw" community with an abundance of illegal drugs. Now, the tribe struggles to provide legitimate jobs and businesses to benefit the community. While my heart hurts to see the effects of an illegal marijuana industry in the valley, recent tribal initiatives inspire new hope.

     RVIT has invested in four new economic projects, each promises to bolster tribal self-sufficiency by providing the tribe with income and its members with jobs.  Last summer, RVIT purchased and refurbished the only motel located in our small town. The motel was derelict and an eyesore to all entering our small town.  Restoring and remodeling this business improves community pride. Tribal Program’s Manager, Cheryl Bettega shared, “The motel has taken months of hard work and it creates job openings for our tribal members, decreasing unemployment.” Taking on this challenge, the tribe displays a responsibility, which I respect.

     In 2012, RVIT opened a new convenience store near a casino on the reservation.  The Hidden Oaks Casino opened in 2007 as a family gaming facility.  The casino has “contributed to youth programs, social services, education needs” for our community and tribal members (Hidden Oaks Casino, 2013). Recently, the tribe has expanded this enterprise to include a convenience store with an ice cream and pizza bar. The new store increases employment for tribal members. Bettega noted, “Although the store is operating very well, we are still paying off the initial investment loans, but a profit is expected to be made within three to five years.”  Bettega believes the new store “Gives our tribal members something to take pride in.” 

     In 2009, Round Valley Indian Tribes started their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) which is funded by the state and federal government. Through this program, tribal families receive cash assistance, education development, career development, child-care stipend, transportation assistance and a kindergarten-high school senior clothing allowance. TANF assists families to receive essential tools in order to become self-sufficient to support themselves and their families.  TANF supports youth and adults education in both cultural knowledge and job skills.  While TANF has basketry and language classes, it also partners with a local junior college to make classes available for tribal members. Creating capacity within our valley gives tribal members hope and promise. 

     To meet the needs of our elders, disabled, and many single parents, RVIT recently built several new homes.  These new homes are part of Round Valley Indian Housing Authority’s ongoing mission to create new housing for the less fortunate.  The home construction provides needed jobs for tribal members. “Every effort will be made to see that tribal members obtain economic benefits through Indian preference in procurement, contracting, and employment.” ( A decent home contributes to a sense of well-being and a promise for a fresh start.

     My great-great-grandfather, Arthur Anderson, was the first Tribal President for the Round Valley Tribes. He was a full blooded Yuki and one of the founding writers of RVIT’s first constitution.  My great-aunt, Delores Bettega, was the very first female tribal Chairperson on the tribal council. I have leadership in my blood and very big shoes to fill. The Round Valley Tribe strives to strengthen the economy, provide jobs and bring our tribe closer to self-sufficiency. Another goal in our mission statement is to create a “Stronger tribal government and promote honor, dignity, and respect along the tribe.” Aligning with this, my first goal, as a future tribal leader will be to reestablish RVIT’s Education Program. 

     Our tribe’s future depends on having knowledgeable leaders to strengthen the tribe. We need to begin when children are young with a strong Head Start/Preschool program that prepares students for grade school.  In grades K-12, we need tutors to assist struggling learners and cultural mentors to teach children about our heritage.  We need higher education incentives and support for students to further their education and return to serve the community; such as scholarships, housing support, and job placements within our local tribal government. Educated leaders are the first step to improving our community and becoming a stronger native nation.

     Heavy drug and alcohol abuse is high among youth on my reservation, a fact I attribute to the lack of activities for youth.  Community supports the youth when they engage in sports. As a leader, I would capitalize on this support to institute early prevention programs such as traveling sports teams, softball leagues or cultural classes. Youth need to be kept busy so they do not have time or energy for drugs or alcohol. For youth who do not like sports, we can support our local 4-H program and start Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Teaching youth early to be active, build skills, and create a support network can be fun and builds healthy habits.  Kids can learn they do not have to get high to have fun.

     I am excited to step into those “big shoes” of my ancestors and invest in my tribe’s future. My tribe has stepped up to promote self-sufficiency. I want to join my tribe in their fight against drugs and promote education and bring hope to our youth.



A Place for Healing
By Morgan Gray
San Antonio, TX

Born into the rich cultural tradition of the Chickasaw Nation, I have born witness to the countless initiatives implemented by the Chickasaw Nation that have inspired and facilitated positive change. More recently, the establishment of the Aalhakoffichi' Adolescent Transitional Living Facility has proven to be both innovative and inspiring. Created with the intention of providing assistance and guidance to at-risk youth and their families, its name Aalhakoffichi translated from the Muskogean language, imparts the intended atmosphere, “a place for healing.” After years of accumulated research, it was determined by Chickasaw Governor Bill Annoatubby that a treatment facility for young people would prove essential to completing a “circle of care” for families of all backgrounds.

The facility focuses on assisting individuals between the ages fourteen through nineteen in discovering appropriate ways to cope with substance abuse, mental health, and family relation ship dynamics. Specially trained professionals from the Chickasaw Nation offer twenty-four hour monitored care, and services specially tailored to the needs of each individual and family. These services include counseling, medical treatment, and even Native American cultural education classes. Ultimately, the services are not limited to those within the walls of the facility, but continue to provide positive change for those transitioning beyond the need for services from the facility. The goal is to assist each particular family in creating appropriate ways to establish good mental, physical and relational health, as well as maintaining these gains once they re-enter the community.

Established February 28, 2013, the facility’s efficacy is still emergent, and its impact on the community as a whole has yet to be fully realized. However, the progress that has already been made in this short time proves hopeful for the greater community. The Chickasaw Nation truly values its youth, and invests time and energy into ensuring all youth have ample opportunities to become all they aspire to be. This treatment facility is only one of the numerous ways that the Chickasaw Nation has initiated positive change and guidance for adolescents. Cultural education through school programs and camps imparts meaningful elements, such as societal values and shared beliefs. Positive reinforcement is provided by recognizing and rewarding academic excellence by giving gift cards yearly and awarding a variety of scholarships for those who wish to continue their education on a collegiate level.

Additionally, programs that assist students in completing their school work and provide tutoring sessions are offered at various learning facilities. The amount and array of guidance facilities and programs specifically designed to assist in the education and positive development of youth continues to grow. These initiatives not only show faith in the Chickasaw youth, but in all youth. Governor Annoatubby and all other ground-breaking leaders within the Chickasaw Nation adamantly and rigorously work to ensure these opportunities. The Chickasaw community recognizes that change begins within their youth. By offering guidance, assistance, and opportunities, positive change is realized. Through the actions of Aalhakoffichi, as well as other youth assistance programs, future generations of the Chickasaw Nation are provided with the opportunity to fulfill short term and long term goals. These initiatives unveil a future of bright promises, and instill a sense of hopeful progress regarding the near future.

Listening to stories of struggle and perseverance of my great-great grandfather, Simon, who was a full-blooded Chickasaw Citizen, one can only imagine how his path may have changed in his early years had he had such outreach services, like those provided by Aalhakoffichi (Lisa Everly, personal communication, March 21, 2013).Simon, along with his two brothers, was orphaned at an early age. As a result of his parent’s untimely death, he was separated from his brothers and placed with a family who allowed him to live amongst them. While this family provided him a roof over his head and food to eat for which they received financial compensation, he was never treated as a family member. This became blatantly clear when the family forced Simon out after they were informed that they would no longer receive financial compensation for his care. As a result, Simon was forced to move out and live in the basement of the high school he attended.

While Simon was able to overcome such adverse effects, one can only imagine the mental anguish that he must have felt being left alone to navigate the world ahead of him.To some extent, Simon was most likely the exception to the rule. He found within himself the fortitude and determination to reach his educational goals, eventually graduating from college. Later, he took a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs where he committed his time and strength to assisting others until he retired.

While I never had the pleasure of meeting Simon, there are many stories that I have heard through the years that touch my heart and soul. Simon was a proud father of one. He frequently was known to say that his daughter’s birth overjoyed him because she was the first thing in his life that no one could take away. Such statements would make anyone realize that Simon continued to be affected by his early years of struggle.

Given the opportunity to act as a tribal leader, my actions would center on public policy as a whole. My initiatives would allow facilitators to act as advocates to assist in bridging the gap between the educational process and mental health. With student dropout rates continuing to be a significant concern for most communities, my focus would be on how to provide support to all students that encompass not only academic encouragement, but nurturing students' mental health as well. This multifaceted approach to assisting the next generation in becoming active and productive members within our community allows guidance in arenas that are most often forgotten in reference to personal health. The question of why some students never complete their education is one that I have pondered over the last few years as I have watched students around me disappear from classes. Often, these students do not appear to struggle academically in class. Therefore, one can only assume that there are other struggles within their personal lives. I strongly believe that if my great-great-grandfather, Simon, were still alive today, he would champion the initiative of a holistic approach to guiding our youth to a successful life as an adult.

I plan to make it my lifelong mission to assist this process from the political arena. Change must begin first through policy and procedure within our government. Personal stories, like Simon’s, in conjunction with the overall progress that facilities like Aalhakoffichi are able to make in each individual’s life will act as the platform that will guide my path to help build the capacity to improve our community and enhance the overall quality of life for all.



A Good Day to Make the Baskets
By Constance Owl
Murphy, NC

"She walks down a well worn path, a path many before her who make the baskets have walked. She moves gracefully for her 87 years on the Qualla Boundary. She walks with the pride of the Cherokee Nation. She walks on the land her people were forced from on the Trail of Tears. She walks a time worn path leading down to the river, a path many women before her have walked to gather the cane - to make the baskets. Although her hands are stiff and calloused with age and use, today she walks with purpose. Today is the day she will honor her ancestors and make the baskets in the old way. She takes notice of the tall grasses dancing in the warm summer wind. She hears them whispering the names of those that walked the path in days gone by; the ones who passed by on their way to the river’s edge. Although the sun is high in the sky, it’s not far now. The cane should be as tall and strong as her grandson who follows her this fine day. His sharpened knife is thirsty and eager to cut the cane for the fine baskets she will make. She will tell him many stories of his father while they work along the banks of the lazy Oconoluftee River. She stops suddenly on the path, her knees nearly folding beneath the traditional long skirt she wears. Her heart, which had been racing with excitement only moments before, sinks to the path upon which she now stands. Tears roll down the creases of her face. She is frozen in shock and disappointment and refuses to brush the tear from her face. The cane no longer stands in its muddy bed beside the river, and the path becomes yet another trail of tears for the Cherokee.”

     Just as the Cherokee language has slowly begun its virtual exit among the A-ni-yv-wi-yah, so too have the natural resources of which many of their ancient crafts are made. Not only is the cherished river cane needed for traditional Cherokee baskets slipping away, but also the river clay used by tribal potters, white oak, and many other natural resources are following as well. The cultural traditions of our tribe are being seriously challenged by the shortage of resources, and this imbalance is impacting our Native artists. In the past, traditional tribal practices ensured a respectful use of area resources. Weavers, carvers, and basket makers find it impossible to separate the environment of the Qualla Boundary from the art they create. It is because of this that the Cherokee are initiating protective measures and revitalization of important resources. Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources (RTCAR) is a grant making program whose purpose is to assist the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians restore the balance between maintaining and using natural resources. The mission of the initiative is to teach, protect and promote Cherokee traditional art, resources and land, for present and future generations.

     Part of moving forward includes understanding why the crisis has come to the people of the Cherokee tribe. With the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, many Cherokee families wove complex, beautiful baskets and sold them to park visitors as a means of keeping food on their tables. Times were tough, jobs few, and this resource allowed tribal family members to share their cultural knowledge with one another, and in doing so, kept their artistic traditions thriving. Urban development, agriculture, and tourism, although greatly beneficial to the tribe, took its toll on the environment. What made the traditional artisans work even more challenging was a serious blight affecting butternut (an important dye plant in much of the weaving arts). This blight inhibited the traditional methodologies of craft dyeing.

     Prosperity and economic advancement created a subtle blow to the artisan community of the Cherokee. When Cherokee artistic production was no longer an economic necessity, all remaining weavers were elders of the tribe. The trend of choosing non-artisan careers threatened the cultural fabric of the tribe. In Native American communities, art is as much a part of the culture as is the practice of using the tribal language. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation began providing grants to bring elders and younger members of the tribe together to combat this threat. In 2000, only two members of the EBCI were regularly creating double-weave baskets, but with the help of RTCAR funding over the past decade, 16 of the 24 artists now working in double-weave learned their craft at Cherokee High School. Additional efforts have come forth to engage the Cherokee people in peer-to-peer sharing, promoting the Cherokee as experts and teachers in the art form, Cherokee culture and art education, and connecting Cherokee artisans with groups that are engaged in their own preservation efforts.

I rely on moments of personal inspiration for my art. There have been times when the inspiration is there but, the materials I need are not readily available r easily found. It is much harder now to find the natural materials I need, when I want them, than many years ago. Often, once I have located them, the inspirationI started with has left me. (Lex Owl, Cherokee Artist)

The natural resource strategy involves mapping existing stands of river cane, expanding acreage and access to natural materials through land protection and stewardship, incorporating RTCAR’s priorities in existing plans and research, and creating a clearinghouse to connect artisans and necessary resources.

     In the real and current fight to preserve the artisan culture of the Cherokee Nation, more can still be done. The internet provides to us a vital opportunity to reach outside the perimeters of the reservation, and beyond the tourists who visit the Eastern Band in order to reach new venues of commerce in which to introduce the Native artists of our community. In addition, a resource sharing bank might be established among the artist themselves, and those of other Southeastern tribes facing like challenges. Tribal governments, schools, and community service organizations can be educated regarding this crisis of culture and become partners in its salvation.

     “Grandmother, the cane still grows a little further down the path; let us walk together and you will see. Our people are finding ways to protect it for you and the others who make the baskets. Dry your tears, today is indeed, a good day to make the baskets. Let me take your arm; we will walk this path together for many years to come, and when I am an elder like you, I will walk it still, and I will tell my grandchildren many stories of their grandmother. A soft smile comes across her weathered brown face, the tears stop, and they walk farther down the path. They have come to a healthy stand of river cane. It is a good day to make the baskets.”

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