A Summer of Travel: Visiting & Speaking with Native Communities

Hau Mitkauyapi (Hello My Relatives),

We’re firmly into fall now and my fourth month with ANA. My first summer as Commissioner was one of constant learning and travel. I made my first work trip to Montana less than a month after joining my team and have been doing my best to visit as many grantees and Native communities as I can ever since. I’ve been able to see some breathtaking scenery and meet many inspiring Native community members and leaders in all four service regions. These trips have reaffirmed the importance of ANA’s work for me, and I’d like to share details of some of my early journeys with you.

I first traveled to Montana to attend ANA’s first-ever Native Youth I-LEAD Summit. This three-day event brought together youth and their chaperones from 12 of our 13 Native Youth Initiative for Leadership, Empowerment, and Development (I-LEAD) projects. It made me proud to see Native youth taking the initiative to become leaders and work to better their communities. Their pursuit of intergenerational learning opportunities and eagerness to work together with other I-LEAD projects to expand their impact sets a great example for the rest of their generation. These charismatic youths motivated each other by sharing stories about their projects, conducting group songs and dances, and discussing common challenges and goals.

The Pacific region stayed on my mind, as my next trip was to Hawaii. There I visited eight grantee project sites along with government offices, such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It was a very busy three days as I tried to take in as much as I could. I gained a deeper respect for the determination of Native Hawaiians to revitalize their traditions. From bringing back ancestral navigation skills to harvesting traditional foods, there is no aspect of their culture they aren’t working to preserve for future generations.

One of the grantees, Te Taki Tokelau, is conducting a Vaka, or canoe, carving project. This is an intergenerational undertaking which uses vaka-related vocabulary and Tokelauan storytelling and song to teach the language to youth and other community members. Vasefenua Reupena is the Master Carver (te Vaka), who is teaching his community the canoe carving skills of their ancestors. The Vaka is near completion and has a launch date set in November. It was inspiring to see the community working together each weekend and learning their unique traditional skills.

Knowing that I would soon be speaking before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I wanted to meet with grantees focused on revitalizing Native languages. So I headed to New Mexico to visit several Pueblos focused on maintaining the traditional languages specific to their area. I have described this trip as, “Meeting beautiful people in a beautiful land who have beautiful languages.” Their efforts to maintain languages such as Keresan and Tiwa challenged elders to speak with youth and strengthen relationships between generations as well as speaking skills. However, the peoples of the Pueblos aren’t only working on language revitalization. They also introduced me to their diverse set of economic development initiatives. The Santa Ana Pueblo, own and operate a 30 acre vineyard on tribal land, with over 30,000 grape vines. This vineyard employees 40 seasonal employees and has increased overall revenue for its community members. 

Native language revitalization remained a theme of my travels for the rest of August, even after I’d given my testimony. I was honored to speak at the Native Language Summit in Oklahoma towards the end of the month. This summit brought together speakers, linguists, and other practitioners working to preserve Native languages to share best practices and insights. The stories shared by attendees allowed me to see how Native language use provided community engagement and brought a sense of cultural pride to speakers.

I also signed a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Acting Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, Ron Lessard, and the Director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education, Tony Dearman. This MOA ensures that our offices’ collaborative efforts regarding revitalizing Native language, including the summit, will continue for years to come.

I’ve made several more trips since August and am planning more. However, these first visits to meet with the Native communities we collaborate and interact with will always hold special meaning to me. Nothing could better prepare me for my work at ANA or help to guide my efforts as Commissioner than speaking with those working on the ground to help Native communities thrive. I look forward to more travel in the future and will continue to share the lessons learned along my ANA journey.

Pidamayapi ksto (Thank You),

Jeannie Hovland