Celebrating and preserving native traditions, language, and culture

Celebrating and preserving native traditions, language, and culture

Celebrating and preserving native traditions, language, and culture are at the core of many Running Strong programs. 

Creating Healthy Futures for Youth with Brave Heart Society

December 2023 marked the 29th anniversary of the partnership between Running Strong for American Indian Youth® and the Brave Heart Society in Lake Andes, South Dakota, on the Yankton Sioux Tribe reservation.

Brave Heart is a national leader in the cultural protection of land and water, youth, language, indigenous games, rites of passage, Dakota storytelling, trauma healing, food sovereignty, and sacred sites. The long-range funding of Running Strong enables Brave Heart to deconstruct and decolonize many aspects of our community more effectively. Our support allows Brave Heart to provide cultural care that heals intergenerational trauma.

Running Strong funding is directed to the Waterlily Storytelling Institute, Isnati/Coming of Age Ceremony for youth, Lacrosse/sports camps, Kunsi Circle meetings and workshops, cultural learning circles, and trauma healing, including suicide prevention, sexual/physical abuse, and family work.

Faith recently shared a story: “We were inspired by an older gardener who grew up with his grandmothers and aunts planting gardens. But since they were elderly, he took the brave step to plant a garden independently, and he was so excited about being successful.”

Faith also wanted the Running Strong supporters to know that “This general support is the basic determiner of our widespread success in the Oceti Sakowin as we do not have to invent new programs to get funding, and it is consistent, for the long term, which is a major decolonizing large form of support in philanthropy.”

Rites of Passage and Sacred Food Preparation through Sacred Healing Circle

In addition to the Brave Heart Society, last year Running Strong provided a grant to the Sacred Healing Circle for its Rites of Passage for Oglala Lakota boys and girls ages 10-20, which was held in August.

Wakanyeja Gluwitayan Otipi: The Rites of Passage Program, an emergency safehouse for children from 0 to 13 years of age, is known for keeping children on Pine Ridge safe.

The goal of Wakanyeja Gluwitayan Otipi is to help the greater Lakota community of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Chadron, Nebraska, by reinforcing the traditional Lakota societal structure and reintroducing ceremonial rites of passage activities for our youth.

The three-day-long event incorporates and brings together people within many societal spheres, such as Traditional knowledge keepers, experienced youth mentors, medicine people, individuals who participate in the Pine Ridge day-labor program, individuals who oversee cooking and meal planning, artisans and event announcers, as well as youth – boys and girls – between ages 10-20 years.   The events create a safe, culturally appropriate space to transfer knowledge from elders to youth effectively.”

Lakota and Cheyenne elders served as mentors for the youth. The girls learned about sacred food preparation, traditional storytelling, ribbon skirt making, ceremonial teachings, and inipi.  The boys learned about tipi raising, inipi, storytelling, drum making, and ceremonial instruction, such as how to keep a ceremonial fire.

Following the teachings, a day was set aside for ceremonially bestowing Lakota names on youth and community members.

Sacred foods are a critical component of rites of passage ceremonies. Corn and chokeberries need to be harvested and prepared before the ceremonies. Our funding for the most recent year of ceremonies allowed Sacred Healing Circle to purchase corn from the Mohawk Nation and chokeberries from the Cheyenne Nation in Montana. The focus on sacred foods is fundamental to the community. 

Yvette, the Director of Sacred Healing Circle, shared a story from the 2023 event: “Our Sacred Foods Preparation workshop helped young Josh*, age 4, to begin to understand the importance of men and women working together to create a solid base for the community as a whole.”

“As the girls and women worked to make the wasna, he worked alongside his grandfather to ensure the meat hanging racks were secure, any tent holes were patched, and the kitchen appliances were working and in order.

“We will continue his training in this manner so he understands the importance of supporting the women in his life and the important role men play in keeping our traditions alive.”

The Yuchi Language Project Continues to Protect Yuchi Language and Culture

For 27 years, Running Strong has worked with the Yuchi Language Project in Oklahoma to protect and revitalize the Yuchi language and culture, keeping alive the rich heritage of the Yuchi people by creating new young speakers through “breath-to-breath” immersion methods with fluent speakers and children.

Because there are so few native Yuchi speakers left, the Yuchi Language Project (YLP) aims to pass knowledge to children so they can praise their ancestors in their traditional tongue. Yuchi is what linguists call an “isolate,” meaning it has no apparent relationship to any other language or language family. In many ways, the language remains alive because of the funding we provide to the program.

“We’ve seen remarkable progress through our immersion school, community language classes, and national and international advocacy engagement. Children are now growing up speaking Yuchi as their first language, a significant achievement after a century-long gap. This achievement is a testament to the resilience and dedication of our community, marking a pivotal moment in our cultural heritage’s preservation and continuation,” says Project Administrator h@lA Turning Heart.

“As we reflect on today’s significance, we must acknowledge the critical role of parents in this revival. They stand at the forefront of our efforts, fostering the transmission of the Yuchi language to the first generation of speakers in almost a hundred years. Through speaking Yuchi at home and participating in immersion programs, parents create a vibrant environment where the language can naturally thrive. Their dedication to the breath-to-breath method of language learning ensures that Yuchi is taught and lived, establishing a profound connection between our children and their cultural identity.”

Revitalizing the Hupa Language with Dreamstarter Dr. Sara Chase-Merrick

In 2022, Running Strong partnered with 2017 Dreamstarter Dr. Sara Chase-Merrick to develop the Hupa Language Immersion Nest, a year-long Hupa Language Immersion program for babies and toddlers 18-35 months old. It is the first of its kind on the Hoopa Reservation in Northern California.

Sara’s dream has always been to create a future where all Hupa children can learn to speak the Hupa Language from birth to adulthood and where the Hupa Language is spoken throughout Na:tini-xw (the Hoopa Valley) and beyond. In 2017, she used her first Dreamstarter grant to launch a 5-day Hupa Immersion Summer Camp for children ages 4-7 in her community.

In 2020, she received a $50,000 Dreamstarter GOLD grant to evolve her summer camp into a four-week, summer-long Hupa Immersion Summer School for Hoopa youth. 

The Hupa Language Immersion Nest was the next evolution of her dream. This full-time program reconnects children to language and the land and teaches the importance of protecting both. “We are so excited to report that the Nest is up and running! We are now midway through our 3rd week, and all the babies have officially begun speaking Hupa,” Sara reported at the start of this school year.

“This is the next step in continuing my dream of building a Hupa Language Immersion School that serves kids of all ages. We have seen such great results with our short-term programs, but we know that we can do so much more with the children and their families if we can work with them full-time. This program is creating new speakers of the Hupa language from early children, something we haven’t had in our community for decades.”

“Our language is a fundamental part of who we are as Hupa people. In order to preserve our culture and language, we need more people to not only speak it but also teach it to our youth and families.”

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