The Native American nonprofit organization, Wisdom of the Elders in Portland, Oregon, a longtime partner of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, records, preserves and shares oral history, cultural arts and traditional ecological knowledge of Native elders and scientists in collaboration with diverse tribal and environmental organizations, government agencies and educational institutions.

“With our vision of Native American cultural sustainability, we strive to correct misconceptions, end prejudice and demonstrate how Indian culture has and continues to enrich our world,” says Executive Director Gerry RainingBird.

Among its programs is its Discovering Yidong Xinag (“The Old Wisdom” in the Deg Xinag dialect of Athabascan) project, a Native youth leadership initiative developed by Wisdom providing Native youth and families in the greater Portland area with hands-on outdoor conservation and restoration service learning activities.

This past year, Wisdom collaborated with Oregon’s nine federally-recognized tribes to produce culturally-tailored multimedia curriculum for Native students at public schools located near Oregon’s tribes.

The goal of the project was to film 30 tribal elders, indigenous scientists and cultural leaders from Oregon so Wisdom’s curriculum can be expanded and shared with Oregon’s rural Indian reservations for the purpose of engaging Native American students in place-based environmental science, increasing academic achievement, and strengthening resiliency factors (cultural identity, self-esteem, etc.).

Wisdom’s Discovering Yidong Xinag team worked with 75 Native American high school students at Chemawa High School where its staff has been co-teaching in the ecology classroom and working in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) career preparations, from which they produced a short video.

“We show our film clips about traditional First Foods (water, salmon, deer and elk, roots and berries, etc),” reported Wisdom educator Tim Burgess in August. “As a result, the students are discovering that there are traditional First Foods that are threatened or endangered and have a complete report of a food from their own reservation community.

“They are studying how the food is gathered and used; why it is threatened and how it can be restored,” he continued. “The students have shown great interests in our films so that we feel we have great potential to engage them more deeply in school and increase their academic achievement and pathways.”

During one of their filming trips to the Klamath Tribes reservation in Chiloquin they interviewed a couple, Delia, a master gardener who provides gardening education to her community, and Derek, who has a degree in environmental studies and has extensively studied zero net energy building techniques.

“Chiloquin is considered a food desert and like most reservations there are no health food or organic food options,” noted Tim. “We felt that our interviews with Delia and Derek will be used to inspire and motivate similar families throughout Indian Country to become entrepreneurs and create spaces of abundance in traditional healthy food and culture.

“Their stories will now be included in our teaching materials and will be shown to many Natives who might learn and take heart in the perseverance!”

Tim also wanted to express Wisdom’s gratitude for the support by provided by the supporters of Running Strong for American Youth® for these many past years.

“Funding is increasing scarce for small Native American nonprofits and it is reassuring to us to know that we might continue to be funded by such an amazing organization – thank you for your support of our 100 percent Native staff.”

As an aside, Tim also noted that two Running Strong Dreamstarters have been associated with Wisdom, Jacquelyn Nielsen (North Western Band of Shoshone Nation), 2015, and Kunu Bearchum (Northern Cheyenne), 2018, a Wisdom educator and Native peer mentor who provides cultural arts and youth mentoring services, and also has a Multimedia Production Certificate.

“We will always offer our full support for Running Strong for American Indian Youth®!”

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