Changing Culture through Community Engagement

Dec 13, 2019 | Native Hope

This week's blog shares updates from members of the Native Hope team about the ways we have been working in local communities to engage young people in Native culture and bring awareness to the beauty of Native life.

Changing Minds and Hearts at a Local University

On November 20th, my teammate, Trisha, and I (Trista, Native Hope team member) co-presented at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD along with Augustana student and Native Hope contributing author Audreayanna Martin. We did our presentation on the Untold Story of Native America and went in depth on many of the atrocities that happened to Native Americans since 1492. It was a pleasant surprise to see the amount of genuine interest and the open minds of the students and faculty.

Auggie-1Augustana isn’t known for their diversity; in fact, only 8 out of the 1871  enrolled student population are Native American. For most of my life, I have seen many non-Natives keep a closed mind when it comes to learning the truth. It was refreshing to experience the enthusiasm the students expressed about learning the true history of my people.

We started with statistics. We told them the estimated number of Indigenous peoples in North American before 1492 (10-20 million), and the number who were left (249,000) after the century-long genocide committed by the United States. Jaws dropped. The room was silent, and it hit me how many people in this country do not know the truth about how America came to be.

From then on, our presentation sparked many questions, and some students shared about misconceptions of Native Americans that they had had until we shared our presentation.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to tell my history and the history of the United States with these great students.

Don't Be Ashamed to Rock Your Mocs

SantaFe3-1In an unrelentingly westernizing world, it becomes harder and harder as a Native to feel that we fit in even within our own homeland. But one woman came up with a simple idea (that has since blossomed into an international movement) that empowers Native people to express their culture.

Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye, of Laguna Pueblo, is the founder of Rock Your Mocs that began in 2011. It all started out as a social media event. One day in November, Jessica encouraged Natives to wear their moccasins in unity and post the images on social media. Each year the event has grown into a celebration of unity and diversity.

This year, the Native Hope team participated in Rock Your Mocs in South Dakota and New Mexico.

From Santa Fe:

SanteFe1-1This year, our Native Hope media team joined Jessica at two Rock Your Mocs events in New Mexico: The Rock Your Mocs 5k in Isleta Pueblo and the Rock Your Mocs event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Although each event only had about a hundred people in attendance, our ability to document these events generated over 10,000 views through Facebook. Our viewers learned that although moccasins are common Native apparel, they are unique to every tribe. Those interviewed throughout the events wished to inspire our viewers to embrace our identity as Native people, and wearing our moccasins is one way to accomplish that.

Moccasins represent more than mere footwear to Native people. It is a sacred item that is passed down through generations. It is a physical manifestation of our journey as Native people. Moccasins are how we first learn the earth is sacred, and we must tread upon it with honor and respect. Native Hope was proud to bring this event to our subscribers who may not have access to such events. Most importantly, this is for those who are the only Native in their school or at work. Be proud of whom you are.

From Chamberlain:

RYMWe challenged Crow Creek Tribal School to participate in the Rock Your Mocs social media challenge as a part pf celebrating Native American Heritage month.

It was a school wide event that was open to Kindergarten through twelfth grade. The school selected a day that the challenge would take place and we went there to tally the numbers of students rocking their mocs. The 1st grade class ended up having the highest percentage of participants with a whopping 100%!

There were students who didn’t have moccasins in the 1st grade and the teachers made it fun by allowing them to make their own out of craft paper. Other grades, like the 4th grade, also had students who made makeshift moccasins that day to celebrate their heritage.

The prize for the highest rate of participation was a pizza party, and the first grade classes were extremely thankful for their pizza party. They were especially proud of their hard work to make their very own moccasins. It’s extraordinary how talented some of these young students are at creating beautiful arts and crafts.

We were super happy with the outcome of this challenge and look forward to it next year.

Trista Volunteers through the Junior Achievement Program


In November, I volunteered as an instructor for the Junior Achievement organization of South Dakota (JA). Their curriculum “inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy.” I taught 8th grader in an all-day (8 hour) session at Arrowwood at Cedar Shore. This annual JA event specifically targets work ethic and skills, including resume building, job application skills, and interview etiquette. Participating were 110 students from two schools: Chamberlain Middle School and St. Joseph Indian School. 

From mid-October through the first week of December, I also worked with second-graders at Chamberlain Elementary. JA instructors focus on everyday life skills. For example, we helped to explain government and how government entities like schools, fire departments, police stations, public health nurses, and public libraries are funded through people's taxes. Students responded positively by identifying their relatives who are nurses, teaches, and firemen and engaging in conversation.

I was amazed at their understanding of the difficult concept. As a volunteer for Junior Achievement and a teacher of its curriculum, I am inspired to work with more young people through a mentorship program we are developing here at Native Hope.

We've asked many inspiring Native Americans to share about their hopes and dreams. Read their answers to the question: "What is your Native hope?"

My Native Hope Is...