The HEART Initiative

Communities of practice in which accomplished, culturally-responsive teachers systematically integrate education and traditional culture to foster healing and positive change.

Caring — September 20, 2016


I care deeply about education.  I care deeply about education for Native youth.  By vocation, I work hard to bring the very best education into every classroom serving Indian Country.  But my grandmother was NOT a Cherokee, and that’s okay.

I appreciate all that our educational system has contributed to the youth of this nation.  But, I also appreciate that some of our forefathers used education for the wrongs reasons.  They used it as a tool to destroy indigenous culture and assimilate a diverse population of Native Americans into the dominant culture of the time.  And while the dominant culture has moved on from this bleak era, the scars still run deep in Native minds.  Seven generations past and seven generations into the future are in the hearts of each Native soul.  These souls still feel the sting of wounds from the past and exhaustion from too many sleepless nights worrying about the future.

We have moved on, yet we bestow onto them an educational system that is born from a dominant culture; propagating traditions, history and values that are foreign to Native peoples. This system disconnects Native students from their rich cultural heritage, traditional languages and oral history.  But, we don’t see it.  We don’t get it.

I could recite all of the statistics that support the deplorable state of Native youth in the United States.  Suicide rates, alcoholism and drug abuse rates, dropout rates –you name them, they are the worst in the land, by a long-shot.  But here’s the thing…when you know the system is broken -very broken- you try to fix it.  And you give it all you have got.

When I look around the education landscape, I see some amazing things happening in indigenous education.  Look at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) and the NACA-Inspired schools, the WoLakota Project, the increasing number of Native teachers who are National Board Certified…and our HEART Initiative.

Since we have established that my non-existent, long-lost Cherokee grandmother is not the motivation for this work, you might ask why?  The answer is a simple one -when you know better, you need to do better.  We can’t just stand by and watch Native American students fail because they are part of a system that was once used to destroy their culture.  There are many ways for you to engage and support our work.  Share our website with people who know (or should know) what’s going on in Native education, feel free to reach out and ask questions, or consider funding our work.  Please, do something.  Because the only way we fail is if we all knowingly keep heading down the wrong path and we do nothing new and different about making it better.  Thanks for your support.

Learn more about the HEART Initiative here.

Welcome to HEART — September 8, 2016

Welcome to HEART

If you are reading this, I’m going to assume a few things about you.  You are probably interested in education, in community and in the history and rights of indigenous people.  That’s quite a bit to assume, but let’s face it, this blog is not yet a top Internet search result and you probably had to be searching for some specific content to find it.  Being concerned about education is fairly common; everyone wants great schools, right?  The same could be said for community.  Who doesn’t want to be part of a thriving, healthy community?  Expressing interest in indigenous history puts you on a much smaller lane of the Internet highway than others.  Actually being informed and engaged about the conditions and challenges confronting Native American students- well, you have ventured well off the main road.

We are not here to bemoan the fate of some mythical group of people created by Hollywood.  We are here to talk about real students and real struggles to heal people from the grave wounds inflicted by centuries of cultural and literal genocide.  We are educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens committed to bringing the very best practices and resources together -to bring healing and positive change to indigenous students.

Big dreams?  Absolutely, but these are big problems and there is no time for halfhearted, weak-kneed approaches.  We are focused on building lasting success for the students whose very existence is an improbable miracle given how hard governments and dominant cultures have worked to eradicate them.  If you are Native, there is no need to tell you of the struggles.  If you are not Native, but are a sympathizer, a collaborator… you probably have seen enough stats and Native poverty porn to know you don’t need to be convinced the problems are massive and the need for action is critical.

I wonder how many readers are teachers in schools that still have “harmless” or “beloved” Native mascots while their “statistically insignificant” but very real Native student populations struggle to find success and identity in the classroom.  I wonder how many have seen a social media piece about the Dakota Access pipeline and wondered what the big deal is.  I wonder still, how many have questioned why this story isn’t a much bigger deal.  How many of us see the connection between the tomahawk-chop at the ballpark and the ability for us to stand by while laws regarding Tribal Nation sovereignty are ignored?

The stench of failure exemplifies the pathetic state of affairs propagated by the educational systems serving Native American youth.  “Kill the Indian and save the man” may not be official policy anymore, but current educational outcomes are similar.  So much so that for many members of Generation Indigenous, suicide is a struggle far more familiar than the college application process.

The HEART initiative is a unique endeavor that merges the most promising and research based practices in education into a systemic approach for educator development.  The end result will be cadres of accomplished, culturally responsive teachers who help indigenous communities bring healing and positive change to schools, on and off the reservation.  Please, explore this website, read about the approach, follow our progress, make a donation, join a Circle.  Commit to doing something that makes a positive difference for us all.  Thanks for the opportunity to speak from the HEART and I hope you’ll be back soon.

Learn more about the HEART Initiative here.