HONORING NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE AT RELIEF NURSERY
The Relief Nursery Native Outreach Project began in November 2014 with conversations with community partners and tribal members. In 2016 the project received funding through a generous grant from the Coeta and Donald Barker Foundation. In early 2017, the Native Outreach Project Advisory Committee held its first meeting. With the help of our tribal and community partners, we began to identify barriers to service and ways to make Relief Nursery more welcoming to Native families. When the program started, we were serving three Native American families. Currently, 48 Native families are engaged with our programs.
The Advisory Committee continues to meet quarterly to explore further ways of enhancing culturally relevant and responsive services, sharing resources and information, and building bridges of connection. The committee has had representation from over a dozen tribes with a Lane county presence, including eight of the nine federally recognized resident Oregon tribes. Over the years, we have been supported by additional funding from Meyer Memorial Trust, Spirit Mountain Community Fund, and Collins Foundation.
One area we have focused on in this project is enhancing anti-bias practices and curriculum in our Therapeutic Early Childhood Program. This includes selecting culturally respectful toys and books, avoiding stereotypes and cultural appropriation, and bringing the children’s home languages into the classroom. Reflecting Native American culture in our classrooms is one of many ways we work to be inclusive of the children and families we serve.
All young children need support to develop a positive sense of their own identity. Exploring identity helps children develop self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and a sense of belonging. Their family and their home life are the most important sources of that identity. We support children in thinking about who they are, what is unique and special about them, who is in their family, and what their home is like – and we want children to have opportunities to share that with each other. Every classroom has a Family Wall where each child’s family photo is displayed. Classroom teachers build strong connections with parents and other family members through home visits. This creates an intentional link between the home and the classroom and allows us to provide support to the most important people in a child’s life.
The media, children’s books and TV shows, and even resources for teachers are filled with stereotypes about Native Americans, and children absorb these messages from a really young age. Stereotypes can be deeply harmful, and Native American children who are exposed to these ideas can internalize the stereotypes, which can negatively affect their self-esteem or how they feel about their culture.
At the Relief Nursery, we are intentional with the images and representations of Native American Culture we display. We strive to replace narrow depictions, for instance images which seem to represent American Indians as having only lived in the past, in historical or primitive settings. Native American culture is very much alive and woven into our modern-day society. There are many faces and experiences of being Native American and our goal is to promote diverse and relevant representations for our children and families.
We select books for our classrooms that show authentic, historic and modern depictions, positive images and respectful language, written and illustrated by Native Americans. It is important for children to see themselves and people who look like them and their family reflected in their classroom and learning experiences. This is part of our approach to inclusivity, especially around our children’s cultures.
We also honor and reflect culture by bringing the children’s home languages into the classroom. We ask families if they speak any language other than English, and if this is something they would like us to do in the classroom. Families teach us common words, like how to greet someone and how to say goodbye, how to say thank you, and how to name some of the things in our classrooms. For some Native American families, the revitalization of their indigenous language is deeply important. The “Indian Boarding Schools” in Oregon and across the US and Canada caused devastating harm to generations of American Indian children – stripping them of their language, cultural traditions, and family and community connections. We at the Relief Nursery have a responsibility and commitment to support families who are working to reconnect to their heritage. All Relief Nursery teachers and home visitors receive training on the history of intergenerational racial trauma, profound resilience, and ongoing systemic inequities faced by Native Americans in Oregon.
So many people have contributed to this ongoing work. We are grateful for the generous participation of all of our current and past members of the Native Outreach Project Advisory Committee:
Mary Margaret Reynolds
What is a Land Acknowledgement?
A land acknowledgement is a statement that expresses an awareness of the land we are on and the original stewards of that land. The purpose of a land acknowledgement is to recognize and show respect for the ongoing relationship between Indigenous people and the land, and to raise awareness about the Indigenous histories, perspectives and experiences that are often suppressed or forgotten. Land acknowledgements have been used in other countries with indigenous populations, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and it is becoming more common in the US as well. Developing a land acknowledgement is another step in our journey towards our goal of making the Nursery more welcoming and inclusive of tribal families. This Land Acknowledgement was created by members of the Relief Nursery Native American Advisory Council, which includes Relief Nursery staff as well as 17 tribal and community partners.
Relief Nursery Land Acknowledgement
We hold space on the ancestral lands of the Kalapuya people. We honor and pay respect to the past, present and future stewards of this land and all indigenous peoples who call Oregon home. We recognize that the people and communities that cared for, and lived on, these lands since the beginning of time are still here. We reflect on the displacement, forced removal, and suffering that took place throughout Oregon and beyond. We respectfully acknowledge all Indigenous communities throughout time and into the future and are grateful for their vibrant presence.
Spirit Mountain Grant Award Presentation
Val Hoyle –Oregon’s statewide Labor Commissioner,
Molly Henderson – Relief Nursery Peer Support Specialist,
Ray Brown –Program Director at Relief Nursery,
Mychal Cherry –Director of Marketing Spirit Mountain,
and Denise Harvey –Tribal Councilwoman