November 2011

November 2011

PAWs - Promoting Awareness and Wellness

Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.

november 2011 – National Native American & Alaska Native Heritage Month

Above: 17th Century Navajo Petroglyph in Largo Canyon, New Mexico.

Below right: Sioux Chiefs in Washington, D.C., after a meeting at the White House.

The United States celebrates Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month each year in November to recognize the contributions made to the development of our country by the true first Americans. This monthly recognition owes much to the efforts of Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian who spent much of 1915 riding from state to state generating support for the approval of a day to honor Native Americans. On December 14, 1915, he visited the White House and presented endorsement of such a day from 24 state governments. It wasn’t until November of 1990 that President George H. W. Bush declared a National American Indian Heritage Month, and every year since, November has received a similar proclamation under varying names until its current incarnation. Today, Alaska Natives are included in the celebratory month’s title, since they are separate indigenous peoples that include Eskimo, Aleut, and many other independent cultures.

Contributions of Native Culture to American Freedom

November is also the month in which we celebrate Veterans Day. During World War II, the American forces fighting in the Pacific Theatre used a number of codes to encrypt secret intelligence. Although many of these codes were broken, one code that was never successfully compromised was the Navajo code, a code that was based upon the Navajo language. It is clear that throughout history, Native American practices have been adopted and adapted within American culture. Read the full story of the Navajo code.

Taking a Lesson: Native American Culture Embraces Harmony With the Earth

This November is an opportunity to learn from the customs and traditions of Native American cultures in our global efforts to gain harmony with our planet. Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Oglala Sioux summarized the extent of nature’s significance in his culture when he said, “We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth as ‘wild.’…To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery” (Chief Luther Standing Bear, 1933).

The value Native American cultures have always had for the natural world goes beyond a mere appreciation, as many consider nature and culture to be inseparable entities. In his article Nature and Culture: Problematic Concepts for Native Americans Jack Forbes notes, “[Native Americans] seem to see all of life which surrounds us as intelligent, inventive, changing, learning, teaching, evolving, acting, praying, feeling, and responding” (Forbes, 1997).

It is clear then that these cultures acknowledge not only the physical dimensions of the natural world around them, but also see them as intellectually stimulating, emotionally salient, and often the axis of their spiritual identities. This spiritual connection with nature is evidenced in the following traditional Native American prayer:

“Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.”

-Translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887

Right: Nature-inspired attire typically reserved for traditional powwow ceremonies.

The Cultural Significance of Harmony with Nature

One of the ways that we can more fully appreciate the harmony of this relationship with nature is by looking at the role it has played in the social context of Native American life. The cultural significance of the environment can be seen in the many social aspects dependent upon self-improvement achieved through interaction with the nature. By examining the customs and traditions of Native American cultures, we can more fully comprehend their affinity with the natural world.

One pastime greatly revered by the Cherokee nation was the “ball game.” This rite of passage was deeply ceremonial, and involved inter-tribe play. Ceremonies that were meant to bring success to the youth of a town involved invoking blessings from the natural world. Spiritual leaders asked that the players be blessed with characteristics of the deer and hawk, so that players would be fast-moving and keen of sight. These ball games changed over the years, merging into the evermore prevalent European culture until modern-day lacrosse was born.

Hunting was a pivotal part of life for many Native American cultures. It is not surprising then that this interaction with nature was often viewed as a sacred practice. The Dakota tribe presents an excellent example of this spiritual awareness. Their buffalo hunts were such a central aspect of their culture that their coexistence became evident in nearly every aspect of their lives, including spiritual rituals and traditional dance.

Native American healing is also a realm of culture in which the natural world is intrinsic. Native American medicine often does not differentiate between the ideas of healing and cure. These practices focused on individualized attention and emphasized the importance of reaching a natural balance, often with nutritional medicine and botanical remedies.

Recently, western culture has gained greater awareness of a need for a more congruent relationship with the natural world. This need is evidenced by our interest in renewable resources, our appreciation of the wonders of nature, and our newfound devotion to the preservation and protection of our planet.

For more information about Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month, and to find out how you can get involved, visit the official sites for Native American Heritage Month and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

Above: A sampling of botanical remedies, an important aspect of Native American healing.

Ashford University alumnus Spotlight - roxanne mourant

Master of Arts in Education, 2007
Alaska State Educational Technology Coordinator

Though not Native Alaskan, Roxanne Mourant (better known as Roxy) is a diehard third-generation Alaskan who was born in Juneau and has lived in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and several other Alaskan towns. Back in her hometown today, Roxy is putting her Ashford degree to work, having landing her dream job as Alaska State Educational Technology Coordinator. In this role, she oversees programs and grants that help students in all of Alaska’s 53 school districts use technology for education – something she has long been passionate about.

So how did she get here? For almost a decade, Roxy taught grades 6-12 throughout the state. She had her Bachelor’s degree, but needed to finish her Master’s degree in order to continue as a teacher – while working full time. “I began looking for programs where I could continue learning about educational leadership and integrating technology. Ashford was one of the best universities I found that allowed me to continue teaching while working on my Master’s degree, applying the lessons I learned in the program directly into my classroom.”

Roxy’s job performance certainly wasn’t sacrificed by the added workload. She was able to utilize a rare polycom video conferencing unit in the classroom, which allowed students to interact with business community members. “I saw that the power of technology could allow me to facilitate collaboration of my students with others around the world, and to have their ideas heard.” As a result, Roxy received the Denali Award for showing innovation in education.

Despite her passion for the field and her success, Roxy left teaching to return to Juneau last fall to help care for her ailing mother. But soon enough, the position for State Educational Technology Coordinator opened up. Despite all of her past experience and accolades, Roxy would not have been eligible for the position without her Master’s degree, and the opportunity would have passed her by. Instead, Roxy was selected for the job.

It’s clear that Roxy truly loves what she does and relishes applying her knowledge of years of teaching “in the trenches” to this state position. “My favorite aspect of my job is the relationships that are built and the wonderful people I get to work with, as well as having the ability to help lead education towards fun, cool, relevant projects that help students throughout the state.” One of those projects is providing distance education for various Native Alaskan communities, many of whom live in remote and isolated areas with no road access for much of the year.

It’s also obvious that Roxy is quite passionate about her state, called the “Final Frontier” for generations, and its people. “
Living off the land as a subsistence life style carries on traditions that are still alive today in many of our rural communities. For me, this gets to the core of how we live in a harsh environment, embracing the changes of seasons and weather, learning respect for nature and things around us. It’s my pleasure to live in a state where independence is guarded with passion and community members come together with common goals no matter how spread our viewpoints on issues.”

She and her family get involved in local politics because, in a huge state with a small population and lots of intertwined family history, they personally know many people who are affected by legislation. “We have led statewide union strikes to ensure rights of state employees are heard and respected; lobbied for funding for University structures; met with governors, legislators, fishermen, students, and many others to hear opinions and ideas.” Additionally, Roxy hopes to keep Alaska beautiful and encourages people to support modes of transportation and development of natural resources that are environmentally friendly.

Ashford University is proud to have this dynamic educational trailblazer in our growing family of highly successful alumni, and the admiration is mutual. “I think Ashford has a rigor that is valuable for online learning. I am grateful that Ashford had the vision to realize how online coursework could benefit someone like me who worked full-time and needed to finish a degree in order to continue as a teacher. The online program at Ashford helped me learn how to effectively interact with my colleagues in an online environment that prepared me for what I would use daily in my professional career.

“My passion,” continues Roxy, “will always be finding ways to help students succeed.” Ashford University is right behind her in that mission.

Visit Roxy's blog.