November is Native American Heritage Month, and at FoodCorps, we think this is an especially great time to highlight the inspiring work happening in the many Native and Indigenous communities in which we serve. You’ll hear from FoodCorps service members and alumni who are connecting kids back to the food cultures of their communities.
With NativeVision we are able to get the students moving through unique physical activities, as well as educate them about what’s healthy and what isn’t. We empower our youth to learn more words or topics about their Navajo heritage.
Being a FoodCorps service member and serving with Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health under the Feast for the Future Program sparked my passion for teaching. I’m appreciative of the time I spent as a service member; I was able to give back to my community and it connected me back to Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. The NativeVision mission is to empower American Indian youth to realize their full (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) potential through promotion of physical fitness, healthy nutrition, and positive life skills. NativeVision is important to youth in my community because we’ve been pulled away from our traditional teachings. We as Navajo/Diné have been told to get up before the sun and run towards the east, stay out all day working or tending to animals. With the introduction of technology our youth now rely on tablets or computers to be entertained. With NativeVision we are able to get the students moving through unique physical activities, as well as educate them about what’s healthy and what isn’t. We empower our youth to learn more words or topics about their Navajo heritage. I feel honored to be able to teach youth an exciting and different type of program. To see smiles on their faces while we play a game or learn about what they want to be when they grow has been amazing.
FoodCorps Alum, Arizona ’16
NativeVision Program Coordinator at Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health
Even for me, migrating was very difficult even though I came here under almost ideal circumstances. Because of this experience, I recognize the importance of making our students feel welcome.
Being Culturally Responsive is about Listening
My name is Diego, and I am a FoodCorps service member in Springdale, Arkansas. As I write this, we are having our first snowfall in a couple of years. For many of our diverse groups of students, it is the first time they have seen snow. This makes me think of all of the “firsts” our large number of students from the Marshall Islands and Latin America experience every day. It also reminds me of all the challenges and opportunities of my own immigrant experience.
The Marshall Islands are an island country in the Pacific Ocean and a United States associated state. To give you some more context, I had the privilege of having an insightful conversation with Carlnis, my school’s Marshallese Liaison. In my research, I learned that in 1940, the United States conducted nuclear tests that displaced hundreds of indigenous Marshallese people, leaving a lasting trace of radiation that even today makes Bikini Atoll uninhabitable. As a form of reparation, the U.S. signed a Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, allowing Marshallese citizens to live and work in the U.S. The majority of Marshallese that moved to the U.S. settled in Springdale, Arkansas.
Even for me, migrating was very difficult even though I came here under almost ideal circumstances. Because of this experience, I recognize the importance of making our students feel welcome. Communicating with diverse people can be challenging, but I have learned some strategies that have helped me connect with kids. The first one has been to develop a genuine interest in the culture of our kids. I am deeply moved by the story of indigenous Marshallese people in Springdale. I have learned a couple of Marshallese sentences and connected with Carlnis to learn about food and culture. Just saying “Iokwe” (hello), talking about the islands in my lessons, or asking students about their culture brightens their faces immediately. I have also focused on being vulnerable and expressing my own culture. I taught a lesson about Colombia and made banana juice. After that lesson, many students started sharing their culture with their similarities and differences to mine, and they were even more open about their experiences as immigrants.
Carlnis helped me understand that even though you cannot separate the history of Bikini Atoll with the history of the Marshall Islands, the Marshallese don’t see themselves as victims; they represent a rich and diverse culture. Each one of the hundreds of Marshallese atolls shares a common language and culture but presents a distinct and recognizable character. Some of their commonalities are the importance and interconnection of land, food, conversation, and religious virtue. Through conversations around food grown in the land, Marshallese learn about each other and about God, whom they see as inseparable from their everyday lives. It is impossible for me, an outsider, to capture Marshallese culture in a short paragraph, but the best way to get to know their culture is through their central element of conversation rather than books and articles written by others. Just listening for a short time, I learned a lot.
I remember the first time I saw snow, not too long ago. I remember the challenges of not understanding what is expected of you, and how good it felt when somebody was there to listen and to share. I try to put myself in the tiny shoes of our kids and think about what I would need to feel important and welcome. It is not always easy to understand, but every day I learn more and try to listen better.
—Diego Alonso Virgues
FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member
We are creating labels for our salad bar that will have the fruits and vegetables labeled in Passamaquoddy and English with hand-drawn pictures.
My name is Allie Cook and I am serving at the Indian Township School in Indian Township, Maine. This school is located on the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation, which is the most eastern American Indian tribe in the U.S. At my school, our garden club is called the Passamaquoddy Original Gardeners, or Passamaquoddy O.G. for short. Throughout the school year, we work together to take care of our raised beds and greenhouse as well as grow culturally relevant vegetables like corn, squash, and beans in our Three Sisters Garden. Currently, we are creating labels for our salad bar that will have the fruits and vegetables labeled in Passamaquoddy and English with hand-drawn pictures. We also completed the design for our Passamaquoddy O.G. t-shirts, which will be given out to the students that regularly attend gardening club during the afterschool program. We are all super excited to have a great year out in the garden and greenhouse and in the cafeteria!
FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member
Indian Township, Maine