Wuneekeesuq Nutawâm (Greetings to my Tribal Community),
I hope that you all enjoyed a safe and happy summer, full of good medicine. As I reflect on the Summer of 2011, I think of our outstanding Powwow, the powwows of other nations that I was honored to attend, events like Rumble on the Rez, and the opportunity to speak before Congressional committees twice in support of our Tribe. It was a busy and fulfilling season!
Nothing was more important to me than witnessing our kids grow and learn, and our adults rally to support them and give them a brighter future. Recently, Bobby Gonsalves hosted a three on three basketball tournament to promote substance abuse awareness and encourage our kids to Say No to Drugs. Bobby is a strong tribal member leading a clean lifestyle, committed to ridding the Mashpee Wampanoag community of substance abuse and to promoting a clean, productive and healthy lifestyle. The tribal council appreciates and supports Bobby’s commitment to creating a clean drug free environment for our Native Community.
I am blown away by the success of the Native Tribal Scholars program in its first summer session. Almost 40 Native high school-aged students gave up their usual summer activities in order to participate in the intensive, six-week academic program at Regis College. Instead of hanging at the beach, these kids made a commitment to their future. For six weeks, they took classes, attended workshops, participated in group educational trips, and lived in a college dormitory setting. They worked hard, supported each other, and made great advancements.
What really set their experience apart from other college prep programs, however, was the focus on Native American culture, history, and sovereignty. Coursework incorporated themes that these kids could relate to as Native people, and encouraged them to think about their identities as Native people and what that means. This identity will not only help each of our students recognize their special place in the world and the history that they carry through their bloodline; it will help each of them to chart their own course for success in a way that celebrates and stays true to their proud heritage.
Seeing the progress that the Native Tribal Scholars made in six short weeks is remarkable. Not only are they more confident and capable students who have gained valuable skills that will help them be successful in high school and beyond, it is clear that these students have gained a confidence and a sense of purpose that they will carry through their lives.
I was struck by the messages that the students displayed on Family Day: “I commit to stick with the program.” ”I will be respectful of my parents and teachers.” “I will stay in school.”
The essays that students wrote and shared at the end of the summer session were remarkable. Students each wrote of overcoming their challenges, including difficult circumstances at home, feeling hopeless about school, and the low expectations of teachers and school officials. The Native Tribal Scholars program has begun the process of giving these kids the support and the confidence that they need to transcend the barriers placed in front of them and to reach their full potential. I know many of us always saw the potential of these young people; it is so gratifying that they now see that potential in themselves.
Many people came together to make this great program a reality. I especially thank Native Tribal Scholars Director Gail Hill and Education Director Renee Lopes Pocknett for their tireless efforts. I thank the entire staff of the program, which nurtured our kids and pushed them to find their own greatness. I also thank Dr. Cedric Woods of UMass Boston for his relentless support, and for his coordination of so many outside efforts to make this program a reality. And I thank the families of our scholars for their support and commitment.
Moving forward, the Native Tribal Scholars program will continue to work with Tribal youth in areas of tutoring, mentoring and college visits during the school year, followed by another summer session next year. I encourage any student who wishes to participate in the program to please contact Renee Lopes Pocknett to get involved.
This program is one piece of our commitment to support the education of our youth so that they can reach their full potential to be happy, healthy, and productive adults. I applaud everyone who came together to make this initiative a success, and ask that you join with me in supporting these students as they pursue their bright futures!
Qaqeemasq (Running Bear)